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The Home Studio Showroom, Truro, UK (3/12/2010)
Some people have a seven-year itch, but as a custom install company, we waited until the end of our tenth anniversary before we decided to step into the vast and unknown territory of opening a showroom.
We have two core aims with our showroom: the first is to raise our profile within Cornwall - a notoriously hard area in which to win contracts as business is conducted very much on a 'who knows who' basis, and we had spent far too long working in London for our name to be on the tip of anyone's tongue. Secondly, we wanted to try to engage on smaller contracts, the 6-10 week projects which would steady the workload between the larger-scale projects.
We had the opportunity to take over a lighting showroom in Truro with a ground-floor shopfront and further space on the first and second floors. Our plan was to turn the ground floor into a showroom and use the first and second floors as office and stockroom space. We gave ourselves six weeks from moving to Truro to opening the showroom.
The office and stock space was easy to set-up, with minor decoration to make good where the numerous old light fittings had been taken out. The showroom however, would take much more. Using a large open-plan space, we would be creating a two-zone audio and video space where we could demonstrate multiroom audio, video distribution and integrated lighting solutions. The chosen look and feel for the makeover was very contemporary, with clean lines and open spaces.
The planning for the move and development started in April 2010, and we treated it as any other project for planning - with the exception that the move and development could not interfere with the requirements of our current clients and their projects.
Design development began with planning what equipment we would be using in the showroom, where the central distribution should be, and what cabling was required to be run across the building. The whole LairdKing team took an area of responsibility for the project, from the interior decor, to the programming and technology solutions, to the legal and financial obligations. Once granted a move date of 1st August, we had until 16th September to undertake all of the works, and on a budget of GBP20,000.
The solution we went with is a truly bespoke one. It involves the integration of several manufacturers' products and several different systems to ensure that we are able to showcase the best of what a custom installer can achieve. We turned the open space into a dining room and living room area in which we can demonstrate a discreet stereo system and a discreet 5.1 surround system respectively. Both areas are able to access movies and music from a server, and are controlled via Crestron control processors.
We used our two demo Loewe televisions for the two zones of video display - we often find that Loewe can provide a comprehensive set of RS232 control commands, which makes them easier to control, and we genuinely like the look of the 46" Individual Compose which is flush-mounted with a custom-made Artcoustic centre speaker and two Artcoustic DF65-55 speakers for the left and right channels, built into a false wall.
For movie and music content, we chose a Kaleidescape server for the high-end solution, but have also integrated Apple TV to demonstrate the different options available for media storage and access.
The surround sound is provided by a mix of Sonance Invisible and Stealth Invisible plaster-in-wall speakers - a little experiment on our part to see which are easier to install and if there are any noticeable quality differences. The debate is still ongoing.
The second audio zone has a pair of Sonance Visual Performance speakers. These are part of Sonance's reference range of speakers but with a very flush in-ceiling design that results in cleaner lines.
The lights in the showroom were designed by our lighting designer, and we used a KNX system with an Elka gateway to control them. Using KNX has given us a choice of light switches to match and enhance our decor, as well as a modular system to which we can easily add components and so continue to engage clients with new applications.
We wanted to show a high-end as well as a more modest control method, so we opted to use Crestron CP2E and AP2 control processors to integrate the A/V network. The KNX system is integrated with the Crestron control system to provide a full demonstration of how both A/V and many other home devices can be controlled through the same a very simple and easy-to-use interface. We programmed both a Crestron TPS-6L touchscreen and the iPad to show different user interfaces, but with the same control functionality
Installation was a painful process during which we became over-familiar with tiny crawl spaces and even smaller cupboards. We cabled the showroom and further two floors with enough cable to hold the entire building up! Cat5e, Cresnet, KNX, HDMI, 5-core mini coax, 4-core speaker cable, phono cable, and a little more Cat5e. Not only have we enough cable to run our current showroom solution, but there is enough to support future technologies and future changes to the showroom without re-wiring all over again. We also have enough cable to be able to re-route data when an accidental builder's nail finds its way into a cabling route!
The many challenges we faced were mostly to do with time and budget constraints, but our biggest by far was deciding on the user interfaces and how we would integrate two control panel solutions with the iPad and Crestron touchpanel. It seemed that in the time we gave ourselves, there were just too many decisions to make and so many modules to choose from. With that in mind, we decided to let the two control devices operate with the same functionality, but with different interfaces to show potential clients different user experiences.
After six weeks of little sleep, our months of planning paid off. Our opening evening was a success and allowed us to engage with local developers, lighting designers, interior designers, and potential clients. Of course we also took the opportunity to celebrate with suppliers, work colleagues, friends and family.
Since opening the showroom, we have had a lot of people walk through the door who initially wanted to buy just lights and furniture, but have then discovered the delights of the very latest in home AV and control technology. Indeed we have tripled our serious leads simply by being more accessible to business contacts as well as to homeowners who want to take the time to try before they buy, and who want a standard of quality from their custom installer which can be easily demonstrated.
LairdKing provides complete building automation systems from design and specification to installation and programming.
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