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Illustration by Arunas Kacinskas

Alexa, Design Me a Home

How to make your house smarter—while keeping its good looks.

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In an era of iPhones, Nest, and driverless cars, great home design is no longer just about pretty window coverings and elegant backsplash tile. It’s also about innovative technology that makes it easier to enjoy your home.

But let’s be honest: Most gadgets come with cords, plastic, and all manner of generally unattractive things. Which is why we tapped local tech and design teams to show us how they’re creating efficient and lovely homes by hiding all that tech in plain sight.

The Wired Home

The future is now in this sleek Cherry Creek North home.

Littleton’s Residential Systems Inc. (RSI) has been in the smart-home game for more than three decades, so they’ve got terabytes of intel on what works—and what doesn’t—in terms of good design. In 2016, the home-tech firm teamed up with Denver’s Old Greenwich Builders to design this home in Cherry Creek North, replete with discreet technology that makes the house as livable as it is beautiful. We asked RSI CEO Travis Leo to point out the tech you can’t quite see.

Design Pros
Tech Design: Travis Leo, RSI
Architecture: Larry Cohen, LGC Architect
Interior Design: Lindsey Kruger, Kruger Design Studio
Construction: Chris Withers, Old Greenwich Builders

1. Smart Doorbell

The Holovision Integrated Door Station (the panel to the right of the front door) has a camera that allows you to see who is at the front door—and an intercom system to tell them you’ll be right there.

RSI
RSI’s Smart Doorbell Holovision Integrated Door Station system. Photo by Susie Brenner.

2. Mechanized Window Coverings

Recessed solar shades above the living room’s massive sliding-glass doors provide privacy and protection from the sun when the homeowners need it—but hide when they don’t. Bonus: The shades can be programmed to raise and lower on their own at certain times of the day—like when that 4 p.m. sun glare is blinding.

RSI’s Mechanized Window Coverings. Photo by Susie Brenner.

3. Lighting Systems

One thing you don’t see? A bank of switches, or “wall acne,” as Leo calls it. That’s because RSI used a Lutron lighting system that allows the homeowners to control the lights with a single keypad (located on the wall) or via their smartphones. “Push one button and the can lights turn on to a preprogrammed setting—like 60 percent on the chandelier and 80 percent on the art light,” Leo says. “Most people choose to program a scene and if they want to adjust it they can do that from the keypad.”

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RSI’s hidden Lutron smart lighting system. Photo by Susie Brenner.

4. Ceiling Speakers

While high-end AV wasn’t at the top of the homeowners’ list (you won’t find a theater or super-high-fidelity system in the house), they didn’t want to soak without a sweet soundtrack. RSI installed a Sonance speaker directly above the tub (and elsewhere throughout the home), controllable via a keypad on the wall or smartphone, so there’s no need to get out of the tub for anything—except maybe a second glass of wine. Plus, the grills on the speakers can be custom-painted to match any wall color. (No more big black boxes!)

RSI installed a Sonance ceiling speaker throughout the home, including above the bathtub. Photo by Susie Brenner.

Local Tech To Watch

Alexa may have been born in Seattle, but Colorado has produced plenty of clever home technology products, too. Here, a few of our favorites.

Rachio

Launched at Denver Startup Week in 2012, the Denver-based Rachio sprinkler system ($200) lets you turn your water on and off via your smartphone. Too busy to nix your afternoon watering after that unexpected thunderstorm? Rachio has you covered: It tracks local weather forecasts and will sidestep preprogrammed watering if it has recently rained, helping you cut 30 to 50 percent of your outdoor water use—and earning you plenty of planet-saving karma.

RavenWindow

Denver’s RavenWindow has been lowering energy bills (by up to 30 percent!) and protecting homes and offices from glare and UV damage since 2006. The company’s clever thermochromic filter senses temperature and sunlight changes, and transitions from clear to tinted glass when things heat up. Not surprisingly, the National Renewable Energy Lab installed several RavenWindow smart windows at its Golden campus.

Josh AI

If Amazon Echo and Google Home had a baby, it’d be Josh. Unlike many voice-activated systems—which integrate with just one smart-home system at a time—Josh can connect with and control all of your professionally installed systems, such as HVAC, lights, sound, and television using natural language (he learns as you use him more). Born in Denver in 2016, Josh is fairly new to the market, but is rapidly gaining interest from companies such as Aurum, which is currently testing the technology in its RiNo showroom.

