A Rock `N’ Roll House With A Programmed Mind Of Its Own

August 06, 1995 | By Kathy Kaplan, a free-lance writer. (Click here for original article from the Chicago Tribune.)

Mitchell Gerson has his own version of the great escape. It’s a 4,400-square-foot house that virtually runs itself.

After a long day in the high-pressure world of real estate development, Gerson finds comfort in his home, which is equipped with state-of-the-art custom home automation.

Freed from many of the rituals of household management, Gerson has plenty of time to devote to music and literature, his true passions. A guitarist, he calls his high-tech, award-winning abode his “rock ‘n’ roll” house: “It’s all about music-alive and full of energy,” much like the punk and rock music he favors.

“What I wanted to create was an open, unrestrained atmosphere,” Gerson says, referring to his home’s unusual doorless, unenclosed layout-his own design. With only one interior door, a “port-a-john” door on the downstairs bathroom, and just two rooms on each of the three floors, the free-flowing interior is meant to be experienced.

And what an experience. To fully enjoy the home without feeling overpowered, Gerson installed a customized home management system and multimedia room designed and engineered by ISR Inc., a commercial and residential electronic integration firm based in Naperville.

He can choose from any of five environmental modes-”home,” “away,” “wake up,” “nighttime” or “guest”-and let his home run on its own to coordinate with his lifestyle. Programmed heating, lighting intensity and a whole-house audio/video distribution system tie certain activities to specific styles of music in every room throughout the day.

When Gerson leaves for the day and opts for the “away” mode, the temperature of each room systematically changes to conserve energy, the security system is activated, the music is turned off and the lights adjust. A simple phone call at the end of the day readies the house for his return home.

Gerson likes coming home to “nighttime” mode. “Things get soft, lights are low and the downstairs is warm.”

But the house is at its best in “guest” mode, says Gerson. “Different music is going all over the place, lights are fairly high and the heat is down,” he says. “In ‘guest’ mode all hell breaks loose. It’s almost like a theme-park atmosphere.”

Given the dynamics of the house, visitors expect to be overwhelmed. They are not. For moderation, Gerson chose a two-tone color scheme of Segovia red and dark gold he describes as “soothing.” Curved walls and soft lighting add a subdued quality to the home.

Abundant windows, courtyards and decks are strategically placed so that Gerson has plenty of light, but never looks out at his neighbor’s home.

Building such an exclusive home within the restrictions of a 25-foot-by-125-foot city lot was the greatest challenge, claims Gerson. “Everyone thinks you need a double or triple lot to achieve space,” he says. “I wanted to show there’s enough room on a single lot to accomplish the same things without building a dark, vertical tower.”

“I wanted to feel as though I could be anywhere in the world-not necessarily in the middle of Chicago-hence the three European-style courtyards,” he explains. (Two courtyards are off the first floor; the third is off the third floor.)

With all this, there is an unexpected quality about the house, too. “Its classic, understated exterior suggests a small, quaint home,” he says. It is anything but that. Once inside, “it explodes on you and beckons you to walk around, to touch, listen and look at everything.”

Fingertip Control.

Managed by an intricate computer system, this high-tech Chicago house proves that complex electronic customization can be user-friendly.

Real estate developer Mitchell Gerson says he wanted to build himself “a refuge” from his high-pressure business world. He created his highly customized environment loaded with electronic circuitry on a typical city lot in Chicago, measuring only 25 feet by 125 feet. His 4400-square-foot house is automatically managed by an integrated home management system 95% of the time.

Gerson designed his house and also served as construction manager. The home and garage occupy the entire length of the lot. Two private, walled courtyards and a large deck above the garage provide extra natural light and outdoor living space. “I wanted to show that you do not need a double or triple lot to build a luxury city home that has a feeling of space,” Gerson says. “You do not have to build a dark, vertical tower.”

