Fusing a Home Theater into a Historic Home
Solution: Build a faux fi replace to hide the equipment.
February 29, 2012 by Scott Varn

Built long before the advent of television, the rooms of this historic home in Asheville, N.C., were not constructed with modern technology in mind. Typically, rooms were designed to accommodate specific tasks, had a conversational seating space and a fi replace. Only one of the main rooms in the house was missing a historic fireplace, so why not build one and use it to hide the home theater gear that the owners wanted to add? Concerned about preserving the original architecture and design of their period home, the owners thought it was an ideal solution. In fact, they had been saving an antique fireplace mantle and surround, hoping to use it somewhere in their home in the future. (Slide 1).

Now was that time. The style and size of the new faux fireplace had to resemble the other fi replaces in the home, which were much smaller than the huge hearths seen in homes today. Therefore, we needed to select low-profile products, such a 46-inch Sharp LED-based TV (just 1½ inches deep) and a Definitive Technology soundbar speaker, which incorporates the left, right and center surround-sound channels into a housing that’s 1½ inches deep.

After creating conceptual drawings for the project, we called in a carpenter who was experienced in historic renovation, David Humphrey of Square Peg in Asheville, N.C. After doing onsite measurements, it was determined that the old fi replace surround was a bit too wide for the location. It was dismantled and reassembled, and a framing system was added to support the soundbar and a motorized assembly that would lift the TV from behind the fireplace facade into viewing position. (Slides 2 and 3).

The wiring of the A/V fi replace was a bit tricky. Power, HDMI, speaker and control wires all needed to go through the floor. Luckily, in keeping with local historic tradition, the hearth under the fireplace was tiled. The tile installer, of course, had tools that could cut through brick and mortar with ease. This is not something your average A/V guy has in his toolbox. He gave us ample room for all of our wires and then set the foundation for our updated fireplace to sit (Slide 4).

One detail remained—the finishing touch that would ensure that our piece would truly match the period of the home—a decorative fi replace iron. Decorative irons were traditionally used to cover the coal firebox when not in use. So the homeowners went to one of the many local antique stores and found a beautiful iron that complemented the piece perfectly. This removable metal cover would function as more than a decorative element—it was incorporated into the design to give us access to install, tune, and maintain the lift system (Slide 5).

The rear surrounds in most 5.1-channel systems are often the hardest to hide. With the back wall of this room being nothing but windows and plaster walls, in-wall speakers were not an option. As a result, we selected small Episode 300 speakers measuring only 6½ by 5 inches. The speaker wires were run to the unfinished basement below, but could not be fished up the wall due to the plaster and lath wall construction; therefore, the wires had to be mounted directly to the wall surface. Faux painting the wires to match the wood and marble finish hid them well enough (Slide 6).

All of the components were installed in an Episode rack system. This works well for now, but needs to be concealed to complete the package. Square Peg’s next project will be to surround our rack with complementary woodworking to function as a serving buffet, hiding the last of the electronics.

At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to discern the facade as anything but an authentic historic coal burning fi replace (Slide 7). The URC MX-980 remote that operates the A/V gear was programmed so the TV stays down when the homeowners listen to music. But when they touch the DVD button, for example, the Sharp TV ascends into view, blending 21st century technology into a turn-of-the-century home (Slide 8).

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Scott has been in the technology industries for over 20 years. But his experience as an artist is what led him to create an award winning business that combines engineering and aesthetics for home theater design.


URC MRF-350 RF Base Station
Integra DTR-30.3 Receiver
Sony Blu-Ray Disc Player
Sonos Network Bridge
Sonos ZonePlayer 120 (2)
Sonos Wireless Handheld Controller
URC MX-980 LCD Remote
Episode Surge Home Theater Protector
Niles A/B Switch
Activated Designs TP-385-15 TV Lift System
Sharp 46-inch LED 1080 TV
Defi nitive Technology SSA3 Soundbar
Episode 300 Series Satellite Speaker
Episode 110-watt Powered Subwoofer
Episode 35-inch Rack Mount System

Project cost (equipment, labor, carpentry, historic pieces, and woodworking): $14,000

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