It’s never easy to decide on electronic systems for your home.There are simply too many remarkable products to choose from. But remember, just because a system is cool doesn’t mean it’s going to be right for your house. SmartHouse shows you how to get the most out of your family room.
There are many exciting options for smartening up your home: plasma TVs, “invisible” speakers, security cameras that plug into the Internet and touchscreens that operate everything including the kitchen sink are just a few of the cool products that can easily capture a homeowner’s fancy. But the key is to select items that will suit your lifestyle and fit into your family’s routines. Remember, as long as the electronics you choose enhance the comfort, convenience and enjoyment of your home, you can’t go wrong.
THE FAMILY ROOM
Spice things up with entertainment, lighting and control systems.
It’s natural to spend a lot of time in a living room. Typically, it’s the largest room of the house, so there’s plenty of space to sprawl out when you’re entertaining. The living room is also usually positioned as one of the first areas you encounter when you enter a home, so briefcases, backpacks, shoes and other items naturally fall there. Because the room is such a popular spot for hanging out, furnishing it with items that reflect your family’s tastes, hobbies and style is important. Fireplaces, huge windows, leather sofas and artwork are common living room amenities. More recently, electronic products have become a popular choice. Big-screen TVs, speakers, architectural lighting and computer stations are just some of the things homeowners are choosing to incorporate into their living rooms these days.
Throwing a Party
It doesn’t really matter what type of get-together you’re hosting; having it at home is always a good idea.
So, if your living room will be used for any type of gathering, you’ll definitely want to consider having a lighting control system and a music system installed.
By setting the lights a certain way and playing the right music, you can control the energy of the party. In the mood for a quiet, intimate affair? Dimming the lights and playing jazz softly in the background can set the mood. When you’re ready to run wild with a roomful of your closest friends, you can crank up the tunes and use lights to accent your favorite features. A home systems installer can create any number of scenes for your living room, but most lighting control keypads hold between four and eight buttons. What you call each scene is completely up to you.
The same buttons that set the living room lights can also be used to control the stereo system. For example, a button could set your radio tuner to a station that plays nothing but classical music as it arranges the lights. However, if your music collection is rather large, or if you’re picky about the songs you listen to, consider using a separate keypad to control the music. One with a built-in screen is particularly useful. An installer can configure it to display the titles of your entire CD collection as well as your favourite radio stations and the MP3 files stored on your computer or music server. You can use the keypad buttons to scroll through and select songs as if you were using a jukebox.
Most homeowners simply don’t have the space or the money to dedicate a room to a home theatre. Using the living room is a great alternative. If the area is large, you may even be able to incorporate a huge screen into the space. However, having a home theatre takes more than just a gigantic display. The whole environment must be conducive to watching movies. For starters, the room should be dark, it should be equipped with at least five speakers for true surround, and the equipment should be easy to operate.
There are many types of TVs that function beautifully in any type of lighting. The pictures presented by plasma TVs, direct-view TVs, rear-projection TVs and LCD TVs look nearly as stunning in a bright room as they do in the dark. Keep these in mind if you plan to watch movies and other programs with the lights on.
Being able to darken your living room requires two things: dimmable lighting and some type of window covering. Using dimmer switches instead of toggle switches is an affordable way to fade out the living room lights. However, if you’ll be using your living room for a number of activities, consider upgrading to a more advanced lighting control system.
Turning off the lights at night is all it takes to make a room nice and dark, but weekend afternoons are also a great time to catch a flick. In these cases, darkening the room may require blocking light from windows.
Many window-covering manufacturers offer blackout shades specifically for home theatre environments. Unlike most window treatments that filter incoming sunlight, blackout shades completely block it out. The shades can be attached to a motorised rod that can be controlled from a handheld remote or even the keypad of a lighting control system. The same movie button that activates the surround-sound system and TV, and dims the lights can also shut the shades. Bingo. Your living room has been transformed into an automated home theatre.
The electronic systems you choose for your living room should be just as soothing to the soul as your furnishings. That means music is a must. An installer can help you choose components that fit your budget and your needs. For example, they might suggest a heavy-duty amplifier if you like your music loud or a music server if your CD library has run amok. Depending on the style of your living room, you can either store the components inside an entertainment cabinet or hide them away in a closet.
Of course, the room will need speakers. If the living room will be used as a place to entertain, it’s best to install several speakers into the ceiling so that the sound is balanced throughout the entire space. If you take your music seriously, you might create a special listening zone within the living room. This area could be a special corner of the room or a favorite chair that will sit directly in front of the TV screen. In-ceiling speakers might suffice for your corner listening nook, but for a better listening experience, place two small but powerful bookshelf speakers at ear level. The speakers could be mounted to the surface of the wall or placed on a bookshelf.
For front and center music listening, the same five (or more) speakers that spill the dialogue and sound effects from a movie into the living room can also be used to play back music. A five-speaker arrangement is particularly well suited for SACD and DVD-Audio discs. With just a press of a button, your living room can switch from a home theatre into a listening room.