Josh AI
One of the latest Denver-grown home technologies: Josh AI. Photo courtesy of Josh AI.

Tendril

Tendril’s cloud-based software program lets energy service providers like Xcel monitor and analyze usage and suggests ways for their consumers to curb their energy consumption. And once the energy-saving technologies are installed in homes, Tendril can auto-adjust appliances like water heaters to maximize savings. No wonder Xcel tapped the company this past summer to handle its thermostat-optimization pilot program, which allowed consumers to control their homes’ temps from their smartphones.

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Smart-Design Pros

Three local firms that can help you boost your home’s beauty and brains.

1. Aurum
Why we love them: No mail-order catalog can compete with Aurum’s sprawling, year-old RiNo showroom, which lets homeowners see, hear, touch, and feel the latest in-home tech. And should something go wrong with your Aurum technology, the company will call you back with a fix within an hour, 24/7.
Why a smart home? “Technology is pervasive in our society, so why not the home?” asks Aurum president and CEO Daniel Stern, who adds that it’s not just about fancy audio and visual systems: Home technology can actually make homes safer and more secure with automated lights, security cameras, and carbon monoxide detectors.

2. AV Crafters
Why we love them: AV Crafters specializes in making tech invisible, and owner Dana Solomon’s Boulder home serves as an interactive example; Solomon hosts regular lunch-and-learn sessions there for architects, builders, and prospective clients.
Where is this industry headed next? “Voice control is becoming a big thing—Siri, Alexa,” Solomon says. “The best interface is no interface, and AI is bringing us that direction. I think that will be the biggest push we’re going to see in the next few years.”

3. Residential Systems Inc. (RSI)
Why we love them: RSI has been in the smart-home game since the first home-automation system appeared in the late 1980s.
Why home tech? “What we do is a luxury, but it’s still about providing functionality and improving quality of life,” says Travis Leo, the company’s CEO.


Go Go Gadgets!

Eight products to try for a savvier home.

Awair Air Monitor
Breathe easy: This retro-looking gadget monitors inside air quality, tracking dust, chemicals, CO2, humidity, and temperature in your home, and sends updates and recommendations for fixes to your phone via an app. From $199

Photo courtesy of Get Awair

Breville One Touch Tea Maker
As pretty as it is precise, Breville’s smart tea maker never over- or under-steeps your tea, and it will even keep tea warm for up to an hour without scorching the leaves. Thanks to a convenient auto-start function, coffee-drinkers are no longer the only ones who can wake up to their favorite freshly made cup. $250

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Samsung Frame Television
Finally, a solution to the big black hole above the fireplace mantel! When this sleek, framed television is turned off, it looks like a piece of framed art (yep, the framed photograph below is, in fact, a television). You can switch between 100 beautifully curated pieces of art and photography—allowing you to shift your artwork display with your mood. $2,800

Samsung
Photo courtesy of Samsung.

Click And Grow Smart Garden 3
Equipped with its own water tank, LED light, and MENSA-worthy dirt (pH balanced, oxygenated, and rich with nutrients), the Smart Garden makes it possible for even the blackest of thumbs to grow herbs, fruits, and other plants indoors. $100

Edyn Garden Sensor
Stake it in the ground, and this pint-size device will monitor light, humidity, temperature, soil nutrition, and moisture, then cross-reference the data with plant and weather information to provide you with customized gardening advice. If only they’d build a gadget to do all the weeding, too. $100

Haiku Home L Series Smart Ceiling Fan
The Haiku Home Smart Ceiling Fan by Big Ass Fans exceeds Energy Star’s efficiency standards and can be controlled via Alexa, your phone, or a wall touchpad. $550

SimpleHuman Stainless Steel Sensor Can (In Rose Gold)
Anyone who’s fretted about germs in the kitchen knows the benefit of a hands-free garbage can. And, bonus: This motion-activated, rose-gold beauty works from any angle, so you don’t have to stand right in front of the can to trigger the automatically opening lid. $150

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Lux Kono Smart Thermostat
We love the sleek design of this newest addition to the smart thermostat genre. It comes in a variety of colors (hello, navy!) and communicates with Apple, Google, and Amazon technologies. $150

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