What do you do when you want to make a big impression in a small space? When the owner of this Washington D.C. area home was renovating, it was an opulent classic cinema that was going to make his small basement loom large. On a referral from the homeowner’s interior designer, Gramophone, a custom electronics design and installation firm from Timonium, Md., was selected for the job. While the homeowner wasn’t sure exactly what types of products and systems he wanted, he knew that whatever those products and systems were, they had to be some of the best.
What he got was probably more than he expected—a grand showpiece that includes a Runco projector, 120-inch Stewart Filmscreen display, B&W Cinema Series speakers and McIntosh Audio components backing it all up. To operate the theater, Gramophone suggested Crestron’s DigitalMedia control system, which not only puts the homeowner in charge of the gear, but channels audio, video and control to the rest of the house.
The entire house received a technology overhaul, but it’s the theater that grabs most of the attention. Design was paramount. Upon entering the space, visitors are greeted by a luxurious room of red and gold—with gold leaf accents, faux finishes, classical Greek columns, upholstered walls and even a gold-accented fi replace framed by a pair of lion heads. There’s nothing subtle about this room.
Of course, working a state-of-the-art theater into a room that measures only 20 by 20 feet, and concealing all of the gear, is no small challenge. Gramophone director of custom sales Elliot Wier says that it was critical that the installation of the electronics coordinated with the work provided by the other contractors and designers because so much of the equipment would be built into the structure.
To enhance the illusion of a room devoid of technology, Gramophone installed an acoustically transparent screen, a 120-inch Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G3 with microperforations. The B&W speakers are mounted behind the screen to both hide them and to ensure that the sound comes from the image area and not from underneath or above the screen.
The G3 screen, combined with the very bright Runco VX-33d (built into the wall and insulated behind projector glass), provides enough light to make a high-contrast image that can be viewed nicely, even with some ambient light in the room. That’s a good thing, because adjoining the theater are two other rooms—a bar featuring two flat-panel TVs, and a wine room with its own sitting area. The homeowners like to entertain and they love watching sports, so a completely dark theater would result in people tripping over each other as they got up to refresh their drinks. Also, the theater only seats four, so sometimes guests will need to sit at the bar to watch the action.
Of course, guests at the bar aren’t limited to watching the big screen. The two TVs mounted in that area can display content from other sources, all supplied by the A/V distribution system and a portable touchpanel. In fact, despite the small size, there’s nothing limited about this theater.
While the big picture and luxurious decor gets people’s attention, it’s the hidden fiber-optic data network that allows the magic to happen in this house. Gramophone went with Crestron’s DigitalMedia system to manage the extensive audio and video distribution, all via fiber-optic cable. The installation of fiber can be a little tricky because the wiring is comprised of glass.
But the payoff is big. It’s a fully digital end-to-end system that not only sends signals from four cable DVRs and a Kaleidescape media server to the home’s 13 TVs and audio zones, but it also integrates feeds from the home’s security cameras. From any touchpanel in the house, users can access whatever audio or video feed they want or check the front door surveillance camera to see if UPS has dropped off a package. Fortunately for Gramophone, the inside of the house was gutted and the homeowners moved out during installation, making it easy to run all those wires.
Like this theater? Then you’ll also want to check out this one: Elegant Theater Controls Entire Home.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.