All in the DIY Family


Dad passes on his passion, and DIY tips, for home theater construction to his son and the results are two great theater rooms.

Oct. 18, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Tom Kern was more than happy to be the guinea pig for his and his son’s foray into home theater design and installation. After all, he’d always loved movies as a kid. “Most of my childhood Saturday mornings were spent at the Palace Theater, two blocks from my home,” he recalls.

Starting with Style
Those early theater-going days would serve as Tom’s inspiration as he dedicated three years to transforming a second-floor bonus room into a replica ‘50s-style cinema.

Before diving into the build-out of the 38-by-14-foot space, Tom focused on collecting decorative pieces that would evoke the same look and feel of his childhood haunt. This turned out to be more difficult than he imagined. “I really had to persevere,” he says.

Finally, after three years of combing eBay and traveling across the country to pick up his finds, Tom had gathered his key pieces, some of which include original 1950s movie posters for The War of the Worlds, Them! and Flight to Mars. There would also be plenty of items from actual old movie theaters, such as a 1940s ticket collection box, a vintage illuminated exit sign, and real theater seats.

Building a Framework
All the while, Tom sketched, queried A/V dealers for their advice on equipment and read every book and magazine available on home theater construction. After clearing out his garage to serve as his workshop, Tom started the room redo by painting the ceiling a shade of dark blue. It took more than four coats—in addition the primer—to cover the existing white surface.

Next, Tom prepped an existing alcove for the addition a 92-inch Da-Lite screen and three B&W speakers. Using 2x4s, he constructed a false wall for the screen and a hollow stage in which to stow the speakers. Acoustone grille cloth was stapled to the bottom portion of the stage so that the speakers could be hidden yet heard clearly. In keeping with the movie palace theme, Tom installed two separate motorized drapery systems, both of which can be operated via a remote control. One motorized assembly pulls the draperies vertically to reveal the screen, the other set moves horizontally.

On to the projector and seats: Using recommendations from Sanyo (the brand of projector he selected), he plotted out the optimal locations of both, and built two seating platforms comprised of the same materials (two sheets of 3/4-inch plywood interleaved with 30-pound roofing felt and a top layer of Pergo laminated wood flooring) as the subfloor. “The roofing felt helps eliminate rattles caused by low-frequency sounds,” Tom explains.

Tom finished off his theater by building six fabric wall panels—basically a wooden frame covered in fabric. A glutton for punishment, Tom didn’t stick with a standard rectangular shape. Rather, he curved the corners of each panel and glued and stapled on moldings for embellishment.

Hiring Help
As proud as he is of his accomplishment, Tom is quick to point out that he did hire professionals to help with a few aspects his theater install: a local custom drapery designer made all of the curtains, swags, and valances; a licensed electrician installed a sub-panel circuit breaker box, the light fixtures and switches; and a local carpet company laid the carpet.

Dealing with Details
Once Tom’s son, also named Tom, saw how well his Dad’s theater turned out, he, too, was bitten by the DIY bug. “My dad’s theater definitely had a major influence on mine,” he says. “It wasn’t so much the appearance of this theater (which is amazing to me) or even his attention to detail. It’s the inspiration that comes from knowing that if you plan carefully and takes things step by step, you will most certainly end up with something to be proud of.”

A big part of what Tom Jr. is proud of is the extensive knowledge of electronics he acquired by handling the project himself. He spent months combing websites and magazines looking for just the right products. Meanwhile, his father-in-law, who happens to be a custom homebuilder, built the “shell” of the 21-by-12-foot theater.

Prewiring for Products
Ready to get his hands dirty after the arduous task of deciding on products, Tom drew a wiring diagram to illustrate where all of the essential cabling would be run. Following his sketch, he pulled speaker wire to every possible speaker location. Whether he’d go with a 5.1, a 7.2 or a 9.2 setup, he wasn’t sure at that point in the project. He also ran HDMI cables to the planned projector location.
With stage one complete, Tom Jr. needed a break. He wasn’t even close to tired, but his budget certainly was. For the next year, he plotted how to hide some of his speakers (he eventually chose a 7.1 system), hang acoustical wall paneling and add a touchpanel for complete control of the room.

Finishing Touches
Earlier this year, Tom Jr. finished the installation of the gear, which includes a 130-inch 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen, a 1080p projector, a 7.1 surround-sound system, a PlayStation 3, and a home theater PC running XBMC Media Center Software. His latest purchase, an Apple iPad, is configured to run everything.

One of the niftiest features in the room, however, is a 42-inch flat-screen TV, mounted vertically on a side wall. Tom uses it as decoration, rotating about 400 different movie posters. The rotating art is delivered to the screen via a Mac Mini running Boxee software. He also obtained many of the posters for free from

“Now that I’ve used it for awhile, I’m finding lots of other neat content to display as well. Free-to-use images from around the web or various screensavers make this a dynamic piece of wall art.”

About the Projects

Tom Sr.’s
Money Spent
Total: $59,000
Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
Room Size: 38 x 14 x 8 feet
Total Project Time: 3 months
Year Completed: 2009

Tom Jr.’s
Money Spent
Total: $23,000
Location: Maryland
Room Size: 21 x 12 x 8 feet
Total Project Time: 3 months
Year Completed: 2010

Want to see more of what the DIYer can do? Check out Electronic House’s special DIY Showcase, featuring more installations like this one.

Equipment List
Tom Sr.’s

B&W CC6 Center-Channel Speaker
B&W DM602 Speakers (4)
Klipsch Synergy Sub-10 Subwoofer
Lexicon LDD-1 AC-3/RF Demodulator
Yamaha RX-V757 Receiver

Da-Lite 92-inch Cinema Vision Da-Snap Screen
DVDO iScan HD Video Processor
Mitsubishi HS-U778 VCR
Motorola DCT2600 HD DVR
Panasonic DMP-BD80 Blu-ray Player
Pioneer DV-310 All-Region DVD Player
Pioneer HLD-X9 LaserDisc Player
Samsung DVD-HD931 DVD Player
Sanyo PLV-Z2 LCD Projector
Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD Player

Monster Power HTS2600 MKII PowerCenter Power Conditioner
Smarthome X10 Lighting/Curtain Controls

Equipment List
Tom Jr.’s

Elemental Designs A3-5TC Surround Speakers (2)
Elemental Designs A3-300 Subwoofer
Elemental Designs A6-6T6 Tower Speakers (3)
Emotiva UMC-1 A/V Processor
Emotiva UPA-7 Amplifier
Polk Audio RC55iIn-Wall Speakers (2)

Apple Mac Mini
DVDO EDGE Video Processor
Emerson PL-P42W 42-inch HDTV
Home Theater Brothers Anamorphic Lens
Sanyo PLV-Z2000 Projector
Sony PlayStation 3
Verizon FiOS HD DVR
VUDU Media Player
Wilsonart 130-inch 2.35:1 Designer White Screen
HTPC w/XBMC Media Center Software

Apple iPad Touchscreen
Wilsonart 3-Seat Sofa
Wilsonart Black Leather Recliners (2)

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