In The Press

Waterfront Living in Sunny Sarasota (Technology Designer)

SARASOTA LIES ON THE SOUTHWESTERN COAST OF FLORIDA and is renowned for its cultural and environmental amenities, beaches, resorts and the Sarasota School of Architecture. I recently caught up with three design build colleagues to talk about how they work to discover their clients’ dreams, the unique attributes of waterfront living, and the latest uses of technologies that enhance design.

Note: This is a reprint of an interview at Technology Designer.

DOUG: Let’s start by talking about your individual firms and how you go about your discovery process with clients.

DANIEL S. SHAFFER, AIA: Our founder. Cliff, always tells prospective clients that we are our client’s architects and what he means by that is every house we design is custom tailored to our clients. We don’t have a set style we design to, we talk with the client and find out what they like, what they don’t like. Once we know the general styling they are looking for, we will walk them through some houses and get to see how they feel about certain designs and spaces. Since we specialize in waterfront properties, there is obviously a lot of indoor/outdoor interplay. During our interview process we start with the very basics to open the conversation and start programming – what style do you like, how many bedrooms/baths, do you want a pool/spa and what role they see technology playing.

We love when people come to us and want to do something new and creative. We ask our clients to do research and show us images of what they are aspiring to accomplish. For remodels, we of course meet them on the job site so we can really get a first-hand impression of what they are envisioning.

TRACEE MURPHY, NCIDQ AND FLORIA REGISTERED INTERIOR DESIGNER: Our process is similar in nature to Daniel’s. We start with a discovery phone call to figure out if the project work is within the scope of what we do. Having our clients being a good fit for us is as important as us being a good fit for them. Is there a budget to warrant our involvement and does the timeline work for us? We have the client log in on our website and they fill out an extensive lifestyle questionnaire. What are their color preferences, entertaining options they’d like to explore, etc. We ask them to do some homework and find inspirational images on-line of what they like and don’t like.

After we submit a SOW, we provide a four-page design-style guide. We incorporate words that we all agree will keep us focused on our goals. And this is really at a high level as far as the fit and finish; like medium-color wood floors, white and blue cabinets, patterned floors for traffic areas, etc. This is our roadmap, our general direction.

We meet at the TMI studio and extensively review the proposed design-style to see how these things all work together. Love this, don’t love that. The feedback we get is great and helps to keep us on track over the course of the project. So down the road if the client gets off-track we can pull them back and say, “remember, this is what we agreed on?” Then we dive into the full design programming starting with space planning.

MARK VAN DEN BROEK, CEO OF SMARTHOUSE INTEGRATION: Before I meet with a client, I send them our discussion syllabus. This document covers all of the design and technologies we cover. Things like how many kids they have and how old they are, what each family member wants from today’s technology. How important audio is, how important video is, how comfortable they are using phones and tablets. What we’ve found is that homeowners just want things to happen, they want the technology working for them and not the other way around. Less is more.

Then we meet and we talk about future-proofing the house from an infrastructure point of view. Pre-wire is critical, as we are talking about a house that won’t even be completed for a year or two. And along with pre-wiring we want to understand and explain lighting scenarios and what window treatments will need to be automated. So once we’ve had our discussion about properly getting the basics of pre-wire and other technology fundamentals, we tell them not to worry about us for a while. We will come back and keep you up to date on the latest technologies you are interested in, and as we get closer to the project being completed, we can hone in on specific TV sizes, and exact lighting fixtures, etc.

Finally, when we do talk about specific products, we invite them to our design center. We have a really cool, fun building – built in the 1920s with 15-foot open ceilings that has a warehouse feel to it with exposed plaster walls.

So if they are interested in 2-channel hi-fidelity they can come and hang out and listen to music. It’s really more of an experience center with lots of user interfaces so people can get their first hands-on experience with how they will move through the space. Keypads, touch screens, and remotes.

We let them take the controls and open shades and lower lights and turn on music.

DOUG: Talk about the design phase of any given project and how you work with other trades.

DANIEL: We are the lead on the project most of the time. Building energy efficient homes is very important to us and it’s standard practice in our office to design the building to a minimum of LEED’s Silver level of certification, though few of our clients actually pursue the certification. The projects we design are intended to be passed down through the generations, with 100+ year lifespans.

