From Crawlspace to Home Theater
A subterranean crawlspace is dug out and wired up as an isolated theater/media room.
Crawlspace becomes home theater
Click to enlarge. This room was transformed from a dark crawlspace to a comfortable home theater. Photo credit: Philip Ennis; “Cars” (C) Disney/Pixar.
December 01, 2006 by Lisa Montgomery

It all began with a desire for an area where the family could hang out and have fun. Jim and Jannette Holmes were in the midst of a renovation when they thought of converting a portion of their 1939 Dutch Colonial into a modern home theater.

“Jannette and I are big movie buffs, and watching shows is one of the things we like to do together with our kids,” says Jim. The couple could have designated the new 1,200-square-foot addition on the back of their house as the entertainment area, but their architect suggested placing it somewhere more isolated from the main living spots—such as in the crawlspace.

Like any crawlspace, the one in the Holmes’ house was in no shape to handle a big-screen and a surround-sound system, much less a group of people. For starters, the ceiling was too low, which meant the space would have to be dug out by three feet. Walls and floors would have to be added, as well as lighting and ventilation. And the entire area would need to be wired from top to bottom for all the audio and video equipment that would eventually occupy it.

It would be a huge undertaking to convert the dark, dingy space into something family friendly, but Jim and Jannette were convinced that the lower level was the best spot for a home theater. Located away from the rest of the house, the subterranean space would allow them to entertain friends without waking the kids and to design it however they liked without having to blend it in with the traditional decor upstairs.

Home Theater Tech Choices Trim Budget
The timing couldn’t have been better for calling in a home systems installer to start planning the electronics. Working with the unfinished area would be like having a blank slate for the team at Media Connections of Teaneck, NJ. “We had grand ideas for the space,” says company president Duane Smith. “We thought about putting in a screen that would drop down from the ceiling and using a high-end video projector.”

But the Holmes family was already shelling out top dollar to make the basement livable. “We had to be careful about keeping the cost of the system down,” Smith notes. That didn’t mean skimping on quality but rather designing the space in a slightly different manner than he had originally planned. “Fixing the screen to the wall rather than motorizing it to lower from the ceiling was a huge cost saver, as was using a $350 handheld remote control instead of a $4,000 touchscreen-style controller.” Choosing a single-chip DLP projector instead of a three-chip model also helped save Jim and Jannette more than $10,000.

Media Connections completed the system with five modest but solid-performing surround-sound speakers from TruAudio, a Sony audio/video receiver, a Sony five-disc DVD/SACD changer, a Sony VCR and a high-def cable box.

“When it was all said and done, we cut the cost of the room by as much as 75 percent from our original plan,” says Smith.

The style, colors and tone of the room, however, make it look like something a lot more expensive. Jannette chose warm colors for the walls and ceiling to cozy up the room and incorporated a comfy sectional and two sunshine yellow chairs for plenty of seating. The sectional sits on an 8-inch platform, so even if the kids are laying on the couch, they can see over the heads of Mom and Dad sitting in the chairs in front.

Jim and Jannette got even more bang for their buck by designing the home theater for activities besides watching movies. “We thought we’d get more use out of the room by also making it a place that was comfortable to hang out in,” explains Jim. The chairs swivel so that they can face the couch, giving the couple a great place to converse with friends. And when they simply want to relax with music, the same TruAudio speakers that fire movie dialogue and effects into the room can fill the space with their favorite tunes. In the future, they plan to convert another area of the basement into a gym, making the 18-by-20-foot area truly multipurpose.

Audio Distribution Throughout the House
The home theater is just one place where music fills the air. A Crestron distribution system routes audio from the multidisc CD changer and radio tuner in the home theater to every room of the house, as well as outside. “We like all kinds of music,” says Jannette. “Rock, pop, Jimmy Buffet, you name it.”

Speakers were planted into the ceilings and walls throughout the residence, and weather-hardy units were mounted to the exterior. “The outdoor speakers get the most use,” Jannette continues. “We use them just about every weekend.” Using wall-mounted keypads, family members can cue the system, choose a source and tell the music where to go—everywhere or to just one room. Several keypads are located throughout the residence, so there’s always one nearby.

If the family is in the mood for something in particular, they can view the song titles in their CD changer from a wall-mounted touchscreen in the kitchen or in the home theater. Touchscreens were recently installed in place of a few keypads so the Holmeses could wade through their 200-plus CD collection faster and easier. “We found that the keypads were fine for turning on the system, adjusting the volume and skipping tracks,” Jim explains. “But the touchscreens allow us to see exactly what songs we’re putting on.”

Another recent upgrade is an AudioRequest hard-disc drive music server. The family’s CDs are being gradually converted to MP3s and burned onto the drive. Once they’re all there, the songs can be grouped into playlists that Jim and Jannette can access from the touchscreens. The couple will also be able to select songs by artist and genre. “Plus, I’ll be able to put all my iTunes onto the system,” says Jim.

Tech Upgrade for the Family Room
While the home theater and whole-house music system keep the family well entertained, Jim and Jannette knew they could also benefit from an electronics update in the family room. “This is where the kids spend the most time,” says Jim, “so it was important that space got a good system, too.”

The room sports a 50-inch plasma TV, a high-definition cable box with digital video recording, and a Sony VCR and DVD player, giving the family plenty of entertainment sizzle. In-ceiling speakers switch from movie audio to music, just like the speakers in the lower-level home theater, and the same type of remote is used to control the gear.

It’s a setup that suits Jim and Jannette’s lifestyle to a “T.” Although the components that make up their entertainment systems may not be terribly sophisticated, together they create a home environment that’s comfortable, easy to manage and best of all, fun.

“Throughout this process, we’ve learned that having a great system is less about the equipment and more about how you’re going to use the room,” Jim confirms. For the Holmes family, it was more important that their entertainment systems be easy to use and comfortable to live with than expensive and elaborate. Jim and Jannette may not have spent top dollar on their home theater, speakers and controls, but when that projector fires up or music drifts out to the patio, they feel like they’ve hit the jackpot.

Equipment List

Electronics Design & Installation

Media Connections, Inc.
Teaneck, NJ


More Photos

This installation also included an upgrade for the familyi room

Click to enlarge. Jim and Jannette Holmes recently updated their family room with a 50-inch plasma TV and in-ceiling speakers. Photo credit: Philip Ennis; “Lost” (C) ABC, Inc./Mario Perez.

Outdoor speakers featured on patio

Click to enlarge. Music flows to the patio through outdoor speakers mounted to the exterior of the house. Photo credit: Philip Ennis.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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