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)
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.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.