What happens when cutting edge technology is at odds with spousal aesthetic approval? Well...you need to get creative!

The more ubiquitous modern home technology becomes, we're seeing two very distinct styles and integration approaches from the manufacturers. 

On one hand, as components shrink and become more low profile, some companies are attempting to make their products essentially disappear, designing them to seamlessly blend with their surroundings. Digital assistant microphones/speakers like the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini jump to mind.

On the other hand, much has been the tendency for cutting edge technology in homes for centuries, these cool modern devices are apparently intended to be put on display (just look at visible heating and plumbing lines in Victorian homes). All too often, the current trend is to embrace the tech in a utility meets modern art hybrid, the design of which is meant to resemble sleek monolithic cubes of digital sculpture on a stage for all to see.

While this might be the look you're going for in a modern loft space, or geometric minimalist environment, this tends to simply look out of place when it comes to trying to integrate it with an older home. It's tough to mix an upscale and comfortable yet antique aesthetic with a sterile glossy white or black plastic cube.

But all of this being said, the solution isn't just to forgo the modern tech in your home. I mean, I'm certain there's almost always a solution that can be found. Take for example the Sonos home theater package, with sound bar and subwoofer.

Ever since it debuted, I'd had my heart set on this Sonos home theater package. You could even say that I'm a total fan boy of Sonos and maybe just a tad bit too obsessed. I've been a huge fan of the Sonos streaming music components for years, and the idea of an almost wireless home theater system with 5.1 channels, including a television mounted sound bar and a massive couch shaking subwoofer, that also plays all of our favorite streaming music sources, was exactly what I had long dreamed of.  

Now, for all you home theater enthusiasts out there shaking your head and judging me, I know the 5.1 channels is simulated since there are not true front speakers, and I'm okay with that. The Playbar simulates the front speakers with side mounted end firing speakers. It's science, physics to be exact, and it sounds good in the right room. That being said, we're not trying to achieve an IMAX or THX experience in our living room, so you don't need to lecture us on the drawbacks. 

So after much planning, convincing, and promising that we'd be able to effectively conceal the system, Wendy agreed to go forward with installing the Sonos home theater system in our home. But once I had the buy in,  I had to figure out just how we'd make the whole install look acceptable from a skeptical spouse perspective.

Sonos Sub

The first component that we needed to figure out was the Sonos Sub. This room shaking sub-woofer packs the punch needed to give some serious oompf to any movie or music we're listening to. But this sub-woofer is also one of those monolithic modern art cubes I mentioned earlier. Not only that, it's also sort of huge.

Sonos intends this block to be on full display, like the photo above, looking sleek and awesome in your room. But for us, how sleek and awesome could a plastic cube look next to 100 year old moulding, a grandfather clock, and a wood burning stove? Rather than putting this whole thing on display, we decided to hide it completely. 

Just behind the couch we built the shiplap wall to hide a support column. This meant that we had a little bit of room to play with, so we took advantage of it by including a perfectly sized little nook into the shiplap wall behind our couch. 

We trimmed it out and ended up with very little room to spare, but the Sonos Sub slid right into place. We included a single outlet within the nook, so there are no wires to be seen anywhere.

As it turns out, this install is pretty much idea. The deep bass fires into the back of the couch and is completely out of view of anyone in the room. Concealed and completely acceptable as far as Wendy is concerned. And the performance of the sub woofer behind the couch is even better than I initially expected. This little setup and really quite the win win!

Sonos Playbar

While the design and intent of a subwoofer lends itself to being relatively easy to completely conceal, the Playbar is a different matter. This speaker is responsible for the primary sound from the television, and is meant to deliver the dialog from the television in a manner that is supposed to seem as if it's coming directly from the TV itself. There are plenty of examples online for how you can mount a Sonos Playbar, but pretty much all of them do not meet the concealment requirements of my lovely wife. Here's a beautiful example of putting the Playbar on display...and it would look rather terrible in our home.


Photo Credit: Sonos.com

When it came to our Playbar, it all started with my original intent (completely in my head) to mount it like the photo above, just below our television hanging above our fireplace mantel. The planning for this television hanging took a fair amount of time. We didn't want any wires or components visible, so our goal was to conceal everything behind the television. 

Before I could even put the Playbar on the mounting bracket on the TV, Wendy took one look at the "monstrosity" and slowly shook her head, giving me a firm and decidedly disapproving, "nuh-uh, try again." After I held it in place for a minute I think she said something along the lines of "NO WAY ARE YOU HANGING THAT BIG BLACK BOX BELOW OR EVEN ABOVE THE TV!!!"

