This month we’re thrilled to announce the addition of Michael Dye to our team as our new Architect Specialist. Michael has racked up over a decade of experience with Magnolia as a Project Manager, System Designer and Consultation Agent for end users and trade professionals.
Our Architect Specialist role demands a tricky combination of technical prowess and relationship management; A resource who can add real tangible value to the Architects and Designers we interface with on our projects. After meeting Michael it was clear that his passion for the industry, sharpness and absence of ego made him a fit for our culture. However it was his mock AIA Presentation that affirmed Architect Specialist as the ideal role in which to apply his talents.
Michael is well-versed and formally trained in many of our key brand partners (Lutron, McIntosh Labs, Bowers & Wilkins, Control4.) More importantly, he shares Cloud9’s philosophy on technology: Excitement over it’s potential, balanced with a healthy dose of practicality; A bridge between the bleeding edge and everyday life.
Also, we can nerd out with him on speakers and control interfaces. He’ll fit right in.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Suchi Reddy of Reddymade Architecture & Design recently. She’s a risk-taker in the A&D field, and of particular interest to us was her drive to push new materials and their properties on projects. Her team in SoHo has conceived of and executed a wide gamut of projects across continents. Take a look at the highlights of our interview in the below video.
Both the most boring and most important part of the connected home. There are three ways to go:
Default: Whatever your Internet service provider gives you. All all-in-one box for wired and wireless Internet.
Mesh: A collection of small boxes that plug in around your home for stronger, more intelligent coverage.
Wired Mesh: A collection of small boxes each hard-wired to your Internet for even stronger more reliable coverage.
least tailored, weakest performance
Benefits: Easiest to set up and a single point of troubleshooting.
Challenges: A single broadcast point means weaker Wi-Fi the farther away you are. They typically run on default bandwidths, causing competition between neighbors.
Conclusion: Adequate for small spaces with one or two devices and no interference (we’ll cover interference later.)
medium tailored, medium performance
Benefits: Reasonably DIY, and most decisions happen seamlessly in the background (best frequencies to be on, hand-offs between nodes, etc.)
Challenges: Wireless repeaters only repeat the signal that makes it to them, so signal weakens with distance. Also, tech support tends to be very limited.
Conclusion: An impressively customizable solution for small to medium-sized homes with a modest number of connected devices.
Two of the most popular mesh network systems are Google Wifi and Eero. Both offer pretty advanced network settings, grant guest access without sharing your password, let you set bandwidth priority and parental controls. Both are easy to set up and use a really simple App. With a cheaper price and slightly more reliable performance, our preference goes to Google Wifi.
Benefits: Wiring your access points gives each the strongest connection to broadcast, no matter location. More advanced controls handle large numbers of devices elegantly, as well as the ability to log into each device individually for troubleshooting.
Challenges: Wiring takes away the ability to tweak locations later, calling for heat mapping ahead of time to determine where to place access points.
Conclusion: The most powerful and reliable approach to home networking. Also the most expensive. Ideal for users with many connected devices or an intolerance for signal drops.
The two standards for wireless are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz:
2.4 GHz: Longer distance but slower speeds.
5 GHz: Faster speeds but shorter distances.
2.4 GHz has been a standard for longer. The benefit is backward compatibility. The downside is it tends to get crowded (only 11 channels vs 23 on the 5 GHz range.)
The flaw with 5 GHz is that the higher frequency has trouble going through solid objects like walls and flooring.
The ideal setup is to make sure there are enough access points and run 5 GHz on all of them, while running 2.4 GHz separately for older devices.
Microwaves, baby monitors and cordless phones all run on the 2.4 GHz spectrum and can cause interference. Concrete, metal and mirror can cause major interference as well. Finally, nearby Wi-Fi networks on the same spectrum will be competing for bandwidth.
The ideal setup is to test your space ahead of time for potential issues and spread your access points strategically. Once installed, the system should scan and use the least populated spectrum.
Putting a router, repeater and wireless access point into the same chassis is convenient but flawed, as interference can occur within its own crowded internal components.
