Pianos in the Home

Posted Wednesday, May. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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When it comes to incorporating a beautiful piano into the home, designers say clients have one of two goals in mind: dramatic, aesthetic effect or maximum sound presentation.

Many piano owners, of course, want to achieve both.

Those who love the look of the instrument but are less inclined to sit down and tickle the ivories themselves often request a dramatic presentation. In traditional, contemporary, even rustic rooms, grand pianos dominate corners, repose before banks of windows or partner with an oversize art canvas. Pops of bright green from large potted plants highlight their ebonized finishes.

Some homeowners create a grand entrance by placing the piano along a spiraling staircase in the foyer. The curve of the grand piano echoes the curve of the wall.

"It makes quite a statement when you walk into a house and see a [grand piano]. It takes your breath away," says Casey Saliba, vice president of sales and marketing at Steinway Hall in Fort Worth, Dallas and Plano.

Every four years, Steinway takes pianos to the homes of the local families hosting contestants in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. This year, 29 of the 30 host homes will have grand pianos delivered during the first two weeks of May, for use during the competition, May 24 through June 9.

Before they're placed, Steinway Hall representatives take templates of their pianos to host families' homes to find the size that best suits the room. There are home grands (5 feet 1 to 5 feet 10) and concert grands (6 feet 2 to 9 feet).

Although a competitor's superstitions, a room's lighting, and noise conditions and use affect placement, "nine times out of 10, the grand piano template will help a homeowner figure out exactly where to put the piano before it arrives," Saliba says. "[If not], our chief technician, Steve Claunch, goes and takes a look."

Saliba notes that many local homes now have specific rooms designed to be mini concert venues.

One Fort Worth home's venue seats 80 people on two levels, the piano itself presiding on a stage. Another home boasts a semicircular, performance hall design. These homeowners are purists, interested in maximizing sound presentation. They enjoy classical music but not the hassle of getting dressed up, going out and searching for parking. Rather, they have created intimate home settings, where dress is casual and guests can step out for phone calls. Local guest artists are hired to play for the evening.

On a less performance-focused scale, designers have created cozy but beautiful music rooms for families, too.

Shavawn Everitt, of Designs by K in Southlake, dedicated a living room solely to a piano; to create visual drama, she placed the instrument in front of a fabulous view beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows framed by draperies, but furnished the room with only two wingback chairs atop a round rug.

"The children of this house play the piano," she says. "Their mom sits in the chairs and listens" to her private concert, Everitt says.

Chairs such as theirs, rather than sofas, reflect a more practical choice in a music room, explains Kay Crinkelmeyer, owner of Designs by K, "in case people listening don't know each other and want their own space."

Fort Worth designer Joseph Minton offers another aesthetic idea. He says he believes a piano should be integrated into a room with many purposes.

"I don't think a room [in a home] should be only for a piano," he says. "It needs other uses, too.... Van Cliburn's piano was in his living room, and [he had] one in his library, too."

The goal in showcasing a piano in any room, adds Crinkelmeyer, is "to make the piano the focal point, to look like it's supposed to be there."

Regardless of whether a grand piano commands its own space or shares space with other furnishings in a living room, Saliba offers two basic principles:

First, a fully raised lid offers optimal sound. A closed lid creates muted sound.

Second, the lid should open into the room for acoustic benefits.

"If the lid opens into a wall, the sound goes into the wall and dies," he says. "And the piano player should be looking out to the people in the room for communication," not into a corner.

For designers and homeowners who prefer a decorative corner placement for their pianos, Minton points out that a piano can be placed properly in only two of a room's four corners in order to keep the open lid and the pianist facing into the room.

The ideal situation for a home piano would be a hardwood floor, 12- to 16-foot ceilings, draperies on windows and an area rug in the room. Saliba recommends a balance of bareness and furnishings for optimal sound.

"Everything you put in a room affects the acoustics -- the curtains, fabrics, sofas, even big plants," says Minton. "The more things in there, the better the acoustics, the softer the sound."

As for the importance of a hardwood floor: "The whole piano talks," explains Claunch, the Steinway Hall technician. "Even the legs. A wood floor resonates, and it itself becomes a speaker."

Stone floors and carpets aren't advised, as their surfaces absorb sound.

"And a piano needs to be the right size for the room," Claunch says. Sound can overpower or underwhelm.

A piano should not be placed next to outside walls without adequate insulation or near sources of significant heat. A good rule of thumb: "If you're comfortable, your piano is comfortable," he says.

And some of the Cliburn host families get extremely comfortable with the pianos on loan to them during the competition.

"In the last 20 years, there have been pianos that didn't come back," Saliba says. "They got used to having them there."

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