Starpower living room

Simply Elegant

design-build - project profile


Simply Elegant


David Pidgeon and Scott Harwell of Dallas-based tech integrator Starpower discuss an inspiring recent project.


BY Douglas Weinstein


Starpower project living room
 

FOR THE MAJORITY OF PERFORMANCE SMART HOMES – and the homeowners who commission the integration of technology – simple and intuitive are two key words that best describe the ideal user experience. We want cool technology like music out by the pool and motorized shades and lights that automatically dim or brighten according to the position of the sun, we just don’t want to see it or have to go to night school to learn how to use it.

Fortunately, there are technology design firms that listen. They educate and communicate the possible, so the homeowner can make informed decisions. Then they design simple and elegant solutions to meet the needs of the homeowner, without excess or waste – in the product selection or the budget.

Starpower, a nationally recognized and highly acclaimed technology design and systems integration firm headquartered in Dallas, checks all the boxes when it comes to being an effective listener and communicator. I recently sat down with Starpower CEO David Pidgeon and Scott Harwell, Luxury Sales and Showroom Manager to talk about a recent project that illustrates the wealth of technologies available in the performance home space.

 
"Our teams present solutions. Not just products. We take care of the needs the homeowner expresses and then we educate and can recommend the wants. It’s like cars, just because you see a Ferrari and love how it looks, it might not be the right car for you."DAVID PIDGEON

DAVID PIDGEON

DAVID PIDGEON
CEO
STARPOWER


SCOTT HARWELL

SCOTT HARWELL
LUXURY SALES AND SHOWROOM MANAGER

 

DOUG: Take us back to the beginning. How did the project materialize?

DAVID: Well, funny enough, I met the client at a social event. We were introduced and he immediately told me he knew who Starpower was and said we have a great reputation. He said he wished he would have thought about us because he was in the middle of a major remodel, and then confessed that he wasn’t super comfortable with the A/V guy the contractor brought in on the project.

When he told me the scope of his project, and it really is a big project that requires expertise in a number of disciplines, I told him we could certainly look over his proposal and give him a free consultation if that would be of help.

And that’s really how we would treat any customer who walks in our door. From the moment you walk in and we find out what you are interested in, you are going to meet with that department. If you are building a new home you get a team who work with new construction. If it’s a retrofit, we have a different team – one room or are you remodeling the entire house? The first thing we do is to get you with the right people.

Then we’ll ask their thoughts and what they’ve considered, what they might have shopped for, and in general what do they know? We just listen and try to understand what the customer's needs are. Most of the time, our clients tell us that they’ve formed opinions based on friends and colleagues and really haven’t met with a professional, so that’s where the upfront education component comes into play.

So we invited this client to our store and Scott was one of our experts I invited to that first meeting.

 

SCOTT: When we were introduced to the project in April of 2022 we realized this was an extensive remodel that had already been underway for eighteen months. They were getting hit with supply chain issues due to the pandemic, and one of their concerns was a lack of communication with their contractor’s A/V guy who we came to find out was a single operator with a few installers. And nothing is more nerve wracking on a major project than not being communicated with since there are so many moving parts when it comes to building or remodeling a home.

And as far as supply chain problems, they told us they were facing a year’s wait for some furniture items, so we showed them our custom leather furniture line and were able to deliver chairs and such in just eight weeks.

So we sat down and looked at the work order and started asking them to walk us through their project and how they expected to live in the house. We wanted to hear from them about what they knew and didn’t know when it came to some of the common technologies we deploy.

DAVID: One of the big problems that can happen is when a builder brings in his A/V guy and they put together a package of what they think you want, instead of listening to your needs and trying to understand how you are going to live in that house.

Our teams present solutions. Not just products. We take care of the needs the homeowner expresses and then we educate and can recommend the wants. It’s like cars, just because you see a Ferrari and love how it looks, it might not be the right car for you. So we show the different options and then let them make their own decisions.

And let me back up to the idea of communication, because that’s a big part of all of the trade’s businesses. Internally, as a company, we educate our own staff continuously about how to communicate with each other. We have invested in making Starpower a company where we respect each other and those two things then are pivotal when it comes to interacting with our clients.

I think it’s fair to say that Starpower is known nationally as catering to star athletes and celebrities, but how we treat them, and how we treat each other, is how we treat every customer of ours.

SCOTT: It became evident that when we looked at the initial devices on the work order, we took a step back and asked ourselves if the client really needed all of these advanced technology products or would it be possible to make the design simpler but just as functional.

 

So as we met several more times, and we started walking the house on the second consultation, I started to ask them how often they were going to be in the different spaces. And it’s a big house! It ended up that there were really just several key areas that they would be in most of the time and they could envision how they would live and entertain. This helped us prepare specific solutions that met their needs without having to stretch the budget unnecessarily.

DOUG: And after the initial discovery phase?

DAVID: Once we have a good impression of the scope of the project, we bring in our team of experts to propose various solutions. Whether that is in appliances or flooring or technology, we start to engineer the project as we go deeper into the specifics with the client.