People moving to the area choose us as their architect first and we are like the quarterback for the team. Once we have the design underway, we interview a few contractors with the clients, and let the clients choose which they feel the most comfortable with. Some clients have a contractor selected and then bring us into the project. Either way, we enjoy the collaboration. While we anticipate the contractor builds to our plans, if they think there is a better way to do it, we will have that conversation.

Virtually all of our projects have an interior designer. We work with many and we want them involved very early in the process. Once we get a schematic laid out, that’s when we want them involved. They can then fully understand the layout and our vision of the design and then begin to coordinate furnishing selections. It is a very collaborative team effort, with full discussions room-by-room.

As far as technology, a lot of that depends on the client. Tech-savvy clients want a specific type of system, so we are bringing those consultants on about the same time as the interior designer. When we bring them onboard we have those discussions of what goals we are trying to accomplish. Especially with regards to interior and exterior lighting, automated window treatments, thermostat control, fireplace controls, hurricane shutters and insect screens.

TRACEE: Listening to Daniel, it’s apparent to me that architects and designers have similar strengths. But also separate responsibilities. So we like to be in all of the design meetings so we can share our ideas and listen to theirs to merge them together. And I’m a big proponent of regular touchpoints, with everyone getting together on a regular basis. Sometimes behind the scenes without the client so we can do problem solving and discover the best ways to achieve the client’s goals. Collaboration is key to a successful project.

As far as the technology designer, I think it’s crucial that they are in early. I’m not that tech savvy. I rely on Mark to educate me and educate our clients. You really need to go over all the ins-and-outs of the house and understand how impactful technology is today. I can talk on some of the key points, but then I always recommend we bring in the technology expert to hear what they have to say.

MARK: I believe technology should be invisible to the homeowner. It is there to serve the design. So I like getting in early to understand what the architect is trying to accomplish and how we can get our cabling to some locations and how we can control certain scenes they are creating. I was an outreach instructor for CEDIA for many years so I know that our role is part educator and part facilitator.

When I went to college I studied engineering for over two years, then switched fields and got an art degree and a marketing degree. So I have the ability to understand the mechanical aspects of a design, but I have a design eye that complements our ability to design systems from an interior designer’s visual perspective. I just enjoy the collaborative process and try to always remain focused on supporting the design.

DOUG: Okay, so what technologies are impacting your design goals?

DANIEL: There are many technologies to consider in today’s performance homes. Let me start off with acoustics, as we think acoustics play a big role in almost every room. We deploy different systems to control sound, including sound attenuation between studs, spray foam insulation, and Acoustic-Mat® underlayment. Lighting has a huge effect on all of our spaces. We utilize different types of fixtures depending on the room and the goals. In most of the rooms the majority of the fixtures are wall washers and sculpture beaming since most of our clients have very impressive art collections. Clean air and purified water strategies are also high on our list – whether it’s a filtration system or UV lighting in the HVAC system, clean air and water are critical to an overall wellness platform. Finally, many of our properties incorporate energy management systems including solar capture.

TRACEE: My own aesthetic is classic, traditional, with a hint of modern. Maybe that is from my Pittsburgh roots. I love to evoke that. I love when clients are well-traveled and they have pieces from around the world where we can integrate them into the space. So lighting is very high on my list of technologies that can really impact design.

Today’s LED lighting can fine-tune texture and colors. And once it’s shown, it’s easily understood. Mood lighting and setting scenes for entertaining is huge for us, as these waterfront properties are designed as big entertainment spaces. And I’ll second Daniel when it comes to acoustics. Especially for specialty rooms like home theaters, or when you have a bedroom next to an office.

And whole-house control. Having the house learn your preferences and anticipate your needs is the holy grail as far as I’m concerned.

MARK: I think of ourselves as a curator of technologies, so I really focus on the use of technology and how it impacts a space. Since the pandemic hit, air purification has become extremely important. Being able to have quality readings available for our clients is becoming more critical. And today’s smart paint that can reduce indoor air pollution is becoming a talking point for our team members.

Ketra lighting is super-hot. As both Daniel and Tracee pointed out, lighting really is such a demonstrative add-on and enhancer to any design.

