The Future is Now

Marshall Erb Design and top systems integrators weigh in on the complexities of the 2024 smart home, and how the synergy between aesthetics, ergonomics, and functionality can deliver next-level living.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

1 Hero Aspen
For Marshall Erb Design, turning a two-bed, one-bath home from the 1880s in downtown Aspen into a $21 million, four-bed, five-bath luxury vacation property included serious systems integration, including cutting-edge AV, seamlessly integrated lighting, radiant heat flooring, and a snowmelt system. 

We live in an exciting time. Smart home technology is evolving at a rapid pace, allowing our devices to connect and react on a level that we have never seen before. Making sure that your technology is smart together — as opposed to operating individually — however, is the difference between a sensible home and next-level automation.

Today, the terms you’re likely hearing are ‘home automation’ (a.k.a. a smart home) and ‘systems integration.’ “Systems integration [often abbreviated as SI] is the process of connecting multiple systems and devices together to create a single integrated technology ecosystem that ultimately functions as one,” says Marshall Erb, principal and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “From your motorized front gate to the theater room, across lighting, climate control, entertainment and security, residential systems integration can be quite all-inclusive if you want it to be.” 

But what exactly does SI cover in 2024? Fair question considering the tech is constantly evolving and the customizations are endless. Of course there’s AV (audiovisual) — ‘audio’ (the listening experience for music, movies, the big game, karaoke, etc.) and ‘video’ (TVs, computers, iPads, smartphones, and security). But that’s just the tip of the technological iceberg. “Anything that the homeowner is interfacing with is the easiest way to wrap your head around the scope of capabilities,” says Jamie Lawson, project manager at Paragon Systems Integration in Aspen, Colorado. “Devices, motorized shades, lighting, entertainment, climate control, security, irrigation… Appliances are a newer SI category that homeowners are getting hip to, i.e. being able to peek inside your fridge from your phone to see what needs to be restocked by your home manager before you arrive at your vacation house.” 

3 Paragon
Devices, motorized shades, lighting, entertainment, climate control, security, irrigation… Paragon Systems provides its clients with the luxury of modern convenience.

Still deciding if the investment in hardwiring is worth the ROI for your family? According to Erb, the benefits are undeniable, and holistically in high demand by today’s luxury homeowners. “Single-point and remote-access to system management and control [such as web browsers and smartphone applications], improved productivity and quality of operations, more efficient and cost-effective operations… These are all desirable factors for streamlining the day-to-day,” says Erb. “But our clients are also passionate about wellbeing and lower carbon footprint implementation. They want lighting that syncs to their circadian rhythm. And they want to sleep soundly at night knowing that their home isn’t having a negative impact on the environment; that they are doing everything they can to save energy.”

If you are ready for home automation, Erb recommends integrating your interior designer and your systems integrator, too. “The ideal time is early on in a new construction or a remodel project,” says Erb. “We both need to be communicating with each other and the architect on the specifications long before the walls go up for each room. Whereas your systems integrator will be embedding and syncing the tech via a selected control system — likely Lutron HomeWorks, Creston Home, or Savant Home if you want the best — your interior designer is the one who will be aligning the tech with the design plan for personalizations, i.e. where LED spotlights are required for a special piece of art, the necessary output for controlling the exterior ceiling fans on your lanais, or — and believe it or not we do this all of the time — focused tabletop lighting for theater rooms so that our clients can find their snacks in the dark during a movie without it impeding the viewing experience.” 

Understandably, aesthetics, ergonomics, and functionality are the primary concerns of the interior designer when it comes to systems integration. “Simple to use and out of sight are the overarching requests we get for luxury home projects,” says Justin Heath at OSA Integrated Solutions, a firm that provides enhanced SI for private residences, arenas, auditoriums, broadcast studios, restaurants, schools, and corporations throughout the country. “And we are always keeping an ear to the ground for new, intuitive nuances that we can present to the client to enhance quality of life. Right now we are really excited about how advances in AI [artificial intelligence] are impacting the at-home experience. We are in the infancy of AI with voice command and preferential programming. The next step will be learned behavior without direct interaction.” 

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OSA Integrated Solutions specializes in Lutron lighting and window treatments (think Homeworks whole home systems, dimmers and switches, Sivoia QS wireless, custom window treatments, and more).

According to Erb, at the end of the day cutting-edge systems integration is about the luxury of convenience and peace of mind. “Imagine it… You’re at the airport and you think that you may have forgotten to put the shades down to prevent the electric bills from going through the roof,” says Erb. “With an away mode for your entire home, you never have to worry because everything from the shades to the security to the irrigation cadence is pre-programmed and taken care of for you with a single tap on your phone. That level of control is priceless. Our clients understand that their upfront investment will save them dollars and time for years to come.”