Country Goes Contemporary

Against the bucolic backdrop of Upper Ojai, a “smart home” looks to the future while embracing the region’s rustic character.

By Andrea Kitay — Photos by Gary and Pierre Silva


t the summit of the Ojai-Santa Paula Road where the mountains settle into rolling hills and the valley widens, thousands of acres of the Los Padres National Forest are accessible within a short horseback ride. The land is pure country. Laid-back ranches and a bucolic lifestyle smack of Kentucky horse country, and it is here where Ben, a commercial builder based in Malibu, and his family have built a self-described “mountain chalet with industrial tones.” At first glance, the property feels like good ol’ California ranch, with sheep, chickens, horses, and an Olympic-size riding arena. On further inspection, it becomes clear the home is more Jetsons than California country, and has earned the recently coined term “smart home.”

So just how smart is it? For starters, its brains—the Crestron Automation System, a programmable device that coordinates systems throughout the house—are not visible. In fact, they’re cleverly stowed in just a few closets. In Ben’s house, the heating and air conditioning, lights, fans, window shades, 12 site cameras, and entertainment center are all hooked in and can be controlled via computer or Blackberry from anywhere in the world. Should he later decide, the pool, spa, and even coffee maker can be added to the system—which means he can tell the spa to begin heating up and close the blinds while sitting in traffic down on PCH.

And there’s more. According to John Edwards of Arjay’s Window Designs, the Ventura-based company that installed Ben’s solar window shades, a sophisticated home automation system is programmed to reduce energy consumption. The system uses motion detectors to determine when rooms are unoccupied, and then acts as the resident green policeman, automatically rolling down the motorized shades to stop solar heat gain, turning off lights and other non-essential items that increase the room temperature. “All this happens before it turns to the energy burning air conditioning system to do the job,” explains Edwards.

Among the home’s most tricked-out features are the solar shades, in Ben’s case installed and modified for use with the automation system after most of the construction was complete. “We were able to conceal radio frequency-sending units in various locations around the house that interfaced with the home automation system. This means that the signals that control Ben’s shades are literally flying through the air,” says Edwards. All of the typically bulky pieces of equipment are contained within the very small cylindrical motors that reside inside every roller tube. The only wiring needed is the 110-volt house current that powers the motors. The solar screen material—vinyl coated fiberglass and GreenGuard Certified—reduces about 50 percent of the solar heat gain that would have entered the home without the screens while providing ultra violet protection.

Fortunately, smart doesn’t mean difficult. With a long history of use in commercial building, automated systems have had most of the kinks worked out, and the next-generation residential systems are designed for the average person to understand and use. This is a measure of relief for the gadget-weary who balk at the thought of another remote sitting on the coffee table.

But technology isn’t the only thing bringing this home into the 21st century. Green is also the theme, which means abundant recycling, reusing, and repurposing. “We wanted it to be functional and warm without the froo froo,” says Ben of the home built on 11 acres. While the chalet feel is more noticeable on the interior, the exterior is largely industrial, the barn style architecture playing off the original, redwood barn, which is currently home to six horses and ponies. Exposed, rusty steel beams support second-floor decks, old pipe railing from local oil fields have been repurposed to create the fence that surrounds the property, and horseshoes have been re-soldered in every way imaginable, from towel hooks in the home’s mud room to name signs hanging over bedroom doors to the gates at the ranch’s main entry.

Gravel pathways around the house are graded to drive water to the mostly native California plants, the upper pasture is planted with alfalfa, hay, and four-way to feed both the horses and sheep, and the ranch’s chickens produce all the eggs used on the property. A smaller structure is designed entirely for composting.

Although Ben decided to forgo the onerous LEED certification that designates a structure as having met a particular degree of efficiency, the family has nevertheless incorporated many of its standards into the ranch’s daily routines.

“Our goal is to learn from the ‘smart house’ technology, and to implement processes to continue reusing and recycling,” says Ben. A very smart decision indeed.


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