At the end of the day, we really have to involve ourselves with every technology in the modern smart home. From the HVAC to the pool guys, irrigation and outdoor landscaping, we are responsible for integrating everything into a cohesive plan. So we’re here to educate the other trades and unify everyone’s specific design goals.


Check out the full interview at Technology Designer.

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Facial Recognition is Emerging (SRQ Magazine Feature)

We recently had a tip included in the 2020 Spring Home Portfolio guide from SRQ Magazine. Check it out online here…

While voice control has had a steady growth in popularity, facial recognition is an emerging technology that goes one step further.

If you’re interested in implementing facial recognition into your home automation project, then let us know. We’d love to discuss whether this approach works for your lifestyle.

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Sarasota’s SmartHouse Integration creates user-friendly, integrated home networks

Note: This article was originally published at Herald Tribune.

State-of-the-art system features intuitive, accessible controls

One in an occasional series about the region’s growing technology sector.

Smart homes have graduated from a collection of complicated remote controls for each device, cluttering tables and frustrating residents. Today, homes are far more intelligent.

Voice control, preset programs and a central command gadget such as an iPad raise the bar on homes equipped with automated shades, lighting, temperature, security, video and indoor/outdoor audio. Speaker volume can be increased with the wave of a hand.

This is the high-end stuff of dreams.

Mark van den Broek, the founder and chief executive of SmartHouse Integration, located in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, installs the ELAN Entertainment and Control System for his clients here and elsewhere in the country.

SmartHouse is off to a bang-up year on revenue. “This quarter we’ve already done more than we did last year and last year was a record year,” van den Broek said, declining to cite specific gross-income figures. “I don’t want my competition to know exactly what we’re going. But it’s delicious.”

Van den Broek and his seven employees do not lack for work. “We don’t sell anymore. We don’t market anymore. Clients come to us,” van den Broek said. “All of the manufacturers’ websites have our projects on them as examples of what it’s supposed to be.”

So how many clients do you have? “I don’t know. Seriously.”

Award-winning technology

His home-automation and systems-integration company has won more than a dozen national awards from the Consumer Technology Association. The association’s TechHome Division has given 11 Mark of Excellence awards to van den Broek’s company. He recently added to that collection with the 2018 Mark of Excellence Award for Home of the Year up to $50,000 for a custom ELAN installation in a local island home.

The trophies that adorn his office solidified his reputation for high-quality technology and installation.

Robert Archer, the publisher of, an information center on integrated home technology, said the TechHome honors “mean more than any other industry association award, and they represent the best the technology and installation professional industry has to offer.”

Nick Melone, a Sarasota homebuilder, real estate investor and restaurant owner, works on high-end commercial and residential projects. “We were just really looking for a good operating, smart home system,” he said. He found one in ELAN, which has been in the home-technology business since 1989 and is based in Petaluma, California.

“I’ve been through multiple renovations where I’ve ripped out” other systems, he said. ELAN “is everything you want; it’s everything the other systems are not. … It works.

“It’s simple, easy, not complicated. Other systems I’ve found you go into it and all of a sudden you’re in five or six windows, and you forget how to get back.”

Three years ago, when he built a house for his family on Siesta Key in the Sanderling Club, Melone had SmartHouse install an ELAN system at a cost of $70,000 to $75,000. “Our whole family loves the system. … I’m very happy with it.”

Melone now has SmartHome install ELAN in his residential projects.

Lights, cameras, automatic action

SmartHouse Integration custom designs a system that fulfills a client’s desires using ELAN’s intuitive and accessible controls. Motorized window shades rise and fall with the sun. Interior lights automatically power up to preset levels as the sun sets. Blue lights illuminate the pool. The ELAN mobile app, remote or wall-mounted touchscreens allow temperature changes in any of the home’s climate zones. Speakers spread throughout the interior and exterior in one of a home’s audio zones deliver surround sound without distortion at high levels. Irrigation control and electronic door locks are other options.

Numerous cameras record video from a host of vantage points, and the scenes can be viewed on mobile devices, computers and televisions in the home or anywhere in the world. When someone rings the doorbell, all the touchscreens in the house light up and play video of the front porch.

For waterfront homes, infrared sensors on seawalls trigger outdoor lights and send alerts to the owner’s mobile devices when a boat or individual approaches from the water. Voice control is also available.

