The last thing owners of luxury homes want is technology that detracts from the exquisite design and architectural elements of their living spaces. Blending in and complementing a home’s fashion-forward cosmetics have never been more en vogue in high-end residential settings than it is today. “Beautifully designed homes deserve technology that is more than simply smart,” says Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style, a high-end interior design firm based in New York. “To appeal to luxury clientele, it also has to enhance the aesthetic.”
Unfortunately, establishing a harmonious existence between electronic amenities and interior finishes and furnishings gets complicated when premium materials are pervasive. Exotic hardwoods, marble and quartz, concrete and steel, and newly popular plaster applications befit the trend-setting design standards of high-end homes yet are quite unaccommodating of smart devices. “It pains me to see homeowners spend a fortune on marble backsplashes or rare hardwood finishes only to have the surfaces marred by white electrical outlets and surface-mounted screens,” says Harry Blanchard of Creative Systems USA. Yet, the alternative — boring into the surfaces to flush-mount keypads, touchscreens, and other smart devices — can cause even the most skilled craftsman to break out in a cold sweat and homeowners to shy away from tech amenities. “One false move, one slight slip, or a miscalculated measurement can have catastrophic consequences,” says Greg Montgomery of TYM Smart Homes & Home Theaters. “You can patch up drywall, but you’re out of luck should you crack a piece of granite while mounting a keypad.”
So, what’s the solution? Which installation practices and products should integrators adopt to safely and attractively fuse technology with the fine finishes of luxury homes? Which types of products resonate with the affluent? As the application of solid surface continues to gain traction, home technology manufacturers with an eye for design are breaking new ground with specialty products focused squarely on safeguarding the integrity and appeal of indulgent interiors. From innovative mounting hardware engineered to flawlessly recess smart devices into solid surfaces and projection screens that demonstrate deference to design, to stylish, barely-there housings for speakers and motorized window treatments, there are options galore for integrators to tastefully deploy tech in luxury homes.
Scratching the Surface…Not
Just like artwork, the texture, color, and finish of walls can lend architectural interest to a space. Homeowners looking to differentiate from the drywall norm are embracing Venetian plaster, exposed brick, concrete, marble, and hardwood as choice wall surfaces. To simplify an otherwise complicated task of recessing keypads, tablets, touchscreens, and more within these premium wall materials, WALL-SMART offers a line of specially engineered solid-surface mounting hardware. Sure, surface-mounting is always an alternative to cutting into walls, but “who wants technology that looks like it’s been slapped onto the wall, especially architecturally interesting walls, when it can become a natural, smooth part of the surface?” questions Blanchard.
Montgomery echoes the sentiment. By using WALL-SMART’S line of solid-surface flush mounts, “we are able to preserve the beauty of homes without adding construction or design complexities to the workflow.” He finds that the solid-surface mounts are especially useful in kitchens, where the utilization of technologies, including tablets, voice assistance, keypads, and speakers, along with premium surfaces such as granite, marble, and steel, are gaining popularity. “Thanks to the wide variety of WALL-SMART mounting options, we’ve been able to install touchscreens, voice assistants, and light switches in the toughest of surfaces, like a stone backsplash, for instance. As such, we’re able to give our clients a seamless look that exceeds their expectations and drives new luxury business.”
The beauty and quality of expensive materials certainly drive interest and adoption among affluent homeowners, yet more and more these customers also want the surfaces in their homes to impart a sense of “visual comfort” and lend a clean, healthy lifestyle. Flush mounting achieves both, making technology less perceptible and easier to clean. “The challenge now is to create a space that provides the look and feel people want but also provides a home that’s easier to clean and sanitize,” confirms Lisa Slayman of Slayman Design and Slayman Cinema. “For this, my go-to’s are often Caesarstone or Corian, both of which are very durable, low-maintenance, and, because they are nonporous, easier to clean.”
Easing Touchscreen Growing Pains
It’s simply easier, more efficient, and intuitive to initiate lighting scenes, review and monitor the status of smart devices, view video footage, and choose music from a large library of playlists from a 22-inch touchscreen rather than a 10-inch touchscreen. In large, luxury estates with massive amounts of technology, bigger is better when it comes to touchscreens. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to minimize the visual impact of the super-size option, especially when it’s resting on the surface of a beautifully textured wall. Here’s where flush mounts made for solid surfaces are a must-have. Large touchscreens can command the real estate they need and still look as if they belong. Sure, they’ll never completely disappear, but at least they won’t protrude from the wall to blemish the clean, smooth lines of the surface. “I wouldn’t dream of surface-mounting a 2-inch-thick touchscreen in a luxury home,” says Blanchard. “It cheapens the look.”
