December 19, 2008
by Krissy Rushing
Marc McManus has always had a technological bent. His father owned a RadioShack when he was a child, giving him a natural affinity for gizmos and gadgets. “We were the first to own a Beta Max player and later, a first-generation satellite dish,” he says. “My dad bred me to be a gadget freak from early on.” Indeed, Marc’s day job is a mechanical engineer, which proved handy when he was ready to design and build his own basement home theater.
Marc and his wife, Jody, built their home from the ground up, so the basement was designed to be amenable to an entertainment complex from the get-go. “I always wanted the ability to do something elaborate in the basement, so I worked with the builder to make sure we wouldn’t be restricted later on,” says Marc. “For example, we customized the drains so we wouldn’t run into any problems.”
When Marc started researching theater design in early 2006, he noticed that many fellow DIYers gave their theaters a theme. “Simple drywall just seemed so dull to me. We wanted to walk downstairs and feel like we were in a different place,” he says. Marc’s love of good beer, and the fact that he is partly Irish made an Irish pub theme the perfect choice.
But before they got started, Marc planned the entire 1,400-square-foot space out with AutoCAD, which he uses for mechanical-engineering projects. While this definitely helped, planning proved to be the most difficult part of the entire process. “Fitting everything in with a shoehorn and maintaining the right clearances, the correct distances, figuring out how big the bar would be, and things like how much space we needed behind the bar were all very tricky,” he says. “Over the course of a year, I would sit down with my wife and we’d try to figure out where everything was going to go.”
With a plan finally in place, Marc did all the woodworking and framing himself, with occasional help from his dad. He also insulated the ceiling, which, according to Marc, reduces noise going to the upper levels by about 80-percent. Really putting his DIY skills to the test, Marc purchased plans off the Internet for the bar at the rear of the room, adjusted the dimensions, and built the structure himself—making sure to include space for the “kegerator.” Because he wanted to have the basement properly permitted, however, Marc hired out the drywall, plumbing, and electrical work.
Relying a bit on his technical background, Marc then figured out what equipment to use, and got a lot of help from Internet research. When he had come up with a list of appropriate gear, he started bargain hunting. He found great deals online, found sales at local electronics stores, and even got lucky during a Black Friday sale.
To keep things within budget, he kept a rolling bill of materials. And while he definitely went over budget, he estimates that he saved about $60,000 by doing it himself. “When we first got started, I went to some basement remodelers, and the prices were exorbitant, so I know I saved a lot by not having this all professionally done. Plus I was able to make sure it was done exactly as I wanted.” The news that his wife was pregnant with their new daughter, Morgan, definitely sped up the timetable for the theater’s completion. “At the rate I was going, it would have taken me five years to finish,” says Marc.
Jody stepped in and did all the interior design work, picking out colors and even painting the entire basement with a three-step multidimensional painting process. Indeed, Marc owes her a huge debt of gratitude. More precisely, he owes her a swimming pool. “Getting authorization from her to spend that much money was a challenge, and she’s not letting me forget about it,” says Marc. He recommends getting your significant other’s buy-in early on, even if they don’t offer it. In this case, that strategy worked. “We watch one chick flick to every two of my Sci-Fi or action flicks, and I just have to bite my lip and suck it up.”
Dimensions: 12.5 wide x 20 feet long x 9 feet tall
Length of Project: One year
Starting Budget: $30,000
Ending Budget: $60,000
Click here to view photos of Marc’s basement theater.