It might sound contradicting to want to modernise an old, historic building but that’s exactly what integrator, Lionel Armand has done to this castle home on France’s Basque coast. Thanks to KNX, this jewel of French architecture has been transformed into a connected building that meets current digital and environmental standards. It has even won the Best Smart Home in Europe KNX Award recently.
The castle, named La Folie Boulart, was a renovation project, working to build modern technology and home automation systems into the architecture of the building. Starting in 2015, the castle was finally completed in April 2022.
A family of four live in the house but the castle can also be rented out for events, such as weddings, seminars, receptions, etc, so it was important that the technology was easy for the family and children to use, as well as staff and guests. Each room in the castle is equipped with a control tablet giving staff, guests and the family full room control.
The initial brief started out simply as a lighting project. Integrator, Armand says: “Initially, the customer wanted to have a control system for the management of all the lights. But when he discovered the full potential of KNX, he switched to wanting a multi-purpose whole-home control system. He did not have a clear idea of what he wanted as home automation and technology was all brand new to him, but his desires and needs evolved as the project progressed and through problems we encountered on the way.”
Although the customer’s wants and needs developed into more, this was still a huge lighting project with more than 200 lighting circuits installed, providing interior illumination and management of exterior façades. The system is programmed to control and dim individual luminaires or can be grouped together through interfaces and pre-programmed scenes.
“The castle was a historic monument that was being renovated so we installed all existing electrical systems and started from scratch by integrating new BUS and IP cabling.”
There are 16 KNX lines (10 IP and six RF) supporting more than 450 KNX devices to ensure the management of the lighting, heating and air conditioning, ventilation, energy metering and water (swimming pool, spa, sauna and fountains). All data is uploaded on two types of supervision: technical supervision based on ABB’s doGATE solution and on the Léo energy metering engine. The second supervision system (RTI) is for the guests of the castle. Each room is equipped with a tablet allowing control of the audio and video in addition to the KNX equipment.
This project had the integrator involved from the start, as Armand points out: “I participated in all phases of the project: design, studies, coordination, programming of equipment and supervision (tablets and BMS). The castle was a historic monument that was being renovated so we installed all existing electrical systems and started from scratch by integrating new BUS and IP cabling. We also used radio technologies (KNX RF) in areas where cables could not be laid.”
According to the integrator, the main challenge in this project was to fully understand exactly what the customer wanted as he changed his mind so often as he learned what could be possible.
Deployment through experience
This was a project that relied on the integrator’s knowledge and guidance to show what could be achieved in this castle. As it is used as a full-time home and a guest house, the technology had to be simple for anyone to use but also integrated in a way that would work well for the resident’s everyday lifestyle.
Having completed several luxury hotel projects in the past, Armand relied on his experience and deployed systems that are proven and mastered by the team.
“We used a doGATE BMS from ABB for the entire technical management part of the building, which allows us to have multi-business supervision of the entire building, particularly its energy performance which was very important,” explains Armand. “One of the big challenges of the project was actually to integrate digital technology into a historic building in order to set up a measurement system to have real-time energy monitoring and also actions to improve this performance.”
He continues: “For individual room comfort control, we used an RTI system, consisting of three XP6S controllers – one master and two slaves. This global system has 10 configurations – eight for the bedrooms, one for the common areas such as lounges, and one for the general manager of the site – and allows the control command of both the technical parts (lighting, HVAC, swimming pool) and multimedia (audio and video).”
Described as a historical monument, the castle’s architecture is old and was not designed to house modern technology. “Each room is specific in its architecture,” admits Armand. “We had to find specific equipment that would best fit into each individual room. It wasn’t a ‘one size fits all’ job. Some cable passages were also difficult in large stone walls. Sometimes, the only way to solve these problems was to use wireless systems.”
As well as building management systems and overall control, the castle also features some AV throughout its different areas. TVs are installed for entertainment and some of these are hidden when not in use. Using Future Automation TV lifts, one TV is lowered down from the ceiling in suite 4 while suite 1’s TV rises from the floor. In the salon area, two TVs are installed and are hidden behind glass when not in use, making them invisible.
As mentioned earlier, lighting was a huge part of this project. The entire lighting control system is carried out via a KNX home automation system. Unlike conventional electrical installations, the control points (pushbuttons and switches) are not connected directly to the 230V electrical network, but to a 29V low voltage BUS cable. The BUS is connected in series or in parallel to input modules, which are then connected to the switches.
The lighting is configured in three ways: discrete lighting, VAR lighting and DALI lighting. “The discrete lighting allows the residents to simply switch lighting on and off,” explains Armand. “This is provided by discrete KNX output modules from ABB, Schneider and Hager. The principle remains the same for each of the three brands; the actuator acts as a contractor, and the phase coming from the circuit breaker passes the actuator before going to the lamp.
“VAR lighting or Phase Variation Lighting is provided by KNX discrete output modules from Hager and ABB. For both brands, the actuator is supplied with a 230V input. Each dimmed output is then wired directly to the lamp. The commands arrive from the KNX BUS and the dimmer provides dimming by phase cutting.”
He adds: “The DALI lighting is provided by KNX discrete output modules from Hager and ABB. Again, the actuator is supplied with a 230V input and a 15V DALI secondary BUS is wired from ballast to ballast. Through programming, the gateway identifies all the ballasts and assigns them a number. Each ballast can then be assigned to a lighting circuit. The DALI standard allows up to 64 ballasts to be connected to a single gateway.
