When a hip, young Los Angeles real estate developer/entrepreneur decided to add a home theater to his Los Angeles-area home, he knew exactly what he wanted—right down to the color scheme and seating configuration.
How to incorporate the theater into his existing home, however, was another question.
The homeowner believed that his home’s floor plan didn’t lend itself that kind of defined space.
And that’s how interior designer Trayce Blake, who has designed more than 40 theaters to date, found herself working on a home theater that was created, quite literally, out of thin air.
“There was a large two-story living room with a vaulted ceiling,” Blake explains. “So he decided to create a room above the living room—and that became the theater.”
Never mind that the screen wall for the theater contained two windows, or that the room’s parameters were partially defined by an existing convex archway, or the extremely rapid time-frame for design (six to eight weeks).
Regardless of the obstacles, the project was perfect for Blake, whose company Cinema di Cuore designs and produces home theaters, game rooms and ballrooms.
Prior to starting her company, Blake designed commercial movie theaters for more than a decade, which included interior auditorium design and acoustical design.
Blake is what you could label a “multi”—as in multi-disciplinarian. With a background in real estate and commercial interior design, as well as some architectural know-how, she brings to each project both left- and right-brain tendencies—offering not only hands-on utilitarian expertise, but also empathetic artistry.
According to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, multi-disciplinary professionals like Blake are “the sort of people who trigger the breakthroughs.”
What that means in the world of home theater design is that Blake is as comfortable executing complex CAD drawings as she is designing a custom carpet or hand-crafting the unique, archeological details that imbue her theater spaces with character, texture and heart.
In truth, this home theater project demanded both logic and flexibility—beginning with structural concerns.
“Our challenge was to house the front equipment [three speakers and two subwoofers] within the screen wall and still get the longest screen-throw possible,” Blake explains.
After brainstorming with the client and Aarons, she drafted a plan for screen-adjacent, angled walls that also house the system’s sound equipment behind black acoustical sound panels. The angled walls create a dramatic screen-frame, and are shrouded in Royal Violet velvet and sheer striped gold drapery panels.
Another structural curve ball came in the form of an existing curved wall. “There was a convex, arched wall on one side of the living room that continued up to the second floor,” Blake explains. “So we decided to add a similar curved wall to the opposite side of the theater for symmetry.”
The curved walls called for specially designed, thinner acoustic panels—an acceptable modification “since rear walls need less absorptive materials,” Blake says. The homeowner installed a working concession stand behind one of the “curves”—complete with popcorn maker and self-serve candy counter.
The room’s symmetry is highlighted by faux columns covered in Sapele wood veneers. Interspersed between the wooden columns are acoustic paneled walls covered in royal velvet chenille scrim.
The panel seams themselves become beveled decorations when they are conjoined by Blake’s custom-made, three-dimensional decorative medallions. Each fabric-covered medallion is topped with four square brass nail heads. Their overall impact is one of subtle, tailored modernism.
“The truth is that there are a lot of traditional aspects to the room,” says Blake. “So the challenge was to make a ‘wow’ statement—one that made the theater an exciting place for [the homeowner’s] friends to be.” Blake accomplished that goal through the use of subtle—and not so subtle—surprises.
For example, a discernable sense of vibrancy emanates from above and below. Above, a drop-down soffit mounted at ceiling height is surrounded with special, flexible crown molding made of rubber that’s faux painted to match the Sapele wood columns.
Rope lighting tucked within the molding reinforces the room’s curvy silhouette and suffuses the blue-violet ceiling with a warm glow.
The theater’s most animated influence, however, lies underfoot—a colorful, custom-patterned floor covering from Miliken Carpets. “The homeowner wanted a fun, contemporary carpet pattern that incorporated the room’s fabrics and walls,” she says.
Blake matched the colors using Cinema di Cuore’s online custom carpet-color system, which dropped her specific hues into Miliken’s pre-existing commercial carpet pattern named “Helios.”
The carpet samples were received within a week—and the carpet shipped in three. Blake says she loves the end-result, which interjects a fun and film-strip-like sense of movement into a space that might otherwise feel somewhat staid.
“I love that it has that bubbly, curved effect that’s already going on in the space,” she says.
To accommodate the homeowner’s desire for a rear double-door entry, a pitched-elevation floor plan as well as a maximum number of seats, Blake specified a custom-made, extra-long, sofa-like piece for the front row.
“They’re all motorized with foot rests and reclining capabilities,” says Blake of the row of theater seating. Both the sofa and the two three-seat sections in the back row are covered in soft and inviting moss chenille.
Meeting the client’s demand for a speedy completion schedule is an achievement Black attributes to a highly refined, streamlined level of coordination with several key manufacturers and custom installer Scott Aarons of AB Audio Video Inc. in Los Angeles.
“We were able to carry out a specific vision and to do it creatively,” says Blake. “And in the end, we used very traditional fabrics and colors to [design] a very contemporary, very transitional space.”
Orchestrating a home theater out of thin air is a pretty unconventional goal, after all. And creating one with a huge wow-factor in a limited amount of time can well be considered a design “breakthrough.”
According to Aarons, the main technological goal for this theater was a bit unusual: “We wanted to make a great-looking theater, but have the equipment be more on the modest side so if someone bought the house and wanted to upgrade, they could easily do so.”
The original owner is still living there, and he’s still using the gear Aarons installed, which is relatively modest in comparison to what Aarons would typically install in a theater of this caliber.
“But it sounds really good,” he says. “I was blown away by how good it sounds, budget or no budget.”
One of the ways Aarons kept the upgrade path clear was by eschewing in-walls in favor of floor-standing speakers at the front of the room.
“We left big cavities for tower speakers so if someone wanted to put, for example, B&W 800s in the theater at some point in the future, there’s plenty of room for that.”
Meanwhile, the Paradigm Monitor 11 tower speakers and CC-370 center channel that actually inhabit those cut-outs in the front wall may cost about a fraction of the aforementioned B&Ws, but these critically lauded overachievers are certainly nothing to scoff at.
Of the speakers, Aarons says, “The choice was simple: those speakers gave us the most sound and the best quality of sound for the money.
Since we were using a receiver—an Integra DTR-6.6—instead of separate processor and amplifiers, I needed a very efficient, loud speaker. I needed something with a whole lot of get up and go, but on a budget.”
Unfortunately, the back of the room was a bit trickier in terms of speaker placement; a rotunda/entryway and refreshments room prevented Aarons from placing surround speakers in the wall. So he went to the ceiling, installing a quartet of pivoting SpeakerCraft AIM 7 Two and aiming them toward the main listening positions.
Not all challenges were so easily overcome, though: “The owner wanted to be able to push a Welcome button on his [Universal Remote Control] Home Theater Master MX-3000 touch panel and have a voice come over the system’s speakers with the message, ‘Welcome to the Siegel Theater.
Sit down, relax, and enjoy the show.’ To accomplish that, we had to find some little OEM voice recorder ship—basically the guts of a voice recorder—that would give us a stereo audio output.
We made that a source in the system, and used an MSC-400 Master System Controller at the heart of a very complicated macro to switch inputs, play the clip, and then switch inputs again on the receiver so you wouldn’t hear any digital pops. It took us days of work just to get that one feature working correctly.”—Dennis Burger
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