Think audio – Separate components (pre-amp, amplifier, turntable) can isolate vibrations and deliver cleaner sound than an all-in-one box. We find the all-in-one solution is sufficient for around 70% of homes.
For residences, we like Pakedge for its ability to group and prioritize categories of devices, and remedy issues remotely before they are noticed.
For commercial, we like Cisco Meraki for its granular control packaged in a clean interface, and for Cisco’s extremely fast reaction time to the last Wi-Fi breach.
We also prefer wireless access points that are powered over Ethernet, as running both power and Ethernet to each device can end up looking cluttered.
Gary Gordon initially worked for a lighting designer expecting to take his knowledge back to his role as Architect. Instead he found his calling, initially launching his own firm, and literally writing the book on interior lighting. Gary agreed to sit down with us and share his knowledge on the lighting philosophy, his methods for lighting spaces, and common pitfalls any space can fall into.
Partitioned: Individual Apps for individual brands in your home.
Mini Ecosystem: Popular brands dropped into a single App.
Platform: Any brand woven into a single customizable platform.
lowest cost, highest maintenance
Benefits: Many manufactures offer intuitive Apps, with customization deep enough for the average consumer.
Challenges: The minor annoyance of juggling Apps tends to grow over time, and the ability to link multiple actions across devices is almost non-existent. Also some manufacturers don’t offer support.
Conclusion: An adequate solution that tends to become inadequate after two Apps, as the conveniences of each get overshadowed by the burden of switching between them.
medium cost, medium maintenance
Benefits: Platforms like HomeKit, SmartThings and Alexa offer a clean central location from which to control several popular brands, eliminating the need for multiple Apps. Opens the (albeit limited) opportunity for one-touch scenes.
Challenges: The simplicity comes at the cost of features, as homogenization strips your devices from some of their custom features. If manufacturer and ecosystem evolve their software out of sync issues will arise, which not all players are inclined to fix.
Conclusion: An elegant solution (if kept simple) when compared to partitioning control. Expectations should fit inside a smaller range of capability (On and off, dim and volume) for a positive experience.
There are a lot of entry level eco-systems on the market. Let’s look at two of the most popular: Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s SmartThings…
Benefits: Clean control for on/off toggling and level adjustment that works almost all (at least above 80%) of the time. Compatible with around 20 brands, some of which (Philips, Lutron, Honeywell) have proven reliability. Also, events can be triggered (or limited) based on motion, time of day or proximity to home.
Challenges: Doesn’t play nice yet with any non-Apple speaker brands, and Siri’s lack of syntax recognition requires stilted speech to use voice (which makes controlling individual lights and devices almost unusable.)
Conclusion: An intuitive and capable controller within its considerable brand and feature limits. For a fuller look check out our visit to HomeKit Occulus.
Benefits: Hundreds of compatible devices thanks to Samsung’s open-source approach, and deep customization available for power users.
Challenges: Confusing interface with a long learning curve, and the need for a plugged in hub adds to your tech clutter.
Conclusion: For those outside of the Apple ecosystem, SmartThings is a capable approach to wrangling multiple entry-level devices onto a single platform… but troubleshooting should be expected.
Same category? Not really. Alexa is less of an eco-system and more of an add-on, though technically you could control several devices exclusively via voice.
Benefits: Amazon allows third party hardware to integrate Alexa, so it doesn’t always require additional hardware. As an add-on to SmartThings Alexa can order up pre-determined scenes.
Challenges: Performance with most devices is spotty at best, and weak syntax recognition requires you to state the exact device, room or scene. Alexa won’t understand even a close variation, so the convenience of voice is often overshadowed by the unnatural phrasing it forces.
Conclusion: A useful feature for simple single room control, but not yet reliable enough to serve as the main mode of communication with your home.
Alexa is aiming at being the way into a system rather than the system itself, which is why it’s now integrating with all the major players in our next category…
highest cost, lowest maintenance
Benefits: Little to no limit on device compatibility, fully customizable interface, and a central way to control multiple features of your home across multiple rooms with minimal effort.
