February 05, 2007
| by EH Staff
Home theaters conjure up thoughts of huge screens, big, boxy speakers and a slew of blinking black boxes stacked somewhere in the corner. While the equipment that comprises a theater can easily overpower the style, design and decor of a room, there are many ways you can make that equipment virtually imperceptible. Motorized lifts can push video projectors and stand-alone screens above the ceiling when they’re not being used, fabric wall panels can cover up speakers, even something as simple as a beautiful piece of cabinetry can hide an entire home theater system from sight. With the right plan and a knowledgeable home theater designer, you can create a theater that looks and sound just as good when it’s out of sight as it does when it’s out in the open. Here are a few concealment techniques that you might want to consider for your entertainment area.
You Lift Me Up
OK, so maybe we’re a little tired of hearing another rendition of Josh Groban’s popular ballad … again. But lifting stuff up in a home theater is an idea that never gets old. In fact, a motorized lift is one element that can actually help keep the room feeling fresh and modern no matter how long you’ve owned your DVD player. Placed on a lift, a video projector can descend from the ceiling, transforming a traditional family room into a high-tech entertainment mecca in a matter of seconds. And no matter how many times you’ve witnessed a 100-inch screen magically rolling down from the inside of a wooden ceiling beam, you can’t help but feel excited about what’s going to happen next. Concealing the equipment until you need an entertainment fix evokes a sense of anticipation and excitement that every home theater should have. The concealment technique also helps preserve the architectural and design integrity of a room and allows you to incorporate a home theater into areas that may lack the space to accommodate a standalone big-screen TV.
Wool Over Your Eyes
The next technique we’ll describe may not involve covering your eyes with a wool blanket exactly, but the end result is much the same. The five or more speakers plus subwoofers that make up a home theater surround-sound system can vanish behind special fabric panels that can be applied to the walls of your theater. This involves a bit of planning and carpentry, as the speakers and subwoofers must be built completely into the walls. The walls must be stripped down to their studs, which may make this difficult to accomplish in an existing room. After the speakers are mounted between the studs, the panels can be hung. Made of acoustically transparent fabric, the panels allow the sound from the speakers to drift unaffected into the room. If you can’t get into the walls, tuck the front three speakers into the cavities of an entertainment cabinet, and cover the opening with acoustical fabric. The back speakers can be recessed into the side and rear walls. The speaker grilles will still be out in the open, but painting them can render them nearly invisible. Whichever technique you choose, you’ll be wrapped in sound without seeing a single speaker.
The World Is Flat (Sort Of …)
Flat-panel TVs have turned the home theater industry on its heels. Rooms that were once considered too cramped and tiny to house a full-fledged home theater are now possible contenders for serious home theater spaces. Because they require no floor space, flat-panel TVs (plasmas or LCDs) can fit comfortably into the smallest of spots. All a room needs is a bare wall, and it can become a wonderful movie-viewing area. However, depending on the design of the room, you may not want the screen and speakers stealing the limelight from your budding art collection or that magnificent stone fireplace. Your TV can share the glory with other items in the room by displaying something other than movies between showtimes. You can purchase a DVD of beautiful landscapes, paintings or graphics to display on the screen, for example. A number of images usually come on one disc, allowing you to pick and choose to fit your mood, the occasion and the style of the room. Another option is buying an actual painting to hang over the screen. Attached to a special motorized arm, the art could lift up or slide to the side to reveal the screen when you’re ready to watch. Some manufacturers offer canvases that roll down over the screen from a slender soffit above.
Mirrors have become another popular way to hide TVs. A number of manufacturers have developed special glass that functions as both a mirror and a TV screen. The concept is rather simple; When the TV placed behind the mirror is on the picture projects through the glass. When the TV is off, the glass becomes a mirror.
Audio/video cabinetry looks and functions better than ever. You’ll find more traditional styles, as furniture makers are leaning toward rich woods and warm colors instead of glass and metal for their cabinets. What’s more, these craftspeople are implementing clever mechanisms so that the technology can be completely hidden from view. As easily as opening a door, you could twist a portion of the cabinet completely around, hiding the plasma or LCD TV while revealing shelves on the other side for displaying books, collectibles or framed photographs. If you can’t find a preassembled unit like this, you can always hire a cabinetmaker to build something similar or to modify an existing piece of furniture. A credenza, for example, makes a great hiding spot for a plasma or LCD TV. Fitted with a motorized lift, the TV can raise out of the unit with the press of a button.
Of course, in many cases, all you’ll really need in order to conceal the components is a cabinet with doors. When the doors are shut, your DVD player, surround-sound receiver and other components will stay under wraps—even when the movie’s playing. And when the show is over, simply closing the door over the TV conceals everything so that your bedroom can go back to looking like a bedroom.
Take It Away
It may sound extreme, but placing every black box of your entertainment system in a completely different room than the screen and speakers offers many benefits. For example, it’s an ideal setup for homes that have multiple TVs. When configured by a professional home theater designer, the hidden A/V equipment can feed audio and video to every entertainment area. For example, the same DVD player that serves the 100-inch screen in the dedicated theater can zip off movies to the 32-inch plasma in the master bedroom and the 15-inch LCD screen in the kitchen. Sharing sources gives everybody access to the same movies, saves you from having to buy identical pieces of audio/video equipment, and precludes the trouble of trying to squeeze a DVD player, cable box and satellite receiver between the toaster and the coffeemaker.
The room you choose as your electronics hideaway should be centrally located, accessible to everyone in your family and offer plenty of room to grow. A popular choice is an unused storage space in the basement where nobody will ever stumble over your racks of equipment. However, the basement can be a somewhat inconvenient location for your gear, depending on where your home theater is. Every time you want to load in a new DVD, you’ll need to stroll down to the basement to get to the DVD player. If your home theater is also in the basement, this won’t be such a big deal, but if it’s in the family room, the trips up and down the stairs may get old after awhile. If this is the case, it may be better to sequester the equipment inside a closet on the main level of the house. That way, your players will be within close reach.
No matter where the equipment goes, you’ll want the storage area to look neat and tidy and offer a simple way to get to the backs of the boxes. Specialty equipment racks are the way to go. Each component gets its own shelf, which ensures the stack won’t overheat. Plus, the rack can be easily mounted to wall studs or a frame of a closet for a built-in look. If you think you might want to brag a bit about all those blinking black boxes in your basement, consider turning the rack into a showpiece by applying wood trim around it and finishing off the room’s walls and floors. An attractive wooden door that matches the other interior doors of your house is a good idea for a main-floor hiding spot.
Keeping the Peace
Some people may have no problem putting a 60-inch screen front and center of their professionally decorated French Provencial family room. For most of us, though, having the TV—and the seven speakers that go with it—in the main living area would be like spilling grape juice all over the cream-colored loveseat. But with careful planning, a willingness to compromise and a creative home theater designer, you can hide every bit of technology … until you’re ready to enjoy it. And when the show’s over, you can put it all back with just the press of a button.