During a tour of a SmartHouse project, a 17,000-square-foot mansion on Sarasota Bay, van den Broek described what his team had accomplished there. The ELAN Entertainment and Control System serves as the home’s central network hub. The hardware includes eight 7-inch in-wall touch panels, four smaller touch panels and three HR2 remotes.The HR2 devices, like the panels, control everything in the network and features 46 hard buttons to operate the media system alone.

This project alone won three 2016 Mark of Excellence Awards.

Van den Broek integrated Lutron Homeworks Lighting and Shades with the ELAN Entertainment and Control System so lighting could operate automatically or be set by the homeowners from anywhere in the world. Numerous security cameras alert residents to visitors with video, and homeowners can talk to arrivals from their kitchen or hotel rooms. The smart lighting highlights the art aficionado’s extensive collection and changes at specific times to best enhance the art it emphasizes.

SmartHouse also installed 15 LED fountain lights in the pool’s overflow that shine up on the overflow wall. The lights are programmed and synchronized to the outdoor music system to create an amazing light show, Van den Broek said. The homeowner has 25 buttons he can press, and each launches a unique show, from AC/DC to Alicia Keys.

The company has worked on three projects for this client for a total cost of $350,000. “He just keeps coming back for more,” van den Broek said.

Van den Broek’s most expensive job to date exceeded $500,000. “I’m still surprised at how much money people will actually pay,” he said.

The move to Sarasota

His 20 years of experience in the field began in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He sold that company to his employees and opened in Sarasota in 2005 after a client here sought his work. It was February. While sitting on a dock at a rental place on Siesta Key, the warmth convinced him to move. Plus, he was able to sign up some big clients.

“In the late ’90s and early 2000s, we really started to take off and helped the industry a little bit in terms of future proof of wiring and setting up infrastructures in homes that people would take advantage of,” van den Broek said. Today’s cable networks are stout enough to handle the coming increase in broadband speeds, from the current 4G to the launch of 5G — which is expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G.

“And that was one of the things we really sold to our early adapters was, ‘Hey, your house will be future proofed,’” he said, and can handle emerging technologies that use higher data speeds.

“Homes that were wired back then with Category 5 cable (which handles networking, Wi-Fi, high-definition video and cameras) are still legitimate today. We can still run the newest, latest technology in homes that we wired 20 years ago.”

Van den Broek is a major proponent of cabled homes since wire can pass much more data much faster than wireless systems, though the latter dominate the current buzz in the smart-home industry. Structured, wired connections afford greater stability, add flexibility for future technology and increase a home’s resale value, he said.

Complicated and outdated home-automation systems frustrated homeowners, van den Broek said. The ELAN system does everything, a very usable, reliable, simple network, he said.

“I’m jacked every day to create something really cool for my clients,” van den Broek said.

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Latest ELAN Project Values the Voice

Note: This article was originally published at Connected Design.

A Longboat Key, Florida couple was recently tasked with finding someone to integrate a system into their home that would allow for total control of their technology by voice command. The music-loving duo elicited Mark Van den Broek for the job who then selected ELAN home automation and Amazon Alexa to make the 8,000-square-foot home become all that they envisioned.

“Mark and his team were the only ones who asked us what we wanted the house to do, instead of just listing what they could do, and then they made it happen,” the homeowner said. “It was like magic!”

Step one in the entire process was to integrate an ELAN controller into the home to act as the “brains” of the operation. Next, Van den Broek and his team installed nine Amazon Echo Dots throughout the home with customized Alexa voice controls to allow the couple to speak to Alexa in a more conversational tone. For instance, the homeowners can say “Alexa, good morning” to turn on the lights, open window shades, turn on the living room TV, and disarm the security system. Conversely, they can say “Alexa, goodnight” to shut off the audio and video on the first floor, turn on the master bathroom lights, turn off the indoor pool fountains and waterfalls, adjust the thermostats to a preset temperature, and dim the foyer chandelier to 10 percent until 2 AM when the lights completely turn off for the night.

With their love of music and appreciation of high-quality audio in mind, SmartHouse Integration also created a 16-zone audio system featuring ELAN amplification and distribution, an Autonomics media server, and SpeakerCraft AIM Series 2 in-ceiling speakers to allow the couple to listen to music from anywhere in their home. Accessing their music selection is as easy as opening the ELAN app or using one of the many ELAN in-wall touch panels.

