Design & Comfort Keys to ‘Living Room’ Theater
Interior designer homeowner helps shape theater with traditional living room look and tone to surround the 20-foot screen.
Credit: Jim Darling
May 16, 2013 by Arlen Schweiger

Look at this room from one perspective and it’s not much different than what you’d expect to find in a modern, comfortable living room—some warm lighting, a plush sofa and chaise, built-in wall shelves and cabinets, earthy tones. On the other hand, there’s a 20-foot-wide projection screen that’s the obvious focal point.

It was a deliberate compromise and collaboration between custom electronics firm Bethesda Systems, Bethesda, Md., and the room’s interior designer, Diane Shaw. And the designer needed to have everything just right; after all, she is also the homeowner.

Diane and her husband wanted the roughly 29-by-24-foot room to be a fun movie-watching destination without appearing like a typical dedicated home or commercial cinema, one of those rooms that must be dark for movie watching or limited to tight rows of theater seating.

“She was adamant about having a theater that wasn’t a theater, but she didn’t want to miss out on things that theaters had, like columns, soffits, comfortable seating, projection screen, lighting,” says Bethesda Systems’ Mike Wilson. “She wanted a living room that really was a theater. … Do you know how many rooms we’ve done in maroon and gold with a star ceiling? This room has just such a mass appeal, which is ideal at the end of the day.”

So instead of glitzy columns, fancy fabric and splashy sconces, these theater mainstays are more tasteful and subdued—yet just as functional—as if you’d find them within a traditional family room. The Lutron lighting system’s wallplates match the wood-grain finish that outlines the room. Wilson, whose team was responsible for basically the entire room’s build-out, says original plans presented to Diane were “very theatery” before she began to put her design stamp on the project.

(See images of this home theater here)

System Design & Installation
Bethesda Systems, Bethesda, Md.
Interior Design
Diane Shaw Interiors, Potomac, Md.
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Among the challenges, according to Wilson, was creating a proscenium (the wall area for the screen enclosure, which also often incorporates the front-channel speakers) around the custom Stewart Filmscreen screen that didn’t look theatery and managed to hide three speakers and two subwoofers. “If you look at the front wall, the whole thing is more like a big wall unit, with two cabinets on the left and right, shelves and a ‘TV’ in the middle,” Wilson says. Two more pairs of side and rear speakers are tucked into columns and two more subwoofers are installed in the back wall to complete the James Loudspeaker surround-sound package.

Instead of traditional theater seating, the room has options that, again, seem more suitable in a family room that might not have a 20-foot-wide screen, such as the sofa on the lower tier and the five recliners on the upper. Diane came up with the idea for Bethesda to create a huge piece of millwork to separate the distinct tiers, which also posed design and aesthetic challenges.

“She wanted a comfortable transition, so two or four short steps would look to theatery,” Wilson says. “But if we didn’t create a landing and step that was the right length, it wouldn’t have passed code. The code length and height of a riser has to have a certain proportion, and it’s not easy to get around it. The stairs are unique.”

Because it’s not a dark, dedicated movie theater, Bethesda had to install a projector that would be bright enough for anytime viewing as well as fill such a massive screen. A Runco LS-10i three-chip DLP model fits the bill, rounding out one of the most comfortable “theaters” we’ve ever seen.

Leave the Lights On
The owners of this theater are comfortable navigating an iPad, so an Apple-based Savant control system was right for them, says Mike Wilson of Bethesda Systems. Aside from the A/V controls, the chief subsystem they need to worry about commanding is the lighting. “It’s a multipurpose room, so to set all the lighting was more challenging,” says Wilson. Bethesda programmed the system to govern the various loads of Lutron lighting that include recessed lights, sconces, step lights, lamps and cove lights, which have been grouped for certain events. Hitting movie mode on the iPad will appropriately darken the space, for example, while game mode keeps the upper tier lighting on while the kids play on the lower level.

See Also:
5 Ways Architects and Interior Designers Need to Pay Attention
The Importance of Multichannel Sound
Light Matters: Tips for Maximizing Your Home Theater

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for and Electronic House magazine.


Room Size: 29.3 x 23.8 x 10 feet
Project Duration: 6 months
Construction: New
Cost: $65,000

Systems and Equipment

Control: Savant
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen
Projector: Runco
Speakers & Subwoofers: James Loudspeaker
Amplification & Processing: NAD
Sources: Oppo, Apple
Lighting: Lutron
Rack: RSH

Full Equipment List

1, Unity 8RN + FM Complete Package for 8K Sq Ft Home
BGR-4127LRD 41 Space (71 3/4”), 27” Deep Multibay BGR Rack, Black Finish
2, BGR-LVT9 Vented Top for BGR racks
1, BSPN-4127 S… 41 SP Pair of Side Panels for BGR-4127
2, BR2 2 SP Space Brush Grommet Panel
2, CBS-BGR Caster Base for BGR Rack
3, OCAP-2 2 Space Sat/Cable Shelf
3, Parts Fios Boxes
1, SSP-1200 Savant Matrix Switcher and Controller
1, HST-4002 Redundant Savant Host Controllers
1, AOM-016U 16 Channel Stereo Preamp Output
1, AIM-OA16 Analog Audio Input Module
2, aim Digital Video Output Module (4-Port HDMI)
3, VOM-VP02H OSD Video Processing Output Module
3, SVR-3000 Savant User Interface Server
2, RMB-0025 1U Rack Shelf
2, AppleTV-DISC Apple TV
1, Elite 15i Power Conditioner
1, F1500-UPS 1500VA Rack Mount UPS
1, Blue Bolt-CV1 BlueBolt IP Card
2, Digi Logger Rack Mounted Power Cycler
2, Architect 661 12 Channel Class H Amplifier with stereo equalization controls 60 Watts per Channel2
1, 5W-48C In-Wall speaker panel for up to 12 pairs of

1, RR-MAIN-RE… Main RF Controller
2, RR-MAIN-RE… System Repeaters
105, RRD-10D-XX 1000 W RF Dimmer - Inc, MLV
21, RRD-W7B-WH Radio RA2 7 Button Keypad -White
1, Parts Lutron Plates

1, LS-10 Runco Projector LS-10i with Cine Glide
1, LS-3/5 Lamp Replacement Lamp with Install
1, HBT1T100/01 WyreStorm HDMI Extender HBT1T100/01
1, Custom Screen Stewart Custom Screen
3, 803 BE 8” LCR
4, 802 BE 8” Surround Speakers
2, 110SDX Passive10” Forward Firing Subwoofer
1, iPad
1, DCD-100B Desktop Charging Dock for iPad
1, T7775 Surround Sound Amp/Pre/Pro
1, RSH Custom Rack Shelf
1, BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Player

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