Couple Digs Deep to Put Basement Theater in 1886 Home
A Minnesota couple hits rock and water before turning their 19th-century basement into a modern marvel.
theater result
Homeowners Doug and Candy Laven are now enjoying the fruits of their labor when they sit in their home theater. Credit: Michael Zaccardi
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April 09, 2009 by Lisa Montgomery

Renovating any home can be a tough job. When a structure has been standing for more than a century, though, infusing modern conveniences into a living space can test the limits of even the most proficient do-it-yourselfers.

Doug and Candy Laven can attest to that. As the proud owners of an 1886 Victorian residence, they’ve taken great pains to preserve the historical integrity of every square inch of their 19th-century abode. Even enormous projects like adding a third-floor bedroom were done with deference to the home’s original design.

But finding and installing new fixtures, flooring and furnishings to complement the Victorian design was nothing compared to their most recent renovation project. “We had been thinking of adding a media room for a while but didn’t want to alter any of the woodwork to make room for the equipment,” says Doug. Their concerns laid the groundwork for a renovation plan that would take them to a place that had remained relatively untouched for decades: the cold, dark basement. Once used to collect rainwater, the 25-by-32-foot area would undergo a major 13-month overhaul to become the home theater of Doug and Candy’s dreams.

The first order of business was raising the 6-foot ceiling to a more comfortable height. To accomplish this, the Lavens would either have to jack up the house or dig into the ground. “Our neighbor experienced settling problems when he jacked up his house and put it on stilts, so we decided that digging would be better,” says Doug.

Using hammers, he and Candy broke up the concrete floor and then started shoveling. “We hit clay, then water,” recalls Doug. A pump handled the water problem, and the couple continued digging until they reached 48 inches. In some spots, however, they went down even further—to seven feet—to provide ample support for the pylons they would add to help shore up the foundation.

While long days and nights were spent refurbishing the floor, the Lavens left the old walls largely untouched. Made of beautiful Kasota stone, they felt the old rugged walls would add a unique design element to the space. “It evokes the feeling of standing in an old castle,” says Doug.

Candy selected a checkerboard-patterned carpet and ceramic tile to finish the floor and Armstrong ceiling tiles to prevent sound from seeping into or out of the theater. The Lavens also installed a radiant floor heating system, plenty of recessed lighting and electrical outlets, and plumbing for a bathroom and bar area.

With the shell established, the homeowners could move on to the installation of audio and video equipment.

The lengthy renovation had given the Lavens plenty of time to ponder their choices. They went with a Sony Bravia SXRD video projector, a 106-inch Dragonfly screen and a Denon AVR-2308 CI receiver. To this trio they added a standard remote control and four old JBL speakers and a subwoofer that had been “sitting around in the house.” Admittedly, “this was not quite the audio system that I had wanted,” says Doug.

But after such a grueling renovation, the couple was perfectly content to sit back in their black leather reclining chairs, enjoy the show and wait until they could afford to trade up to a better sound system.

Click here to view more photos of this basement theater project.

Quick Hits
Location: Mankato, Minn.
Room Size: 22 x 34 feet
Length of Project: 13 months
Total Cost: $34,000

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

Equipment List


  • Sony Bravia SXRD video projector
  • Dragonfly 106-inch screen

A/V Components

  • Denon AVR-2308 CI receiver
  • Sony PlayStation 3
  • Nintendo Wii game console


  • Paradigm Monitor 7 (front left and right)
  • Paradigm CC-190 (center channel)
  • Paradigm ADP-370 (side and rear)
  • Paradigm DSP-3100 subwoofer

Control and Accessories

  • RTI T3 remote control
  • Berkline theater seats
  • ButtKicker tactile transducer

System layout:
DeGrood’s Electronics and Appliance, Mankato, Minn.

*The JBL speakers originally used in Doug and Candy’s theater were replaced with Paradigm speakers.

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