Unable to resist the call home, Owen Skinner is now leading the way in Cornwall for homeowners seeking the ultimate in modernisation.
It’s fair to say that in the modern era we are all, in many ways, reliant on technology. It permeates our lives in ways we no longer even think about, from the cars we drive to work to the kettles we boil when we get there. Technology is defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes” – Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter – but as technology has improved, in comparatively few short years, the technological products that infuse our everyday lives have become incredibly sophisticated and are constantly getting better at the jobs they’re designed to do. They are easier to use, too. I can remember my dad forever struggling to get to grips with his Nokia handset. He now owns a smartphone, regularly sends me photographs, and on rainy days, can be found on his accompanying iPad watching ‘how-to’ videos on YouTube!
The point, is that the products you might broadly categorise as ‘tech’ are now far more accessible than they were even ten years ago, and are becoming increasingly more so by the day. For some, including Owen Skinner – owner and Director of Intelligent Installations – the evolution of technology is a constant source of fascination.
“It all started with PA systems – sound equipment that would get used for parties,” Owen tells me, as he fondly recalls his college years. “I went on to complete a HND in Sound Engineering & Multimedia Integration from Plymouth University,” he continues, “with the aim to work in recording studios as a recording engineer.” His early experiences in this role taught Owen a great deal about the process of recording and mixing all genres of music, using the world’s best analogue and digital equipment. But despite the joys of pursuing his interests in London, his Cornish home was calling.
Owen moved with his family from Barbados to Cornwall when he was just four years old, and as he tells me, he remarks on how nicely the ‘island life’ fits with the Cornish ethos. “I have always loved it here,” he continues. “When I decided to come back from London, I retrained as an Electrical Engineer, while at the same time working for a very accomplished Smart Home company.” Owen worked installing high-end equipment that turned properties into wonderfully easy-to-use homes, making technology disappear whilst at the same time, creating dwellings that were easier to use than a normal house. “These Smart Homes had full lighting and heating systems, movie and music servers with speakers in most rooms, mirror televisions, plaster-in speakers, cinema rooms, door access and CCTV systems. It was all easy to use as they all worked from just one app,” which Owen explains could be accessed from a phone, or from in-wall iPads or touch screens, as well as hand-held remotes.
Things began slowly for the company we now know as Intelligent Installations. “Once I’d finished my Electrical Engineering qualifications, I focused on the commercial and domestic electrical market, but customers always asked me for solutions as they knew my background.” This inspired his decision to offer clients a complete electrical, audio-visual and ‘smart home’ solution, which he says “greatly simplifies projects for them, whilst giving me a broader client reach.” In short, everybody is a winner!
Owen brings to Cornwall a wealth of experience and an in-depth understanding of his field. This, he explains, is the combined result of his time spent in London, as well as his wider travels and work around the world. “It really gave me an insight into what products are available,” and, he reveals, “a slight head start in what is possible when it comes to technology.” This is an important point, and as Owen himself says, perhaps the best service he offers is “the ability to find a solution to fit any customer’s needs, be that electrical, audio, smart home, or IT and WiFi.”
Drawing on experience and skills gained whilst working as an in-house Recording Engineer at Olympic Studios, London, and now specialising in ‘smart home’ technology here in the Duchy, I’m interested to find out how Owen thinks Cornwall compares to the rest of the UK.
Is the smart-home industry growing here? Does it have far to catch up? “I think that whilst the uptake is not as high as in places like Cheshire, London or the Home Counties,” he tells me, “Cornwall has some very accomplished smart homes that, at least technically, are on-par.
“Where Cornwall differs is the general understanding of what a ‘smart home’ actually is, and how it is accomplished.” This, according to Owen, is not just on the client side of things, but in fact also that of the other trades, including architects and property developers. “One of the main aspects of what we do at Intelligent Installations is educating all stakeholders in what is possible, and where we fit as a trade in the process. Once the stakeholders know what is possible, then their imagination usually takes over, and it’s then that the really interesting solutions appear!”
Onto the day-to-day and Owen shares with his team of experts a passion, as he puts it, “for enhancing the user experience”. Whether it’s for a home or a business, Owen aims to install products that are unique to the industry, making the finished result not only easy to use but a joy that becomes the centrepiece of most properties. “Our ethos,” he explains, “is that each system should be simple and fun for everybody to use.”
Onto what inspires Owen individually and he simply says: “Problem solving.” This is the main thread to what he has always done, and as he puts it: “Smart home solutions are the ultimate in problem solving, as you bring multiple technical disciplines together to solve larger and more varied problems. This is always the inspiration, and when you can marry that with solutions that enhance a space artistically, whether that’s with lighting design or product choices, then it is a really satisfying process.”
So, why do clients choose Intelligent Installations over other companies offering a similar stamp of services? In short, it’s because Owen’s range of services is often much wider-reaching. “We can be found installing and maintaining electrical wiring for homes, hotels and commercial businesses, including Industrial 3-Phase work and electric vehicle charging points. We also install intruder alarms and CCTV systems for a variety of properties.”
But it goes further than that. In order to fully reap the rewards of a complete ‘smart home’ system, Owen explains that there is an intrinsic need for commercial grade IT and WiFi systems too, which is why he also offers this to anyone who needs it. “This is often a starting point for new customers struggling with WiFi issues, particularly in large, new-build houses.
“The advantage to using us, is that we can offer it all from one place, which saves time and money, whilst giving a better solution with nothing left out.” But with technology constantly evolving, it’s important for anybody considering smart home systems to think about the long-term benefit, too.
“I always try to get people to think of it as if you are enabling your home to accomplish goals you haven’t even considered yet,” says Owen. “Nobody would build a house without water pipes or electrical cables, so why would you leave out the necessary design and cabling needed for a modern smart home? With the correct cables, the possibilities are open for the clients both now, and in the future. The most important thing you can do, particularly if you’re building from the ground up, is to get the infrastructure into the building at an early stage, so that it will continue to cater to your ongoing needs.”
One specific system that is a big plus for Owen, is lighting control, which makes recalling a complex set of lighting levels a simple press of one button. “This is something that is essential in business, and really helps set the mood at home. With light ‘keypads’ as opposed to ‘switches’,” he explains, “it makes it possible to have less wall clutter, whilst at the same time making the system easier to use.” Another of the main benefits is the easy-to-use audio and visual equipment that’s now available. Gone are the days of having to wield five remote controls just to watch a movie; having one remote with a beautiful colour touch screen to use is surely preferable! Plus, Owen says, “it really gives it the ‘wow’ factor, whilst allowing everyone in the family to easily use it.”
For holiday home owners, there is the added benefit of peace of mind – the ability to ‘check in’ on their property from anywhere in the world, not only to ensure their guests are happy, but to ensure that the heating is on and that all the systems are working as they should be. Not only that; a fully functional smart home is sure to tempt more bookings throughout the year, from families keen to stay in the very best contemporary accommodation.
Led by Owen, the entire crew at Intelligent Installations are clearly passionate about what they do, with expertise and a portfolio of services that’s unrivalled here in the Duchy. The flipside of that, however, is that finding a work-life balance can be tricky, and Owen tells me: “That has always been a failing of mine! That said, being a surfer means I always try to get in the sea as often as work allows. I also have a young family, so that makes sure I get out and about on walks, beach days and exploring all the ancient ruins we have around us.”
“Enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed,” is something of a mantra for Owen, and in the modern age, with a world of technology at our fingertips promising to enhance and simplify our lives, it’s one that’s never been easier to live up to.