Arch House: A Subterranean Design Symphony

Interiors 9th Nov 2022 5 minutes
Misha Zala

The story starts, as it often does, with parallel narratives. First, the celebrated Hollywood composer who needed a space to record his epic soundtracks, and second, the family man who – alongside his wife, Nina – wanted to transform their house into an elegant, intelligently-designed home.

Lorne Balfe has written countless film, television and video game scores – you’ll have heard his incredible work in The Dark Knight, The Crown and recently, Top Gun: Maverick. The family had lived in Arch House for several years, carefully considering in meticulous detail the house’s potential transformation.

He wanted to create a subterranean studio space where he could channel his composing genius and record music at home, free from distractions but in close proximity to his family. It needed to operate as a Pro-Audio composing space on the studio side, whilst simultaneously able to playback multi-channel film scores to industry clients in the cinema. 

When we joined Arch House as technology consultants, around one year into the project, we became part of a collective of design professionals working in harmony to bring Balfe’s vision to life. This included the architects, Flower Michelin, interior designers Salvesen Graham, Bailey & Jones, the lead contractors who handled the house’s construction, and Yellow Technology, who designed and installed the professional recording studio.

Arch House involved taking everything we knew about audio design and technology, stripping it back and making it beautiful.

Naturally, being a world-renowned composer, Balfe had some highly specific audio technology requests, so the solutions were bespoke and the quality needed to be exceptional. For example, he mixes in Dolby surround sound, creating a layered track in order to fully immerse cinema-goers in the music. So, the production and replication needed to be perfectly balanced – if there’s lag of even a tenth of a second, the audio will sound like it’s echoing. 

The high-spec studio and cinema we designed in collaboration with Yellow Technology ensured we could facilitate the ultimate synergy between recording and replication. In other words, Balfe can make a recording and in the same space, turn on the cinema system to play it back live through his production equipment. This clever tech is managed via a processor manufactured by Trinnov, which could handle the Pro-Audio signal being sent by the studio.

An element we’re especially proud of is the ‘Compose’ button, hyper-programmed through a single integrated smart system, Helyx.. The button triggers the Lutron lighting, audio/video and a PDU outlet (to put it simply, a smart plug socket) to start up all music studio desk equipment. As far as buttons go, we think it’s one of the best ever made!

A Sonic Solution

Here’s another (very specialist!) challenge we loved working on. While the music studio was in use, and Balfe was channelling his composing genius, he often wore sound-cancelling headphones and could not see or hear when somebody opened the door.

So, we came up with a clever solution to notify him without distracting him from his work. We designed a door contact that connected to the LED strip positioned behind his main monitor and programmed it through Lutron to glow when the door was opened.

We needed to ensure that the subterranean space was suitable for entertaining both industry clients and personal guests and that Balfe and his wife could retain global control of the whole house. The duality of the project meant that once the heavy red leather-lined studio doors closed, the house remained a family home.

And so, behind its traditional Victorian facades, the house evolved into a beautiful home with a timeless aesthetic, incorporating elegant hand-cut brick arches, dreamy yet muted colours and technology that seamlessly blends in.

In keeping with the classical interiors, the client didn’t want the technology to be visible – a shared thread across many projects we work on with Salvesen Graham: This resulted in some extensive work to conceal kilometres of cables from view – above ground, you’d never know there’s a “weapons-grade audio bunker” (as the RIBAJ described it) lurking below!

Interestingly, while Balfe is evidently a music obsessive, he expressed that he wasn’t too concerned with having top-quality speakers around the house. He simply wanted to be able to wirelessly beam songs to various rooms without using a streaming service. So, we installed ‘invisible’ speakers by Amina which were carefully hidden away through plasterwork.

Inside the stunning sage green Club Room, Henry Van Der Vijver lacquer was used to create an intensely glossy finish. Usually, this lacquer is just used on pieces of furniture, but this Club Room called for a full polish. So, to make the Artcoustic speakers blend into their surroundings, they were custom lacquered in the same finish. They might just be the most personalised speakers in the world!

Lighting: A Filament of the Imagination

In terms of illuminating the house, the Lutron smart lighting system we used made perfect sense – it allowed us to work with the lighting and interior design teams to produce a complex lighting scheme with simplistic controls. All systems were combined to work under Helyx, harmoniously integrated into Salvesen Graham’s peaceful aesthetics.

In keeping with the design style, each light switch is a pared-back and beautiful reflection of the project’s timeless minimalism. A single button push can trigger many of the different subsystems running concurrently. This is all down to the incredible Helyx smart interface – it meant we were able to remove additional unnecessary control panels, remotes and even smartphone apps.

And the jewel in this project’s crown?

Duality is the thread that seamlessly runs through the Arch House project – and within this, the collective created beautiful, multipurpose spaces that transform at will. With a touch of a button, the music studio shapeshifts from a professional recording space into a Dolby Atmos home cinema space, with a hidden projector and a screen that descends when the ‘Film’ button on the light switch is pressed.

Configuring the lighting scenes was a collaborative effort between the whole team. We designed scenes to match the room’s function, which ranged from a 20-strong production studio to a Friday night ‘popcorn and all’ cinema room for the whole family to enjoy movies together. The holistic nature of the Arch House project made it an absolute joy to be part of – the team of specialists and the client working together in tandem was key to its success.

The sheer level of technicality and programming involved in this project had us spellbound – being able to control the system with just a single app or touchscreen is absolutely thrilling. The fact that all of this is nestled within a family home makes us even prouder to have been involved.

Want to learn more about Arch House? Click here

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