May 01, 2011
by Steven Castle
He got a cool home theater. She got a nice design. The kids got a place to hang out with their friends. And the entire family felt the satisfaction of incorporating some eco-friendly and energy-efficient products into their made-over basement.
The Brown family in Maryland converted a cluttered basement space into a casual-style home theater complete with an adjoining game room, kitchenette and bath—primarily so their two teens would have a place to have fun with their friends, without having to go out.
Before taking the plunge, they checked out some systems at the showroom of custom electronics company Gramophone, and wanted to use some green products to help furnish the space. “We’ve been interested in green and conservation,” says the lady of the house. “I don’t think we go to extremes, but when we have the option to be more environmentally sensitive, we try to go for it.”
Cork flooring was used in the adjoining play space, recycled carpeting in the theater, and a countertop of recycled aluminum cans crowns the kitchenette in the back of the theater. As a bonus, Gramophone installed a Lutron RadioRA 2 lighting control system and several LED (light emitting diode) lamps to illuminate the space efficiently and economically.
Measuring about 27 by 34 feet, the Browns’ basement would be segmented into several separate spaces, with a place for a theater, billiards table and card table, plus a bathroom and kitchenette. “There was a natural division of the space anyway,” says Gramophone’s Josh Shobe. “And the location of the theater was dictated by windows on the other side.”
The windows and a door to the walk-out basement would grace the play area where the pool table and other diversions would sit, so the theater became the first thing the family sees as they descend from the first floor.
Shobe and Gramophone’s in-house interior designer Bethany Johnson worked closely with the builder, G.H. Clark Contractors, which made the planning much easier. The theater area would step up from the Browns’ family sofa to a small box with two chairs, and behind that a bar with stools would separate the theater from the kitchenette. A half-wall on the front left side of the theater area allows pool players to draw their sticks back, and on the other side an alcove holds a rack of A/V equipment. Simple draperies hide the opening and the rack and help soften the room’s acoustics.
Gramophone and the builder had to work around a bulkhead of ductwork and pipes, which appears as a lower part of the ceiling in the play area. Energy-efficient LED lamps had to be surface-mounted there. In addition, the crews had to work around an unfortunately placed sump pump pipe near the back of the theater in the kitchenette.
Wiring was simplified, thanks to the full construction plans from Gramophone’s CAD (computer-aided design) designer. Gramophone ran 14-gauge AudioQuest cables to speakers, and long runs of HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cable for audio/video, and high-speed Category 6 networking cable. For future proofing, the company ran four of Cat 6 cables to each display, using one for the IR (infrared) relay that sends command signals from handheld remote to the equipment rack.
For the theater system, the owner and Gramophone opted for on-wall Totem front-channel speakers, as Mr. Brown was concerned about using in-wall speakers without backboxes. (Backboxes enclose the speaker drivers and are part of a speaker’s overall audio design, as they affect the sound and tonal qualities; in-wall speakers without backboxes can create unpredictable sounds that resonate from the wall structure around them. “He liked the clarity and impact of the Totem speakers, while having a low impact visually,” says Shobe.
Four in-ceiling Totem speakers were added for surround channels, and in-wall Velodyne subwoofers with backboxes were used to round out the 7.2-channel system.
Mr. Brown and Gramophone chose a Runco LS-5 DLP projector to shine on the 100-inch fixed Stewart Filmscreen display, says Shobe, to meet the Browns’ budget requirements and because it offers some enhanced brightness and contrast. “He wanted to watch sports with lights on in the room,” Shobe says.
No one in the play area misses the action. Gramophone outfitted that area with a 55-inch Sony edge-lit LED TV and two more Totem in-ceiling speakers. Pool players can open the drapes and follow the action on the big screen or view something else on the LED TV.
To make the transformed space as green as possible, Gramophone specified several LED and CFL lamps as possible and tied them to a Lutron wireless RadioRA 2 system. The company went with the wireless system, which uses radio waves to deliver control signals from a keypad to the processor, so that additional lights could be integrated into the system later without having to fish wire throughout the house.
“It’s also easy to tie the Lutron system into something like URC system,” Shobe says. The Browns use two URC MX-980 universal remote controls to operate the lights and A/V equipment in their entertainment haven.
Now that the job is complete, the Browns report that the basement space has become their primary family room. The kids have friends over. Mr. Brown has his theater system. And Mrs. Brown is pleased with both the green furnishings and the decor.
“The space planning was perfect. For what isn’t a large basement, the flow works really well,” says the lady of the house. “I tend to fill every corner with a piece of furniture, and the open space here adds just as much as the furnishings.” EH
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates