Savannah, GA—July 2019… When completed at the end of 1919, Armstrong House was one of the finest examples of the Italian Renaissance style in America. Designed by Beaux Arts architect Henrik Wallin for shipping magnate George Armstrong, the mansion boasts a magnificent main hall, a grand cantilevered staircase with solid marble steps, Romanesque plasterwork detail, cast bronze hardware, Italian marble mantlepieces and floors, and hand-filigreed woodwork. The outside is equally impressive.
Armstrong’s widow Lucy deeded the nearly 25,000-square-foot mansion to Armstrong Junior College in 1935, and the landmark building went through two more ownership changes before Savannah-born luxury hotelier, entrepreneur, and patron of the arts Richard Kessler purchased it in 2017. Kessler ordered a complete restoration of the building to its original magnificence.
Kessler, also contracted with Savannah-based AV firm Stage Front to design and install a new AV-over-IP system for background music and video in the three-story mansion and full basement. The audio system also covers a new two-story carriage house with a full glass sunroom and new Italianate gardens with a 55-foot-long pool, sculptures, and a large event lawn. Stage Front Systems Consultant Adam Durden and his engineering team specified Attero Tech unBT2A network-enabled Bluetooth audio wall plates to enable playing music from mobile devices.
The project was completed in March 2019, and Kessler has moved in. He will live in the mansion a few months of the year. The rest of the time, the building will be a destination for weddings, executive retreats, and other special events. It also can serve as a guest house for the stars who entertain at Kessler’s new $250 million Plant Riverside Hotel.
Stage Front designed a Dante audio system managed by a QSC Q-SYS Core 110f processor, located in an equipment rack in the basement. CAT6 cable distributes Dante audio throughout the building. “We installed Attero Tech unBT2A Bluetooth plates in the first floor music room, the basement spa and gym, the trophy room, the library, Mr. Kessler’s second-floor master bedroom, the carriage house sun room, and the music conservatory,” relates Durden. “The unBT2A’s extended Bluetooth range is important because this is a 25,000 square foot mansion, and the rooms are very large. Mr. Kessler doesn’t want any issue with phones disconnecting or not working for guests. The carriage house sun room has large windows that face the sculpture garden, and the sun room’s unBT2A has sufficient Bluetooth range to reach the outdoor areas by the pool and the sculpture garden.”
The Attero Tech unBT2A offers a simple, one-button pairing/connect process for standalone operation, with LED indication of connection status. The interface can be programmed to remember previously paired devices and automatically re-pair, or to require re-pairing each time. “The re-pairing options are very useful,” asserts Durden. “In the rooms where Mr. Kessler will spend most of his time, we set the Bluetooth to remember his devices. In the rooms that are for public use and live events, it’s programmed to forget previous connections, forcing the user to re-pair.”
Durden and Stage Front chose Attero Tech panels for multiple reasons. “We like Attero Tech’s Bluetooth and Dante implementations, and their panels are reliable and easy to install with just a Category cable and an RJ45 connection,” he observes. “And they’re inexpensive for this type of quality product.”
System control was provided by another contractor. “But they integrated the control for our system into their Crestron panels,” Durden avers. “It’s a smart house, with HVAC, lighting, and audio control and limited AV control for the rooms with flat panel TVs. For audio, they can route any source to any part of the building. We gave Mr. Kessler a touch panel inside his master bedroom to control his area; the rest of the building is controlled separately.”
Installing loudspeakers for a century-old historic mansion required Stage Front to innovate. “On the third floor, they refinished the ceilings, and there was added access, so we were able to install Bose EdgeMax EM90 ceiling speakers for the billiard and music conservatory rooms. We also used the EM90s in the basement fitness areas and the spa and in the carriage house,” Durden notes. “But in the rest of the house, the ceilings remained consistent with the original design, and everything is hard surfaces. The house received a new HVAC system, whereas the original construction consisted of radiator heaters in 3-foot tall by 3-foot wide by 15-inch deep cavities. During the renovation, the general contractor removed the radiators, left the decorative facia, and we installed JBL Control 28 speakers within the cavities, allowing the loudspeakers to remain out of sight.”
So far, the new audio system is working very well at Armstrong House. “We had to adjust a few outdoor speakers to eliminate dead spots, and now everything is 100 percent,” reports Durden. “This was an impressive team effort. Stage Front Systems engineers Bill Crowe and Sam Allkatan handled the routing, processor programming, commissioning, and more to make it all work. Adam Justice managed the install, and our installers did a great job in a challenging venue.”
The Stage Front team is on to other projects, and Attero Tech panels are increasingly part of the firm’s designs. “I’m currently working a new project on Hilton Head Island, where they have requested Bluetooth capabilities, and we’re implementing two Attero Tech unBT2As for that project,” Durden confirms. “We also use a lot of unDX41 wall plates, which have four XLR mic/line inputs, in our smaller production systems that don’t require a custom 20-input XLR plate. We continue to use Attero Tech products more and more.”