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Bang & Olufsen

Integrated audio visual.

Design is all about perception. What brings joy to one person is anathema to another. And who is to say what good design is and what is bad? I recently helped a client fill his home with the most exquisite furnishings and carpets and as we were nearing the conclusion of the project he said, “We have such good taste, thank goodness we’re not married or we’d be broke”. The sentiment was confirmed when somehow I couldn’t hold myself back from re-doing my drab, dreary and dated family room before a fundraising home tour, instead of sticking to my guns and ordering the long overdue new windows. I just couldn’t do it. Or take the boat we used to have. Instead of replacing the lower unit, I re-upholstered the interior. It’s a right side—left side brain thing.

When I think of design I equate it to the human body. Architecture is the bones, the framework we design within. The muscle comes from sound and light, mood setters that can change the way we perceive a space with a flick of a switch or the push of a button.

Furnishing and fixtures are the clothes. They’re transient, a thought I take solace in considering some of the wild styles I’ve seen come and go. I know that eventually they will be replaced with something more appropriate and lasting.

People hire designers not only for our sense of taste and style but for the added value components we can bring to their property. Concepts that are understandably beyond the lay-person’s expertise. This is particularly true of integrated audio visual systems. They can elevate an interior from the mundane to something sublime.

The front runner of integrated audio visual is Bang & Olufsen; in fact it was years before competitors jumped on the bandwagon, and they’re still trying to catch up. I was initially attracted to Bang & Olufsen by their style, and who in my profession wouldn’t be? It’s like a little black dress that looks divine in any setting and enhances any room that wears it. The company should be given both an Emmy and an Oscar for command performances in more television shows and movies than I would have space to list in this article. From the 80s movie Wall Street to an episode of “Will & Grace” I watched last week, Bang & Olufsen brings a subliminal message of understated elegance: I have class, style, dedication and conviction.

I became a devotee when I experienced the quality. Impeccable clarity of sound and vision. Simplicity of use. Attention to detail. Who else has thought of bundling the spaghetti of wire, cable, and cords from all the components into a compact package that mounts discreetly on your baseboard? It epitomizes what we aspire to in great design: interiors that look effortless and operate effortlessly.

I am such an advocate that I include integrated audio video on our electrical plans as a matter of rote. When it comes time to back up that decision to my clientele I have lots of personal stories I can relate. I love to reminisce about walking through the Museum of Modern Art in New York and being elated to see Bang and Olufsen as part of the permanent collections. Not only does it look like art, it is art—MOMA says so!

My own home is the ideal show room. A 200 year old 4,000 square foot limestone house that we wired in an afternoon, it epitomizes old merging with new. At intimate dinner parties I can see my guests scoping out the space trying to figure out where the delicious sound is coming from. They never suspect the graceful sculptures flanking the fireplace or the pierced grills camouflaged in the dining room walls. And I always pass the remote, especially to the men. Like good cutlery it’s ergonomically correct with surprising heft and even more surprising grace. There is no plastic or unnecessary gadgetry involved, just solid engineering.

One couple we hosted was so enamored they rushed right out and had an integrated sound system installed the very next week. At a reciprocal dinner their enthusiasm turned into one of those embarrassing moments. When the passing of the remote took place a great kerfuffle ensued as the system was put through its paces. The poor owners realized they had to run upstairs to manually change the volume, which somehow defeated the whole purpose. Repeat after me: “There is only one truly integrated system and it’s called Bang & Olufsen”.

When I think of design I equate it to the human body. Architecture is the bones, the framework we design within.

Every year we hold an annual soiree where we include friends, family, and clients. We’re renowned for these parties as they tend to go from dusk til dawn with lots of dancing in-between. The system follows us through conversation with Diana Krall to hip-hop dancing with Usher. Thank goodness for cut off valves, the only responsible element at 5 a.m. that saves me from blowing the speakers every time. Not that they’re not loud enough; rebooting the next morning is like shock treatment as the news blasts from the speakers. Can’t you just picture the headlines: “Designer in coma after the shock of high velocity sound waves”? Oops.

One can even take things a little further, but of course that’s what designers are known for. Take for example a bridal shower with a “Sex and the City” theme. With yards of pink polka dot on a chocolate background to dress the space and pink peonies galore it was a short stretch to go one step further and an inconsequential cost to dress the BeoLab 2500 speakers with bubble gum pink speaker covers. Just so you know, there’s green for the holiday season, grey for fall, blue just because and of course, black for formal events. God is in the details.

I have to warn you however that there is one serious drawback to a Bang & Olufsen sound system. With extended family all over the world we make a concerted effort to get together every Christmas. I in turn try to outdo myself making each annual event better than the last. The year that changed my life forever I hired a limousine and drove to the city picking up family along the way, collecting those arriving by air from New York and Los Angeles. Our final destination was Roy Thompson Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Three hundred people performing live in a concert hall designed for acoustic perfection! It was going to be fantastic.

I had been filming Lofty Ideas in Toronto over the summer and had consequently purchased tickets six months in advance requesting seats where we would experience optimal sound. With great anticipation we all waited for our favourite part—the climax of the piece, the Hallelujah Chorus. But when it began something was wrong—to a person we looked up and down the aisle at each other saying “I can’t hear it! Why is it so muffled?” We’d been spoiled forever by a Kathleen Battle CD and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

It was a Glenn Gould moment, and I suddenly understood why he ceased performing live. Come to think of it, there are few instances I can recall when the sound of a live performance blew me away. Certainly not the Beatles, they were appalling but I was screaming so loudly I can hardly be the judge. The Stones were not much better initially but what they lacked in sound they’ve made up for in stage presence, which I believe is the new deal. Go for the show.

But it does give one pause. Who knows—when I finally move up to a Bang & Olufsen flat screen television the movie theatre may become obsolete as well. Someone will find me years hence sitting in a worn out barca lounger weighing 400 pounds surrounded by empty take out boxes and popcorn bags. But I’ll have a half pound’s worth of remote in hand and a smile on my face.

All photos courtesy of Bang & Olufsen.


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Post Date:

August 1, 2005