I was blinded by the technology, but she was absolutely right. We had a hard enough time coming to grips with hanging the TV above the mantel and making it an unfortunate focal point in the room, but adding a large black cube either below or above the TV was simply not acceptable. Our TV is 46", and this Playbar speaker is only slightly narrower. The low profile bezel of the TV is an attempt to minimize its impact as much as possible, so adding big 6" protrusion was borderline offensive. Ultimately, I had to go back to the drawing board.

As it turns out, given the height we mounted the TV, the optimal viewing angle requires the television to be tilted down a bit toward the couch/viewer. This gave me an idea. To allow a little extra tilt I ended up placing the television mount on two small strips of wood to essentially fur out the mount by 3/4".

This not only allowed the television to tilt down the necessary amount, but it also increased the gap between the top of the TV and the wall just enough! This was my true light bulb moment. Even though Sonos doesn't recommend mounting the Playbar in the manner that we're using it, it was either this way or no way. When it comes down to it, I'll take "slightly less than optimal" over "not at all."

I was able to turn the Sonos Playbar on it's back and slide it in above the television. Similar to laying the Playbar flat on the mantel below the TV (another non-starter for Wendy), the Playbar now sits partially concealed behind the top of the TV. Only about an inch and a half of the Playbar is visible and when you're seated you can barely even see it.

But the real test is in the sound. I was preparing myself to be disgusted by a muffled and partially blocked center channel, obscured by the television. But to be completely honest, neither of us can tell a difference between the Playbar mounted in this manner compared to how it sounded when mounted on an approved bracket based on Sonos guidance above the TV.

The only drawback of this configuration is that the IR receiver on the speaker is blocked by the TV, so volume control doesn't work out of the box with the Apple TV remote. We were able to resolve this issue with a simple IR repeater that we mounted inconspicuously on the bottom left of the TV bezel. The IR repeater's other end just mounts to the top of the Playbar and the problem was solved.

With everything in place, we added two Play One speakers for surround sound on the ground behind either side of the couch and our Sonos home theater setup is complete and sounding great. 

This is a case where a little creativity and an attempt to break from manufacturer guidance on optimal setup allowed us to solve our problems with aesthetics. I absolutely love the Sonos system as a whole, and a wireless 5.1 channel home theater (sure, it's simulated 5.1) that also streams our favorite music and synchronizes with music throughout the house is pretty great. 

If you're considering the Sonos home theater system but are worried about how it will look when fully mounted and installed, rest assured that we were able to make it work for our purposes with only minor alterations. And in our case, it still sounds absolutely excellent. Personally, I think my greatest happiness in this outcome is that we were both able to achieve our independent goals on this project. I got to install the home theater package I had my technology nerd heart set on for several years, and Wendy isn't staring at a giant set of plastic cubes strategically placed around the room.

What do you think? Is this an aesthetically pleasing approach to integrating technology in our older home? Or are you getting a twitch simply by seeing the television mounted prominently above the mantel? Have you had any of these form over function style debates with your partner, only to realize there's a nice form meets function middle ground of blissful coexistence? Would love to hear your experiences. 

Comments 8

Comments

SpencerKoch
3/29/2018 at 6:42 PM

I broke down and bought the BDI stand that is designed to have the playbar in the acoustically transparent cabinet. Still have the subwoofer sitting next to it though...

3/30/2018 at 7:03 AM

The post was nice .Thank you for sharing.Looking forward for more post like this.

Margaret
3/31/2018 at 1:36 PM

I am still twitching!

4/10/2018 at 9:41 AM

Is this an aesthetically pleasing approach to integrating technology in our older home? Yes, it is.

JC
4/15/2018 at 8:03 PM

Alright I'm already laughing a bit, and I love you guys, you're my favourite bloggers, but this: "Or are you getting a twitch simply by seeing the television mounted prominently above the mantel?" <-- OMG it's my number 1 home design pet peeve. If it works for you two, and you like it, good, but never in a million years would I mount my TV above a fireplace.

:)

JC
4/15/2018 at 8:06 PM

The sub-woofer solution, however, is awesome.

Alex
4/21/2018

I hate that we had to do it! If we ever do anything else to this room I want to build something into the wall to completely conceal it. At the time we just wanted to finally get the project done. But for us, in this room, it works. It also works better than the TV would have worked anywhere else in the room, so I guess we make compromises where we need to. Alt smile

Nice post
4/25/2018 at 1:55 AM

loved the idea

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