“We knew that top-quality audio was a make-or-break feature of this system,” Van den Broek said, “so we used the best ELAN and SpeakerCraft equipment to ensure every room sounds fantastic, access is fast and easy, and they can use content from multiple sources simultaneously.”

Like the rest of the home, the theater was designed with the best in audio from three SpeakerCraft AIM Cinema in-wall speakers, a SpeakerCraft Profile AIM center channel speaker, and two Sunfire 10-inch subwoofers.

And with the ELAN remote the couple can change more than just the channel.

A single touch of the remote’s TV button creates a complete ready-to-watch atmosphere. The Sony projector is turned on and displayed onto the Dragonfly projection screen, the surround sound is activated, and the lights are dimmed to an appropriate movie-watching level. From there the couple can access their media services including streaming and downloaded content through Apple TV, Roku, or a cable box. And if you thought the level of detail couldn’t get any more precise, when a program is paused or stopped, the wall scones automatically brighten to 50 percent until play resumes.

“This beautiful island home became a true paradise for my clients,” van den Broek added. “By making nearly every electronic function of the home easier to use, accessible from anywhere, and connected for monitoring, the ELAN system with Alexa voice control has entirely changed their home life. We hope this inspires others to investigate how smart home control can make their houses easier to manage and more comfortable to live in.”

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ELAN Turns On The Waterworks

Note: This article was originally published at

ELAN Control and 2GIG Security Bring 24-Hour Automation to New Waterworks Private Social Club

Sarasota, Florida social club can now almost run itself thanks to advanced automation designed and installed by local award-winning electronic firm SmartHouse Integration.

The owners of Waterworks, a new private social club have taken great care to create a trendy, comfortable, and safe environment where local leaders and business owners can network, relax, and host private events.

In order to deliver all of these benefits while consolidating and simplifying management of the building’s security, lights, TVs, audio, climate, and access control, the owners hired leading South Florida electronics integration firm, SmartHouse Integration, to install the ELAN Control System and 2GIG security system to provide remote control of every sub-system.

According to SmartHouse Integration owner Mark van den Broek, Waterworks has made full use of the ELAN Control System’s capabilities, integrating almost every electronic function in the building and automating schedules to make daily operations as simple and worry-free as possible.

“Waterworks is a shining example of the extraordinary power of ELAN’s automation technology,” Mark says. “From opening to closing, the control system manages every building system, with automatic scheduled events such as the lights turning on at 6:00 AM for the cleaning crew, and the 2GIG security system arming at midnight if the occupancy sensors detect no one is in the building. With this level of integration and ELAN’s simple, powerful control interface, staff can focus on providing the best service to members instead of running around to manually adjust lights, speaker volumes, or TVs.”

Control goals

Since Waterworks’ goal is to foster relationships and communication between members, the technology is used to create a specific environment rather than to offer activities or distractions. That’s why the TVs at the bar play silent black and white movies, and why there is no cell phone use allowed inside after 7:00 pm. The eight-zone audio distribution system plays a central role in the club’s classy ambiance as well, playing background music at low volumes so it doesn’t become the focus of members’ attention.

“It’s more about atmosphere than entertainment,” Mark continues, “and each building system is part of that atmosphere. It’s why we programmed the thermostats and motorised window shades to react to ambient temperature and sunlight, and why we’re integrating ELAN’s new face recognition for door access. These are features that require no staff involvement once they’re set up, and present an ultra-cool, modern environment that matches the club’s high-end aesthetics and services.”

The club’s chandeliers and plug-in lamps are also integrated for simple control, automatically brightening and dimming depending on ambient light levels throughout the day. The ELAN system turns the TVs and audio zones on at 10:30 AM, requiring no input from staff.

As a sister brand to ELAN under the Nortek Security & Control umbrella, the 2GIG security system integrates perfectly. Staff can easily arm and disarm the security system through the ELAN interface, while the 2GIG panel is installed safely out of reach from the guests along with the rest of the system equipment. For ultimate peace of mind, multiple ELAN surveillance cameras provide live and recorded coverage of the property that can be viewed through the ELAN app from anywhere in the world.

