DIY Home Theaters
DIYer Turns Living, Dining Room into Theater
The Wiest family transformed their living and dining room space into a dedicated theater and cafe.
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The Weist theater is decorated with Disney characters. Credit: Enchanted © Disney. All Rights Reserved.
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December 04, 2008 by Krissy Rushing

Mark Wiest has lived in his home in Rockville, MD, for more than 30 years; his wife Joan, has lived in the home her entire life. “Before, we had a media room, but we never used it as a living room,” says Mark. “So I asked my wife if I could turn the living room into a home theater.” Shockingly, she said “go ahead.”

We’re not talking about a multipurpose theater with a few black-out shades. We’re talking a full-on dedicated space meant solely as a viewing and listening environment. In fact, the living room area was covered with windows—a feature that might serve as a huge selling point for so-called “normal” homeowners. Mark, however, was tasked with removing the 13-foot long high-maintenance bow window and sliding glass door to control the light in the theater, sealing it up on the outside with wood siding. 

Luckily, the living room had some characteristics favorable to a home theater. “All the exterior walls, with the exception of the right hand side of the theater, were independent with no adjoining rooms,” says Mark. “There is no finished living space under the theater, so we didn’t feel like we needed to acoustically isolate the room.” A decision that Mark doesn’t regret as sound intrusion from other parts of the home or outside is nonexistent. 

The consummate DIYer, Mark did almost everything himself (with the exception of the drapes and velvet covered panels surrounding the screen), including building the large oak paneled and trimmed boxes that house the equipment which can be accessed from the porch. “I can step out onto the deck to move equipment, change or add cables, and adjust things.”

The ability to access the equipment with ease was crucial, as one of Mark’s main goals was that the theater be infinitely adjustable and upgradeable. For example, rather than carve holes in the walls for in-wall speakers, only to find they sounded bad, Mark mounted the surround speakers on adjustable rails. “I also chose to build a stage for the M&K front and center speakers to stand on rather than try to build them into the walls,” says Mark. The 100-inch Stewart FilmScreen is surrounded by black velvet covered panels mounted to 2 x 4s with Velcro strips. “This allows me to remove the panels and resize them for a screen with a different aspect ratio, such as a 2.35:1 model,” say Mark. “The challenge was to build in this adjustability while achieving a finished look. I think the woodworking and draperies pull it off.” 

Mark wanted it to look like an outdoor amphitheater. At the rear of the room, custom-made signage indicates “Stage Door Only” and is complete with a locking mechanism, creating a more industrial look. The adjustable rails and lighting contribute to this theme, and the adjacent dining room has been transformed into a theater café where Mark and family can enjoy desserts between movies or during intermission. Mark also has plans to raise the theater height two feet by pushing the ceiling up into the attic space and installing a fiber-optic star ceiling, completing the outdoor environment. As for the Disney characters, Mark drew inspiration from his 14-year-old daughter, Kristin, who likes movies such as “Lilo and Stitch.” (Mark’s favorite Disney movie is and always shall be “Fantasia.”)

Mark did all the electrical himself, installed speakers, put basshakers in the seats, and selected all the equipment. Of course, as with any DIYer, the burning question is: Why? In this case, Mark (a nurse case manager with the Department of Defense by trade) was inspired by his father, who was a true audiophile. “My father was into stereo, of course, but later in the 60s he turned his attention to quadraphonic LPs,” says Mark. “I learned to appreciate good acoustics and sound from him, and as I started a family, video became important. But I never left my audiophile roots.” 

Now, Mark states, they don’t spend so much as a dollar at the movie theater. “We much prefer to be able to stop the movie for a second or purchase the DVD for the same price as a couple of movie tickets,” he says. “We also love to play movie-trivia games in the theater.” But perhaps the best part about the theater is that it is sanctioned by Mark’s wife, who “doesn’t seem to mind.” In fact, she’s a huge NASCAR fan and is “crazy about watching it on the big screen.” As for getting rid of the dining room and living room, Mark simply comments, “You gotta have priorities.” 

Quick Hits:
Dimensions: 17’ 6” long x 15’ wide x 8’ high
Initial Budget: None
Ending Budget: $66,950 for entire theater
Length of project: 1 year (July 2006-July 2007) 

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Equipment List

Sony VPL-VW100 Front Projector            
Stewart FilmScreen 100-inch Studiotek 130      
Anthem Statement D2 A\V Processor        
Anthem P5 5-Channel Amplifier                
B&K Ref 200.7 7-Channel Amp                
Audiosource Amp 4                            
Guitammer Buttkicker Amp              
Velodyne DD-18 Subwoofer                  
M&K Pro 2550 Front L & R                    
M&K S150 Center                        
M&K SS200 (pair)                               
M&K SS150 (pair)                               
AV123 Super Tweeters (pair)                               
Monster HTPS-7000SS MK2          
Monster AVS-2000SS
Sony PS3                  
Toshiba HD-A35                              
Denon 5910                                    
Universal Remote MX3000                    
GRAFIK Eye 3000 and add-ons                          
Network Switches and Cableing                  
Sony Viao Laptop                                      
Acoustic Sciences Inc. Cube Tower (4), Acoustic Soffit, and Sub Trap                              
Clark Synthesis Platinum (3)
Guitammer Buttkicker
Active Thermal Management Ventilation


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