Form Meets Function: Decorative Technology

Gone are the days when the living room was meant for enjoying tea and crumpets, and entertaining guests. Even if you still do those things in yours, no doubt you’ve got an entertainment system somewhere in the room –whether it’s a simple audio system or a full-on home entertainment setup. Either way, when you’re not using the room for watching or listening, it’s nice to reclaim the look of a serene living space without techno-clutter encroaching on your piece of mind. Here are some of our favorite tech products that have aesthetics, not just performance, in mind.

Incognito Audio

Audio is perhaps the biggest offender when it comes to infringing upon the sanctity of your living spaces. That’s in no small part because speakers have to be wired, and there are often six to nine units to deal with for a surround sound system. That’s a lot of valuable living space. So it’s no wonder the audio industry is constantly striving to offer speakers that are hidden—behind fabric, art panels, in the walls, or even disguised as faux stones or planters for the garden. Some even take on the look of sculpture.

We won’t bore you with a laundry list of in-wall speakers. Suffice it to say there are several incredible-sounding models from companies like Sonance, Speakercraft, and others that will give some floor-standing models a run for their money. While unobtrusive, in-wall speakers are often impractical—especially for a renter who doesn’t have the luxury of punching holes in his walls. The Soundshelf, created by Polish designers Witek Stefaniak and Anielka Zdanowicz, is one solution for those who want discreet speakers. And this one comes with an added bonus: You can stash stuff inside the speaker because it pulls double-duty as a shelf. CDs, DVDs, and books can all make themselves at home inside these clever speakers. The Soundshelf has two versions, a wall unit and a tower unit. It’s just a concept for now – perhaps they are trying to figure out how to build them so your CDs and DVDs don’t rattle during a loud listening session. 



Sound Advance’s SA2B
If you don’t necessarily need shelves, but do need speakers, then check out Sound Advance’s SA2B flat-panel speakers, which are completely invisible to the naked eye. We saw these in action at an interior design model home, and the only indication that there was a speaker present was the music emanating from the ceiling. That’s because you can install the SA2B so that it is flush with the wall, add a thin velum layer, and then paint or wallpaper over it!

Sonance’s Kayak speakers Some manufacturers are hiding speakers in what look like decorative room accents. Acoustic Research’s Décor speakers come in a variety of different “covers,” including things like a rope-weaved vase floor-stand or a collection of books! You can even stash your subwoofer in a decorative trunk.

But why disguise the speaker when it looks so gorgeous? Sonance’s Kayak speakers are incredibly unique-looking – like modern art – and can be suspended horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally, from industrial cables. No need to hide these beauties.

The Great Outdoors

And of course, no pool party is complete without a healthy dose of tunes. But who wants speakers glinting at them in the sunlight? Try any of Stereostone’s products for an easy outdoor solution. They make speakers designed to look like rocks in your garden, planters, and even tree trunks for a more rustic look.

The Motorized Approach

So now that you’ve got stealthy speakers and all your equipment is hidden in entertainment cabinetry, what can you do to hide your display? TVs are certainly thin these days, but they still take up a lot of visual real estate. Media Décor specializes in hiding displays with customized frames and artwork. Until recently, however, its products have been relatively expensive. The new Ecco Series, however, is a little less hard on the pocketbook, starting at $1,495. The speakers offer 38 pieces of artwork to choose from. The Ecco 42 and Ecco 50 cover 42- and 50-inch flat-panel TVs, respectively. And, perhaps best of all, the motorized artwork is battery-operated, which means no wires.

Artscreen from VutecMedia Décor isn’t the only company that offers motorized artwork frames like these. In fact, the Artscreen from Vutec ($2,800-$7,200) takes it a step further, combining a motorized art screen and a mount that tilts so you can adjust the angle of the TV to eliminate glare from nearby windows and lamp light. You can even program preset positions into the remote control so you don’t have to futz with the angle every time you sit down to watch Eastbound and Down. The Artscreen covers plasmas and LCDs from 40 to 65 inches.

Omnimount Lift42If you’re not a big art person, there are plenty of flat-panel “lifts” on the market as well, that will cause your TV to pop out of cabinetry, say, at the foot of your bed or even from the floor. Omnimount’s Lift42, designed for 37- to 42-inch flat-panel TVs, can go in any custom cabinetry. With the touch of a button on your remote, the plasma slowly rises out of its hiding spot. Very slick.

For a truly connected home, one with full-on automation of lighting and HVAC, you might also consider disguising all the horrible-looking keypads that pockmark the walls throughout your abode. One company, Anigmo, has developed a keypad that looks more like wall art than the dreaded beige numbers that some companies offer. A sensor built-in behind the wall plate allows you to operate the switch by simply waving your hand over it. No buttons required. You can even put an original photo over the sensor, or a piece of artwork.