Waterworks features a pool room, a cigar room, an outdoor deck, and a bar, and each member can reserve the entire establishment for one day a year to host a private event. SmartHouse Integration also added Chromecast and Apple TV units that allow members to stream presentations or their own personal music during these private functions.

With a nod toward aesthetics, SmartHouse Integration used SpeakerCraft in-ceiling speakers to provide multiple zones of audio. The 40 individually-controllable zones of lighting operate through a Lutron system, which integrates with ELAN for full control through the ELAN interface.

“If a hospitality provider such as a bar, restaurant, hotel or social club, wants to provide the ultimate modern-chic experience for guests,” Mark explains, “ELAN technology can help them do so by eliminating countless minor tasks and presenting a clean aesthetic that uses technology in the background, rather than making it a visible focal point. And since the ELAN system is expandable, constantly updated to integrate with new third-party products, and introduces new features such as voice control and facial recognition, it’s value only grows over time.”

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Smart Home Style Tips With Mark van den Broek from SmartHouse Integration

Note: This article was originally published at

Revamping your home into a connected smart house can seem like an intimidating task. You might wonder if the place will end up looking like an eyesore, with wires and gadgets everywhere you look. But as technological advances have been made and device designs have gotten sleeker, this is no longer a huge worry. In fact, adding some smart tech doesn’t have to take away from your home’s style – rather, it can enhance it. 

We recently talked to Mark van den Broek, the Founder and President of Sarasota-based design firm SmartHouse Integration about how you don’t have to sacrifice smarts over style. Mark and his team outfit some of the finest homes across the US with innovative designs and stellar smart home device installations. Here’s what we learned on how to meld cutting-edge technology and aesthetic excellence.

Place devices with intention 

There’s a smart device for everything these days – speakers, lights, remotes – but where are the optimal spots to put these devices? 

“Integrating your systems is really a bunch of black boxes that are in a room somewhere in the home. Our approach to integration is based on the aesthetics of it,” says van den Broek. “We ask ourselves questions like ‘What speakers should we use to fit a design? How do we best introduce a TV to a space? Is it in a cabinet, behind a piece of art, or does it pop up out of a countertop?’” 

For an attractive design layout from the get-go, he advises working with an interior designer early to properly place electronics.

Keep it simple

van den Broek stresses the importance of keeping it simple. “Today’s automation systems work so they can be designed to be very user-friendly. A good system design combined with the manufacturer’s updated product designs gives you a clean look,” he says. You’ll find that everyday smart home items have been up upgraded with new capabilities, and also with fresh looks. That means buying fewer products packed with more functions.

If you’re looking to splurge, van den Broek advises that you spend more money on the products you will interact with the most. These essential items include lighting keypads, touch screens, and remotes. From that list, he specifically recommends the beautiful Lutron Palladiom lighting keypads, the ELAN 8” touchscreen with facial recognition, and the easy-to-use ELAN remote.

Get a professional involved

When you’re creating a smart home, there are two distinct paths to take – DIY and custom integration. If you’re looking for a small DIY transformation, van den Broek suggests starting with a Google Home or Alexa and connecting them with any devices you add from there on. 

If you want to “go big” and really deck your home out in smart gear, van den Broek advises getting a professional involved and going the custom integration route. “If smart integration is done incorrectly, your home will turn into into a source of frustration, which is the last thing you want. Hiring an expert will reduce your frustration-level substantially and you will end up with a system you dreamed about,” he says.

No matter what stage you are in your smart home transformation, it’s worth knowing that you don’t have to compromise on keeping your home stylish while integrating new devices. Have you implemented custom integrations in your home, or are you happier going the DIY route? Let us know in the comments. 

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simple living

Simple Living: Set-and-Forget Luxury with ELAN-Automation

The July 2019 issue of Residential Systems magazine just ran a nice piece on an ELAN-automated home project we completed recently in here in Sarasota. Learn more about our residential home automation projects here.

simple living
simple living
simple living
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home automation for commercial

Case Study: Home Automation for Commercial

Sound & Video Contractor magazine featured a case study on our work at Waterworks, one of Sarasota’s premier social and business clubs. Learn more about our commercial technology automation projects here.

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Smarthouse Integration