We have found over the years that what upsets people the most is when you assume they know stuff about products (when they don’t!) and then you make them feel like they aren’t smart enough to have a conversation with you. That’s another big part of our internal training – again, being an effective communicator. I’ll ask a new employee, “Can you explain how a jet engine works?” They’ll go, “uh, not really.” And I explain to them that’s how a customer feels when you rattle off all of the technology that you take for granted.

You have to make them feel comfortable and educated so they can understand the subject and then feel comfortable asking questions. We want that experience just like we want it for ourselves when we go to buy something – let me make an educated decision. Our customers make decisions all day so they don’t want us to make decisions for them!

As we explain the various technologies and products, customers will show an interest and then we take them into our design and experience center and give them hands-on exposure to the technology. Our stores are interactive, so if you say you want to control the whole house, we’ll let you play with a touch panel or remote and let you raise the shades, set the lighting scenes, etc. And then they go “I want that, that and that!” It’s like eye candy and people can immediately get overwhelmed, so then we go back to your budget and list of needs.

 
 

SCOTT: Our job is to work your needs into your budget because we know how to get you the performance that you envision. We know where to cut options that won’t demonstrably impact what you have described to us. And as we demo stuff, we want the client to become comfortable, which helps them focus in on what they will really use day-to-day. Again, it’s all based on solutions and figuring out the most economical way to deliver the expected experience.

Once we have a working proposal and a really good idea of what the customer needs, then we do a walk-through of the house and bring our system integrator and technology designer and any of our other experts there to make sure the systems will integrate properly and will deliver the performance the customer is expecting.

DOUG: So let’s dive into the technology!

SCOTT: Like I mentioned earlier, most of the wiring and cable infrastructure was in place. For the backbone of the infrastructure we integrated Araknis Networks routers, switches and wireless access points – so those devices that benefit from being hard-wired were hard-wired and the Wi-Fi system had excellent coverage for mobile devices.

We also incorporated Media over IP (MoIP), using the network as the backbone to distribute 4K HD content to the 14 TVs both indoors and outdoors. The clients are sports fanatics, and ESPN is their go-to streaming station, so that was one of their must-haves – and economically we simply specified Roku devices for the video distribution.

For control – whether the lighting, A/V distribution, motorized shades, etc. – we specified the URC Total Control system, which is really fantastic to work with. There are eight of the seven-inch touch panels and then handheld remotes in the guest bedrooms and other areas where a handheld makes sense. And, of critical importance to the client, they were most comfortable with the URC phone app which allows them to control everything.

 
URC remote

EVERYTHING, INCLUDING THE LIGHTING, A/V DISTRIBUTION AND MOTORIZED SHADES, IS CONTROLLED WITH THE URC CONTROL SYSTEM USING REMOTES, SEVEN-INCH TOUCH PANELS AND MOBILE DEVICES.

 

DAVID: I remember when we looked at the house and realized it had a very contemporary interior design that complimented the new LG OLED Gallery TVs. During the demo experience the clients were drawn to the TVs. The LGs are really sleek and look incredible on a wall – they are works of art themselves and of course the picture just blows you away. And sound was pretty important to them, right Scott?

SCOTT: Yes, sir, that is correct. In fact, when we had them in to listen to a few options in the experience center, they fell in love with the Revel in-ceiling and in-wall speakers. These are, for those who know music and audio, as good as it gets, and we were pleasantly pleased that they took their audio so seriously. As far as the pool house area and outdoors, we specified Coastal Source landscape speakers which they also thought were excellent.
They have a huge outdoor entertaining area with a large cabana near the pool where we installed a 75-inch outdoor TV and gave them the choice of using the in-ceiling speakers or the ability to push the sound out to the Coastal Source landscape speakers depending on how many people were over or what event was on the TV. We were able to deliver that important sports lifestyle need with several viewing options.

 
 

DOUG: Let’s go back indoors and talk shading and lighting.

DAVID: The URC control system is really great in that it interfaces and integrates with the different technologies and companies involved in smart homes – it’s one of our go-to brands. We were able to integrate the client's shades and set scenes so that they follow the celestial timing.

And the client also worked with their interior designer on the lighting, so we integrated that technology into the URC control system in order to set up dimming capabilities and the ability to set scenes. The client particularly likes an automated sequence so the shades roll up and the lights come on as the sun rises and reverses course as the sun sets. It’s simple and elegant and exactly what they asked for.

DOUG: Let’s finish with The Barn.

SCOTT: I was hoping we could talk about this! So they have a barn on the three acres of property and it’s been cleaned up and refinished with a nice black finish. The shell on the inside was complete and they were storing appliances and staged stuff while the house was being remodeled. I asked them what they were going to do with the barn? They didn’t know and since we didn’t have room in the main house for a dedicated theater, I told them it would be a great place for a theater barn. And they have a concrete pad outside of the sliding doors, so we’ll be able to create almost an amphitheater effect so they can open those barn doors and seat additional guest for special events. Imagine how cool of a Super Bowl party you could have out there! So, that’s on the roadmap.

 

STARPOWER'S DALLAS SHOWROOM AND EXPERIENCE CENTER.