Many of us long for the days of the classic drive-in, with the smell of popcorn wafting through the fresh air, and the crackle of the speakers perched on car windows as far as the eye could see.
Of course, all of those things are wonderful, but it wasn’t the nostalgia that first got Kevin Van to build his outdoor theater. Aside from the inspiration he received on BackyardTheater.com, he didn’t have to look further than his own house. “When I bought my first projector for the bedroom theater,” he says, “I got the idea to also use it outside.” You have to love a multitasker.
That’s not to say that Kevin doesn’t love the old drive-ins. In fact, he bought and restored nine vintage drive-in speakers for use in his backyard. “I think I paid $110 for the lot,” Kevin says of his eBay purchase. “I took them all apart and polished the castings with a buffer wheel. Then I replaced the speakers and wire.” Currently they are blasting Dolby Digital 5.1-surround sound on the deck, as well as 2-channel stereo around the pool.
If you happen to be around the deck area, stop in for a snack. Kevin has quite a tasty concessions area set up in his screened-in porch, complete with a commercial popcorn popper, a hot dog steamer, a nacho chip and cheese warmer, and—if you’re feeling adventurous—a chili warmer.
While the snacks may remind you of tummy-aches of yore, the rest of his equipment is from this era—with some coming straight from his own two hands. Kevin created his own retractable 16:9 screen, which he says cuts down on setup time. “The old frame was a pain,” Kevin says. The retractable design features a long box mounted on Kevin’s fence. Inside the box, the screen is wrapped around a PVC spool. “One side of the spool has a crank that is fashioned from a PVC toilet flange.” A rope and pulley system lifts the screen up and is guided by three removable poles. Kevin says it’s a one-person job to set the screen up, but it helps to have a buddy when it comes to taking the thing down.
Another one-of-a-kind item is the homemade outdoor subwoofer, which Kevin built into a cedar bench. With 12-inch drivers and a 1,100-watt amp pushing the unit, it puts more than motion into the ocean—it creates a new element in this great outdoor setup. “I wanted it to be ‘stealthy’, which is why I built it into a bench,” he says. “The bench will also protect it from the elements.”
Aside from the projector, screen and subwoofer bench, much of his outdoor equipment lives inside the house. This includes his mixer and many amps. “I have the need to control the volume for the different speakers around the yard,” he says. “By using separate amps with a mixer and preamp, I can tune the sound so everyone can hear without making it so loud it annoys the neighbors.” Kevin also built a FM transmitter from a kit, so he can broadcast sound to any FM receiver.
Even though the retractable screen can withstand every season, Kevin doesn’t need to bust out his mittens to get great entertainment in the off-season. There’s a Pioneer 60-inch rear-projection screen in the basement, as well as a 6-foot pull-down screen in the bedroom. This model isn’t homemade, but works the same, retracting into a box that is trimmed into the crown molding. “The crown molding is dropped down a couple of inches from the ceiling and I installed a rope light that goes around the entire room in the space to give a soft light to the room,” he says. There’s also a ButtKicker under the bed to give that extra oomph. “It provides vibration for the extreme lows that can’t be heard, only felt.”
Location: Fraser, MI
Year Completed: 2006
Room Size: 45 x 70 feet
Length of Project: About 7 Days
Total Cost: Unknown
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Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.