Elevating the Technology Experience: Expert David Mills on Home Automation

By Danielle Karr | Posted March 7, 2019

David Mills, Director at Kraus Hi-Tech Automation, truly excels at providing technology solutions with white-glove customer service for his clients. Kraus Hi-Tech is a full-service smart home and commercial automation design and integration company serving Manhattan and surrounding areas, and the team has made a name for themselves through their creative, high-quality smart home technology solutions that often exceed clients’ expectations. With every project, they take time to understand what will truly delight their clients—and then they deliver an amazing technology experience. We sat down with this smart home professional to find out what got him to where he is today in the home automation industry, how he works with designers to give clients the results they really want, and how other home-industry professionals can take advantage of his technological expertise.

How did you get into the tech industry?
My whole career has been with technology. Starting straight out of college selling solutions to clients for hi-fi shops (remember those?), I started my own custom AV integration company in the 80s. I sold my business in the early 90s to get involved with computers. After a few years with Microsoft and the release of Windows 95, I moved on to Verizon, who had just started building their optical FiOS network. My team was responsible for building the vertical fiber networks within the existing high-rise buildings in Manhattan. Because of my high-rise architecture experience, I could tell what needed to be done for a particular property based on the decade the building was built. After my time at Verizon, I moved in 2002 to a progressive cable company in Philadelphia, where I started up their consumer electronics channel. I came across Control4 when I was building that channel out, and it checked all the right boxes. That is how I became familiar with, and then expert with, the product. After a while, I was tired of traveling, so I decided to look around for opportunities that would keep me close to my home in New York.  

At about the same time, Mr. Kraus was having great success at combining his love of technology and his work and understanding in the real estate business, and he was looking for someone to take on the day-to-day operation and scale the operation. We were a good match, and after he and I met, everything synced up and we’ve been building a reputation of excellence ever since. We’ve distinguished ourselves in the industry with our philosophy that if we are honest in our business dealings and we sell, install, and service with good value, then more good business will follow, and we’ve seen that prove out time and time again.

How do designers and smart home professionals work together?
We can work together in many different ways with all sorts of professionals. Because the successful projects are always collaborations, we like to make ourselves as available as possible to the key people on a project. Sometimes that’s the owner, sometimes the architect, designer, or even an owner’s rep. Regardless of who we interface with, the owner’s interests are always at top of mind. We work with the key people and the owner to develop a smart home installation plan, and then we work with the entire construction team to make it a reality.

One of the values that we offer the professionals that we work with is our expertise and advice. Smart home professionals are able to demonstrate a prowess in technology without having to actually be an expert in the area. We can be a partner and a resource for them. So, if a homeowner tells a designer something like, “I want this glass to go white when….” or “I want this wall to move when…” then the designer can turn to us and get information and expertise about what technology can achieve that. Or, if they are walking through a home and there is a spaghetti bowl of wires, they can tell their client that they will ask their integration expert to come in and evaluate and or fix it. We are another trade they can pull from as a resource. The client might say to the designer, “I want a TV in the master bedroom and I want you to just take care of it.” The designer can then come to us and ask for our thoughts, and we’d present the information in an itemized proposal so the owner can make a final decision. We do not charge for designs, proposals, or consultations. We are in the long game--we aren’t in the transaction business. Come to us and ask questions, and we’ll do the best we can to provide solutions.

With most of our projects, we are really conscious that we are in a luxury space, and we like to understand how homeowners live and what’s important to them. Sometimes aesthetics are king, sometimes simplicity is key, sometimes performance is all that matters. We always strive to make our systems work seamlessly to provide what is best for the client.

When do designers and integrators start working together during a project?
Bring us in as soon as possible. In the planning stage, we can add efficiencies into design really early on. It can be something as simple as eliminating three-way lighting “wall acne” to helping designers eliminate excess cost. For example, if a designer is creating a large entertainment room, traditionally there would be several switches at each entrance to the room; however, bringing us in early allows us to eliminate that cost and hassle by streamlining the infrastructure of the lighting to remove excess switches. This is especially helpful when building in Manhattan, where we are building in a high-rise building that is made of concrete and steel with very thin walls and little room in ceilings, so the sooner we are involved, the better. We get those last-minute calls and we can do the retrofit and surgical work if we have to, but it is most cost effective and better overall to bring a smart home professional in early.

Can designers work with a Control4 professional and other brands they already love?
Control4 is an open platform, which means we can work with almost any third-party equipment. When we go over a plan with a designer and their client, we ask them if they are taking existing TVs or other equipment with them into the new space. We take notes so that way we can make sure we propose a system that will integrate with the homeowner’s existing equipment. If a designer or a homeowner provides a brand or suggests something, in most cases we make it work. We also have our recommendations based on our experience with different brands and their reliability and quality, so I may speak up to make clients aware of it, but I won’t ever stop anyone from using a brand they love.

What is an example of a project where you had to get creative with the technology?
We just did an executive bathroom in Manhattan; it had a beautiful view of the skyline, but little privacy. We programmed the bathroom so when the toilet lid lifts, a sensor is triggered and the window to the outside goes opaque. In another bathroom we did, the homeowner wanted a solid-marble shower but also wanted music to play in the shower. So we turned the marble surface itself into a speaker through a special piece of hardware, and then (through programming), when music is playing in the bathroom and someone moves into the shower, it will shift the music to play from the marble itself.