Another increasingly popular smart home amenity is motorized shading. And like touchscreens, they, too, can interfere with aesthetics due to their traditionally big, bulky footprints. SI is doing something about the size issue by building a comprehensive portfolio of slim, design-forward motorized housings that make shading a less intrusive element of high-end interiors. The housing of Screen Innovations’ (SI) Nano and Zen 2 products are particularly appealing to the ultra-elite demographic, not only for their seamless, discreet appearance, but for their ability for the shading fabric to protect fine furnishings, upholstery, and artwork from UV damage. High-end clients are also attracted to SI’s battery-powered shading options. Powered and recharged much like an electric car, there’s no need to break expensive surfaces to fish new wire in retrofit applications.
Preserving Scenic Overlooks
Often situated on shorelines, cityscapes, and mountaintops, luxury homes are privy to sensational scenery, making expansive panes of floor-to-ceiling glass a popular design choice. Naturally, the more glass, the less usable wall space there is for TVs, touchscreens, and other technology. But that’s ok. Thanks to applications of advanced technology and innovative design, even the largest projection screens exist peacefully among posh amenities. Take the Zero-G from Screen Innovations. Combining a slim, barely noticeable screen housing and an ambient light rejecting screen rolled up inside, Zero-G can be placed just about anywhere without causing a visual distraction — even in front of a window. When the screen descends from the housing, suspended by ultra-thin cables, it seemingly “levitates” in mid-air. The optical properties of the screen, meanwhile, render bright, vivid images even as sunlight streams through the windows. The application is so stunning and distinctive that integration firm Consexto has made it the focal point of its showroom presentation. “We want our clients, as well as trade partners including architects, interior designers, and realtors, to understand there are AV options that can easily adapt to and complement high-end home designs,” says Consexto CTO Joao Vitoriano.
Keeping the glass surface and the view clear of technology also befits one of the biggest design trends in 2022 — biophilic design. Exposure to sunlight and nature from inside the home foster better health and well-being. Large windows and more of them afford this connection with nature, and technology is finding interesting ways to adapt.
Other viewing options that won’t conflict cosmetically with premium wall finishes are mirror TVs, “art” TVs like The Frame from Samsung, and motorized lifts that hide displays inside cabinetry and underneath flooring until showtime. “These types of technologies are an interior designer’s dream,” says Sabatino.
Approaching Audio with Art
One of the most popular tech amenities in luxury homes is a distributed audio system. No matter the style or function of a space, music complements it. The challenge for integrators in these high-end residences is integrating the proper arrangement of loudspeakers without detracting from the design. Recessing them into walls and ceilings is the obvious solution, but all the more challenging when dealing with premium wall finishes. Grilles can be painted to match surfaces, bezels chosen for their resemblance to light fixtures, but if the surface is expensive and delicate, integrators are wise to explore other installation options.
Instead of making them blend in, turn them into statement pieces that enhance the aesthetic. Ente SoundTiles from Leon Speakers offers an opportunity to merge art and audio, giving luxury homeowners a unique and beautiful way to add music to their home environments. Comprising a perforated metal grille with the customer’s choice of artwork painted on top, the Ente SoundTile mounts directly to the wall, concealing recessed speakers and amplifiers. In essence, the wall surface transforms into a work of art that also happens to produce music, a winning combination for any finely appointed residence.
Holding Luxurious Design in High Regard
Luxury residences require a white glove approach to systems integration. Materials, finishes, and furnishings must be respected, making the installation of common smart home technology an intricate process. Thankfully, design-conscious manufacturers are paying deference to high-end design with beautifully crafted products. With stylish tech solutions widely available, integrators can confidently advance in the luxury marketplace.
Seven Design Trends Offering Tech Integration Opportunities
- Trend 1 — More and larger windows. Opportunity — Design-forward shading and motorized ambient light rejecting projection screens
- Trend 2 — Durable, low-maintenance, easy-to-clean materials. Opportunity — Flush-mounted devices that maintain a smooth, seamless surface
- Trend 3 — Textured walls. Opportunity — Mounting hardware engineered to blend with any type of wall surface
- Trend 4 — Organic, nature-inspired design elements. Opportunity — Technology that looks like it belongs, such as speakers camouflaged as artwork.
- Trend 5 — Fewer upper cabinets in the kitchen (according to an NKBA study). Opportunity — More wall space to integrate technology.
- Trend 6 — Kitchens and baths increasing in size and functionality. Opportunity — Internet connectivity, controls, entertainment.
- Trend 7 — Bold colors, with blues and greens dominating (according to NKBA study). Opportunity — touchscreens, speakers, other built-in devices with paintable trim, and collaboration with designers to determine the best installation approach.