Maybe the life of a businessman and celebrity is complicated enough, but when Sir Richard Branson is ready to relax in his home, he wants things simple.
Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Virgin Records and 400 other companies, is a soft-spoken, unassuming man in private, says Rusty Henderson, partner in electronics integration company Think Simple Limited.
BransonÂ’s home is simple as well. His main residence, located on Necker Island, the 74-acre private paradise he owns in the Caribbean, is just three rooms (or rather three small buildings): a bedroom, kitchen and living/entertaining space Â–called the Temple RoomÂ– with adjoining spa and swimming pool.
ItÂ’s true that the setting is extraordinary. Branson can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic and the sun set into the Caribbean from the Temple Room. Though roofed, the space is open to the breezes and provides almost 360-degree views of the island and oceans.
Just over a year ago Henderson installed new audio/video systems in the residence. Â“Our main concern was to make sure everything was incredibly easy to use,Â” he explains. Branson can choose a movie or TV station, bring up music from an iPod or play a DVD. He also has Internet connections in each living area. Â“The thing he uses the most is the TV,Â” Henderson adds.Â Â“He lives off the news and world events.Â”
A harsh environment
Though BransonÂ’s entertainment systems are simple, making them work was anything but. Â“The Caribbean environment is very harsh,Â” Henderson explains. Â“You can think of Necker Island as a boat that doesnÂ’t move.Â” Because the islandÂ’s salty air is highly corrosive, exposed surfaces and all connections had to be marinised, a process where a barrier material is applied to keep out the salt air.
The second problem was absorbing power variations and possible power interruptions. Necker Island produces its own electricity through two large generators. When power is switched from one source to another, or if the generators have any problem, the resulting sags, spikes and surges can have a very damaging effect on electronics. For that reason, Think Simple deployed a series of uninterruptible power supplies, which use batteries to filter the power and make sure itÂ’s perfectly consistent. These intelligent devices are also able to shut down components when not in use, reducing power consumption and expense.
The biggest challenge was lightening, a danger of special importance in the Caribbean. The problem was illustrated quite graphically last August by a strike that destroyed the islandÂ’s largest structure.Â Â“That was really sad and shocking,Â” Henderson says. The 15,000 square foot villa, originally built in 1984, had hosted a large number of celebrities and world leaders, for example the wedding of GoogleÂ’s co-founder Larry Page. Completely destroyed by the fire, it will be rebuilt by Branson and the Virgin Group starting next year.
Because of the concern with lightening, Henderson says Think Simple avoided the use of copper cable whenever possible in BransonÂ’s private house, transporting audio, video and Internet signals via non-conducive fiber optics.
Keeping things simple
The key to BransonÂ’s entertainment system, according to Henderson, is the use of a control system from Crestron, the worldÂ’s leading provider of home automation systems. Think Simple installed two Crestron control processors and tied them into a Kaleidescape Movie Player, a DVD player, two Toshiba LED televisions (one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen), a multi-zone sound system with three iPod docks and a 55Â” SunBrite weather-proof TV for the Temple Room.
The Kaleidescape Movie Player stores BransonÂ’s entire movie collection in a single device, with a very easy-to-use interface accessed through the Crestron processor. Sir Richard is able to operate the Movie Player and the other components using an RTI wand-style remote control, which Henderson chose for its extreme simplicity and reliability. Think Simple also installed Crestron Cameo Keypads in each room as an alternative, in-wall control for the music system.
Crestron components were also helpful in the harsh Caribbean environment. Henderson says he chose them because of the extreme reliability of the companyÂ’s products.
Since Branson likes his electronics out of sight when not in use, Think Simple hid loudspeakers in-wall or in discrete locations in the ceilings. They installed subwoofers under the floors, with the sound rising from grills not unlike air-conditioning vents.Â Think Simple technicians installed the TV in the bedroom in a teak cabinet, from which it rises and swivels to an ideal viewing position at the touch of a button on the remote control. The pool, too, includes underwater speakers, so Branson and his guests can listen to music or the TV when swimming or soaking.
Henderson says it took an eight-man crew 28 days to install all the wiring and components, traveling from a temporary base on the nearby island of Virgin Gorda. Â“We hired two transport vessels to get the team to and from the island every day. The boats had to be pretty large as we had over 20 waterproof crates full of the equipment and tools required to undertake the installation.Â”
Branson, however, appreciated the effort. His short but sweet comment:Â Â“This is absurdly good!Â”