While the home’s unique interior might not appeal to every taste, the automated home management system, TronArch, promises to attract many who want easy-to-use, fully integrated electronic management and can afford the expense. Gerson’s customized TronArch system, including all the computerized subsystems, cost $150,000.

Controlling the HVAC, lighting, security, audio/video distribution, and the garage doors, TronArch talks to all these subsystems, constantly checking their status and serving as their integrator. Tailored specifically to his lifestyle, Gerson’s TronArch system offers him 10 lifestyle modes. General modes, such as “Daytime” and “Night,” automatically adapt the inside environment to changes in outdoor temperature and light conditions.

Gerson can activate special modes, such as “Away,” “Arrival,” “Guest,” and “Romance,” by pressing an icon on TronArch’s touchscreen monitor. Usually located in Gerson’s kitchen, the touchscreen can be moved to any room containing a telephone jack. While away, he can call TronArch by phone to activate a specific setting.

Since Gerson is a rock ‘n roll and punk-rock music buff, the audio system was especially important to him. His TronArch system controls nine zones of audio/visual distribution tied to a multimedia center in his living room. The 26 circuits of dimmable incandescent lighting are so well integrated with Gerson’s lifestyle modes that only six wall switches are needed in the entire home. His whole-house security system includes two outdoor security cameras that can be displayed on any of six television screens inside. Although Gerson’s home does not have automated drapes/shades or lawn sprinklers, these are additional components available with a TronArch system.

The three-story home has four HVAC zones, including in-floor radiant heating in the poured concrete main-level floor, where the dining room and kitchen are located. Five steps up from the dining room, the raised living/media room faces the street. Below it is a self-contained guest suite with its own outside entrance. Steps from the street lead down to this entrance and the matching main entrance, both with custom mahogany doors.

A focal point of the main level is the poured reinforced concrete staircase with custom steel railings. The stairs were formed and poured in stages, according to Gerson. They are supported by steel rebars from the wall and a steel column. Other features contributing to the industrial theme include a “port-a-john” powder room door, plus steel shelving and a commercial stove in the kitchen.

The spaces on each floor flow together without the interruption of doors. The door to the powder room is the one exception. The master suite and a home office occupy the top floor, where the bath includes a steam shower and a spa. “Many of the rooms are multipurpose,” Gerson notes.

RELATED ARTICLE: Automated Controls List

Main Equipment Room:
1 CPU, 1 Telephone system, 1 lighting control penal, 9 Zone amplifiers, 2 Modulators, 1 Security panel, 1 Distributed audio/video interface, 1 Telephone interface, 4 HVAC interfaces, 1 Garage interface, 1 Security interface, 1 Lighting interface

Front Entry:
1 Black-and-white outdoor camera

Dining Room:
1 Touch panel, 2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 Lighting control panel

Living Room:
2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone

Media Room:
1 Rear projection, 1 DST Master Control, 1 Power amplifier, 1 AM/FM tuner, 1 Cassette deck, 1 100-disc CD changer, 1 VHS VCR, 1 Laser disc, 2 Loudspeakers, 2 Stereo modulators, 1 Satellite DSS system

Exercise Room:
1 Touch panel, 2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 Lighting control panel, 1 TV/monitor

Deck:
1 Touch panel, 2 Outdoor speakers, 1 Outdoor CCTV camera, 1 Doorbell telephone interface, 1 Control phone

Sitting Room:
1 Touch panel, 2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 Lighting control panel, 1 TV/monitor

Master Bedroom:
1 Touch panel, 2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 Lighting control panel, 1 TV/monitor

Master Bathroom:
2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 Volume control, 2 Weatherized in-wall speakers

Garage:
1 Control phone

Kitchen:
1 Color touchscreen, 1 Touch panel, 2 In-wall speakers, 1 Control phone, 1 TV/monitor, 1 Lighting control panel

Outdoor Terrace:
1 Touch panel, 4 Outdoor speakers

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