Guest Blog – Tommy Kissell Jr., Owner of Eco Innovations & Eco High Fidelity
In the custom integration world, audio/video retrofits are always a challenge. And even more difficult when the home is four stories and requires a 21st-century system update. In the fall of 2014 my company, Eco High Fidelity launched the Hull Residence Project, a century old plus historical landmark in Clayton, Missouri. Brett Hull, an Olympian, hall of famer and legend of the NHL is one of the best hockey players of all time. He and his wife Darcie moved to Missouri from their North Dallas home to take a position with the St. Louis Blues.
My firm, has serviced the Hulls technology needs for many years, was invited to design a custom audio/video and automation system. My company gets to work on many interesting projects every year, but this one was unique and challenging. There were high expectations from the start, as the clients had lived through audio/video systems that had never met their standards. Their previous system plagued with service issues required constant maintenance. The challenge of exceeding their expectations from hundreds of miles away in Dallas required a specific set of skills and detailed planning.
My firm specializes in a sustainable approach including green solutions like lighting control, shades, and subsystem automation. To ensure this project would be successful, it required major planning. Although the system lacks specific green solutions, it still required a sustainable approach to ensuring everything went smoothly.
Everything Eco High Fidelity does from planning a project, collaborating with other subcontractors, to the product we use, revolves around a sustainable approach resulting in environmental and economic ripple effects. For the Hulls, we designed a system revolving around the Elan G platform for audio/video and automation, Pakedge for WiFi network traffic, and Triad Speakers for high fidelity audio. The result is an amazing system for our clients with high-quality audio/video and stability that eliminates long-term service needs.
The keystone of any successful project is collaboration. Anytime we are working out of town there is a process of familiarizing with the members of my team and the builders. In this case, we were the out of town guys, unaccustomed to the standards of the builder and the methods of the other subcontractors. In the audio/video world, our technology touches almost every part of the house and without collaboration nothing comes together. This project included an all-star team from the builder to the designer. From the start, Bruce Korn, owner of Higginbotham Custom Homes and Renovation collaborated with me to oversee everything from pre-wire design to system completion.
Bruce, who had a great working with a relationship with local St. Louis integrator Fusion Media Systems, was very open to the Hulls bringing my team into the project. Fusion was included as well to provide low, and high voltage wiring retrofits to help bring our design to life. This is a great example of a sustainable ripple effect and collaboration. Fusion Media’s execution of my prewire design allowed the builder to work with a familiar protocol, and my company to minimize travel while being able to count on a solid integrator for the infrastructure.
Sohaila Danesh, the designer, influenced the esthetics of the system to help me eliminate wall acne and unattractive audio/video gear in favor of integrating the system with her vision. The Hull project is a great example of how three companies that could be competitors became colleagues working towards a common goal. Due to each of our high standards the process went very smooth. Throughout the process, Bruce Korn was able to maintain the historical integrity of the century plus old home while also modernizing and creating a course for me to provide an advanced audio/video system with excellent stability. The future of the audio/video and building industries revolves around collaboration, and nothing pleases me more than to work with colleagues that I both learn from and create excellence.
The Hulls love music and like to play it loud. Old school high fidelity combined with new technology was a key factor to knocking this project out of the park. Simultaneously we needed to provide a centralized distribution platform that could handle the size of the house, the needs of the Hulls, and, above all, stable control. The heart of the system is in the basement. I still feel like I am in Bruce Waynes Bat Cave each time I go down there. The dual customized Middle Atlantic racks house all the electronics in the home to eliminate local systems. Eco High Fidelity lead technician/programmer Jonathan Hughes and technician Sonny Alaniz approach rack work like sculpture. The heart of the system is Elan for audio distribution. Three Elan S1616s provide audio switching and digital power to 18 zones, several with multiple pairs of speakers. The 8 zone video matrix by at Atlona provides seamless integration and reliability for HDMI switching. The Hulls having lived through more expensive but less reliable platforms required something reliable, simple, and futureproof. Elan g! is one of the few platforms that offers a lifetime software update. With a proper base program, solid network, and periodic software upgrade, Elan g! give provides the Hulls the ability to utilize, sustain and evolve the system without the reoccurring cost. The features are great too. Since the Hulls love their music, they can switch sources and turn on zones in any area individually or in groups. Sources include: ATT DVRs, Apple TVs, Kaleidesacpe movie/music system, and an S1 Digital Music Server with a terabyte hard drive and 200,000 plus songs of music. The S1 Digital also syncs with any music streamer you have a subscription with complete with two-way feedback through Elan g!. The control system revolves around Elan g!. Spotify, Pandora, and all the local AM/FM stations are viewed and controlled through any wireless device in the house. The entire home is globally controlled via any device because of the backbone of the system, the Pakedge network. The control system requires a strong network as does the Hulls Internet usage and streaming of movies and music. Pakedge Networks provides an enterprise-class network that cover the entire house with enhanced WiFi. The most important part of the network is the ability to keep a pulse on the system, and remotely manage power, data, and programming. It also provides the Hulls the ability to reset sources that lockups like modems, Apple TVs, or ATT boxes at the touch of a button. Since we are in Dallas Pakedge provides us the ability to service the system without traveling to St. Louis. This is another perfect example of a sustainable ripple effect. Even with the reliability of Elan g! The average audio video system with even the most advanced budget will require periodic maintenance. The ability to access and service the system remotely eliminates costs of travel, equipment, time, and all economic factors that affect the business owner and client.
My favorite part of the system is the audio. Included is a state-of-the-art speaker system custom designed by Triad Speakers to fill the house with architectural speakers and studio quality sound. The Hulls designer Sohaila Danesh and I collaborated on speaker, TV, equipment placement design. Her appreciation for technology and exquisite taste for design resulted in a custom white finish throughout the house. The audio design was difficult because of limited access and retrofit ability. To preserve the integrity of the existing walls the Fusion Media team wired the main floor speakers near the floor. Sohaila and I designed, and Triad custom built speakers to blend into the room while providing audio that would make George Lucas jealous. Every room on the first and second floor has speakers to create a house music system The Sunroom and main media area revolves around an 80” Sharp LED and custom built Triad sound bar. For surround sound, there is custom-built/painted white finished Triad floor standing side and rear speakers. Complete with custom built and painted a powered subwoofer.
Growing up in this industry I am still blown away by the technology we get to work with. But it is the quality of the client, the collaboration with colleagues, and the results of my team that will keep me in this industry for life. The Hulls are the best type of clients. They treat everyone they encounter with a warm welcome and value long term relationships. Not to mention they love technology and music. There is no greater pleasure than our clients wanting to be at home. And it is an exciting time for home integration. Builders, designers, and integrators are creating amazing systems all over the world, and we have hardly scratched the surface.