“At La Folie Boulart, DALI footbridges are mainly used for decorative LED strips, exterior lighting and atrium lighting.”
Users can control the lighting through various pushbuttons and switches, as well as through the tablets which are in each room. Armand highlights: “Each Forbes and Lomax pushbutton or switch is connected to a KNX input module, allowing the physical action of the button contact to be transformed into a home automation BUS order.”
The tablets allow control of the lights either independently or grouped into individual rooms and scenes. The status feedback indicates whether one of the lamps is still on or not in a particular room.
Armand says: “The general commands that have been programmed into the lighting control is general extinction of the site (interior and exterior), exterior general on/off, general switching on/off per floor, general switching off by room, and general switching on by zone (ground floor, swimming pool, cellar, etc).”
Lighting scenarios have been programmed and are accessible directly from the scenarios tab on the tablets or directly in each room.
Use of system
Day to day, the homeowners and house staff manage the system. But with the castle serving multiple functions as a home, a guest house, as well as a workplace for staff, the system needed to have different access levels.
Armand explains: “There are different configurations depending on the profiles of the people who use it. We can summarise it in three levels: manager administrator level which gives access to absolutely everything; client manager level which gives control of common parts; and client level which gives room controls only.”
La Folie Boulart is a large castle with many rooms and areas. Having a busy household with a family, staff and hotel area is difficult to manage. However, with the introduction of this modern technology, the castle is simple to use and gives an even better experience for everyone who lives, works or stays there.
“It allows the user to easily access a global control system on site or remotely,” says Armand. “For example, with more than 200 lighting circuits, it has global controls by levels or general commands for everywhere. It is also ideal for heating and air conditioning control and everything in the house has been designed to arrive at the desired function in three clicks or less.”
“From a personal point of view, this project goes beyond my expectations, especially as we have won the award of the KNX Smart Home Europe 2022.”
All products integrated within the castle have been designed and validated to fit perfectly with the architectural feel of the property and how practical they are. The integrator installed Forbes and Lomax pushbuttons and switches in a brass finish to fit in with the interior styles as well as possible. Thermostats and presence detectors from JUNG are also in brass and are used to control temperature, humidity and CO2 levels.
Following the installation, Armand looks back at the project as a whole and thinks about what he might have done differently: “In hindsight, I might have switched to a system of one RTI controller for one chamber rather than a complete set of three controllers for the overall management. This would have brought me more management flexibility.”
Working with the site’s maintenance staff, Armand acts as a consultant to help with any technical maintenance or support the property needs.
In September, Armand won a KNX Award for the Best Smart Home in Europe for 2022, beating four other nominees.
“From a personal point of view, this project goes beyond my expectations, especially as we have won the award of the KNX Smart Home Europe 2022,” Armand admits. “I have been working alone as a freelance integrator for two years and I’m really proud that my work has just been recognised internationally. I am also the first French person to win this prestigious distinction in 30 years. That’s crazy!”
The initial expectations of the homeowner have been more than met as the project grew so much while it was taking place. With the total cost of the project amounting to more than €10 million and the project taking around five years to complete, the homeowner now has a home automation system that he can enjoy and use with ease, while also making sure his staff and guests are comfortable.
ABB 6179 Presence Detectors
ABB 6197/1X 101-500 Dimming Actuators 4 Fold
ABB DG/S 220.127.116.11 DALI Gateway
ABB doGATE BMS
ABB SA/S 18.104.22.168 Switch Actuators
ABB SmartTouch 7 KNX Touch Display
ABB STK 1.1 Valve Actuator
ABB UK/S 32.2 Universal I/O Concentrators 32 Fold
ABB US/S 2 Binary Inputs 2 Fold
Absolute Sound AS25 In-Wall Speakers
B.E.G PICO-KNX-DX FP Presence Detectors
Dahua Security Cameras
Forbes and Lomax Pushbuttons
Forbes and Lomax Switches
Future Automation LSM-EFA TV Lifts
Hager TE331 Power Consumption Indicators
Hager TH210 KNX Router
Hager TR131 Media Coupler
Hager TRM694G Actuator
Hager TX501 Valve Actuator
Hager TXA112 640 mA Power Supply
Hager TXB302 Binary Inputs 2 Fold
Hager TYA664BN Dimming Actuators 4 Fold
Hager TYA670W DALI Gateway
InnoRed MixiBus KNX RTI Router
InnoRed MixiBus RTI to KNX Interface Gateway
Intesis Mitsubishi to KNX Interface Gateway for Climatisation
Intesis Modbus to KNX Interface Gateway
JUNG KNX Thermostat
JUNG Presence Detectors
RTI XP-6s Control Processor
SALTO Access Control
Samsung Frame TV
Schneider Electric MTN 670804 Pushbutton Interface
Yamaha MusicCast WXA-50 Wireless Streaming AmplifierDeveloping ideas“The castle was a historic monument that was being renovated so we installed all existing electrical systems and started from scratch by integrating new BUS and IP cabling.”Deployment through experienceLighting“We had to find specific equipment that would best fit into each individual room.”Use of system“From a personal point of view, this project goes beyond my expectations, especially as we have won the award of the KNX Smart Home Europe 2022.”KNX Award Tech Spec