Challenges: Higher cost as it must be done by a professional, and success largely depends on an intelligent system design.
Conclusion: The only elegant way to control technology across multiple rooms of the home without limiting features or burdening the process with too many steps. Platforms also offer granular control over levels of access for guests.
A common misconception is that platforms require you to go all in. Many now offer lower entry levels, for example single room home theater control that can expand as needs and budget increase.
We don’t want to compare individual platforms because (a) we have partnerships with some and not with others, and (b) platform choice is largely based on personal preference. Instead we’ll share the two biggest questions you should ask:
How does it feel to navigate the App? Look and feel is paramount, and both vary substantially across platforms.
How long has the company been in business? Future compatibility depends on the continued development of drivers. If your devices evolve but your platform doesn’t, your system will face end of life sooner than expected.
Modern TVs can be integrated into the home a lot of different ways. Before we go over each, here are some tips for traditional display hanging…
Hanging your TV
Metal studs (commonly found in NYC high rises) are not designed to hold the weight of a TV. Attach a back board to the metal studs and your bracket to the back board for an installation that won’t sag the moment someone accidentally leans on it.
Cleaner than a hole in the wall for your cables is a larger hole for a back box that has a bracket and cable management built-in. If done right this will allow your TV to sit completely flush to the wall.
Look at your power cord ahead of time. Some razor thin displays can come with surprisingly bulky power supplies that can be difficult to hide (and hiding them behind the wall has to be done to electrical code.)
Make sure you leave enough slack so the TV can be pulled out far enough to access the back.
HDMI signals become unreliable after 25 feet. To hide your components in another room or closet we recommend running Cat6 (reliable up to 300 feet) and using a balun to convert the HDMI signal on both ends. (This solution future-proofs for 4K adoption, but not the eventual 8K standard without compressing the image. For 8K you need to run fiber, but converting it properly is challenging and requires more expensive equipment.)
Using a video matrix becomes financially advantageous after three or four TVs. This allows you to share sources instead of replicating them for each TV, leaving you with less to hide and lower monthly costs for certain sources.
Benefits: Cleanest way to get video into the bathroom, or to position as a room’s centerpiece without dominating attention.
Challenges: You have to choose between slightly better mirror or slightly better TV, and slightly better mirror is crucial so that the display is truly invisible when turned off. Also audio, video sources and control must be run elsewhere.
Conclusion: Ideal for background entertainment or information in smaller spaces like bathrooms. Living room applications are best suited for those who don’t mind taking an unavoidable hit in brightness levels.
Note: There are two types – Real framed art that moves, and fake art that rolls up like a shade.
Benefits: Opportunity to display high quality video and real art in the same space.
Challenges: The roller options use fake art and sometimes shadowbox the canvas away from the frame edge, which looks terrible. The versions that move the canvas above or to the side of the display require ample clearance.
Conclusion: Terrific solution for those with real art and a limitation of space. A less satisfying solution for those who order art for the purpose of covering their TV.
Benefits: Ability to hide your TV in plain sight by displaying digital art with a natural look and minimal glare. Different matte styles and a very thin frame make for a believable experience.
Challenges: It needs to be tuned to the room’s ambient lighting (we go in depth about this here), and power and connection cables need to be completely hidden to pull off the illusion.
Conclusion: Not the best TV and not the best digital art display, but a really nice compromise between the two. White and black frame options make it a great feature among a group of hung pictures.
Benefits: No wall required, the ability to place your TV in he middle of the room, and myriad options (under bed, drop ceiling, furniture.)
Challenges: Furniture options require the lift to be bigger than the TV and the cabinet to be bigger than the lift, resulting in a huge cabinet that can’t really double for any other purpose. Under bed lifts need a lot of clearance. Finally, motors for larger displays tend to make noise.
Conclusion: A slick solution for rooms with lots of windows and no wall to hang a TV, but patience required as these things are pretty slow.