Drastic Theater Reconfiguration Includes Hiding Bay Window
A custom electronics pro recounts the bumpy road of this major renovation, and how his team overcame them.
Credit: Adam Crocker
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October 16, 2009 by Arlen Schweiger

You’d never know it, but this room used to have a bay window and two standard windows.

What was a home office became a dedicated cinema during a four-month collaboration between local Southern California electronics installation firm Sound Decision and New York–based theater designer Acoustic Smart.

“Taking it from where it was to where it is now was a complete transformation,” says Sound Decision’s Scott Rousso.

Because Sound Decision also served as general contractor, Rousso researched building codes and California regulations to plan the extensive retrofit.

A faux wall hides the former bay window, but the cove area left space for a Vidikron Vision Model 85 projector. It peeks through a hole in the wall to project onto a screen 20 feet away. Rousso installed a Stewart Filmscreen 108-inch-wide CinemaScope screen, with the first row of seats roughly 12 feet away. A second row, consisting of three loveseats, fit on a 5.5-foot-deep riser.

It’s cozy now, but Rousso shares the painstaking steps it took to get this theater into shape:

  • The entry door had to be moved to create a truly balanced screen and speaker array. Ironically, after digging up the homes plans from 1978, Rousso found that the original door did not exist—it was an open plan.
  • Moving the door—and taking into account possible second-floor support issues—required a structural engineer to approving the plans. In California, anything over $500 in alteration to the existing space requires a permit.
  • Installing the projector in the false wall covering the bay window took a little pull with the owner’s wife, but she wanted the room to succeed. Keeping the bay window would have created a distraction.
  • For space and style reasons, the fireplace stayed, and Rousso feels it works with the ceiling, which was painted dark brown for improved screen viewing.
  • One task was “skinning” new walls over the former windows and adding noise barrier over the studs. Two layers of drywall were installed, with Green Glue acoustic silicone in between.
  • To access the projector and meet code requirements, a flush “trap door” was installed in the faux wall behind the seats. Technically the room is a “habitable space,” requiring a way to get out other than the main door if a fire occurred. Having the trap door allowed window access.
  • Lighting was a challenge. A habitable space—not a basement—is supposed to have a certain amount of natural lighting. Rousso found a person in the state’s Plan Check department who knew of a recent code that allowed for a certain amount of candelas per square foot to offset the need for natural light. No one else there, including the inspector, knew of this.
  • Electrical required flexibility as well. An outlet is required every 12 feet, and the inspector allowed the outlet in the middle of the room behind the first row for plug-ins.
  • HVAC was rerouted in the room to direct airflow from the cove overhanging the screen. This eliminated visible vents.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle, Rousso says, was convincing the authorities to pass their plans. “Pulling permits for this was interesting, as we had to ‘overlay’ the Acoustic Smart architectural plans on top of the original 1978 room plans. Plan Check didn’t really get what we were trying to do, as their concept of a Home Theater was a Bose Lifestyle system and a Vizio [TV],” he says. “Getting them to understand this and provide assistance was difficult. What really helped was having the structural engineer expedite permits. It added a small cost but did take away some headaches.”

Click here for before and after photos of the room.

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

Sound Decision
Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Acoustic Smart
Merrick, N.Y.

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