Bonus Rooms Make Great Theaters


That unfinished space above the garage can be converted into an intimate home entertainment hideaway.

Jan. 30, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Home theaters have the reputation of being dark, cavernous spaces set aside from the rest of the house. While this design is just fine for some people, a cozier, more intimate entertainment area can be created in the bonus room above the garage. The space has many great home theater attributes, so if you don’t mind tucking a screen and speakers into smaller square footage, the bonus room could be your ticket to great home entertainment.

It’s small. Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to home entertainment. In fact, says Michael Dodson of Dallas-based M Audio Video Design Group, it can often be much easier and less expensive to design a home theater system for a smaller room than a larger one. “You won’t need a lot of speakers, an enormous screen, or a beefy sound system to fill the space,” he explains. While a large, dedicated theater in the basement might require two subwoofers and a 120-inch screen, in a smaller bonus room, one sub and a 90-inch screen might suffice. Bottom line: You’ll still get a wonderful entertainment experience, but won’t have to shell out as much money for a huge, powerful audio/video system.

It’s unfinished. An unfinished room, like a bonus room, affords you the opportunity to design the space however you want without worrying about the style or decor clashing with the rest of your home’s interior. Speakers and screens can be recessed into the new walls, and you can have a special closet constructed to house the rest of the audio/video components. In addition to Sheetrock, you’ll need to budget for carpeting, furniture, window coverings and other amenities. However, because bonus rooms are slight on square footage, you’ll likely spend much less to finish out the space than you would have in an unfinished basement. 

The windows in a bonus room are also fairly small, which means you won’t have to spend an arm and leg on shades. You’ll also deal with fewer problems with humidity and ventilation than had you put the theater in the basement, says Michael Bonetti of Home Theater and Beyond in Merrimack, NH. “If you burn popcorn in the basement, good luck trying to get rid of the smell,” he says. In a bonus room, you can air out the space just by opening the windows.

It’s private, yet accessible. Located just above the garage, a bonus room typically shares the second floor with bedrooms. This may not be an area where you’ll feel comfortable having hordes of people milling about, however, it’s a great space for homeowners who desire more of a private, intimate area for entertainment, says Dodson. “Dad can steal away for a few hours to watch the game uninterrupted, and you can close the door and keep the kids away from the R-rated movies.” When you’re ready for a break, the bathroom and bedroom are right down the hall.

It’s oddly shaped. Slanted walls are the bane of most bonus rooms. “They create a problem for both audio and video,” says Dodson. “It’s tough to mount anything on a surface that’s not flat, and slanted walls can also throw off the audio. Dialogue, in particular, can be hard to understand.”

Dodson and other installers often remedy these problems by building new walls around the perimeter of the room. Naturally, you’ll have to be willing to sacrifice some square footage to achieve this design, but the space between the new walls and the originals will provide an open avenue for running cabling, stuffing in some soundproofing materials, and building a closet for your A/V equipment.

It’s tough to wire. Because there is no attic space above a bonus room, it can be extremely challenging to route cabling to speakers, projectors and other equipment—unless you construct new walls for the space. False walls can also help block out light from dormer windows and create a mounting surface for a video screen.

It’s small. Depending on the size of the room, your home theater designer may recommend a screen that’s smaller than you envisioned. “Screen size should be determined by the viewing distance,” Dodson explains. The smaller the room, the closer the seats must be positioned toward the screen. The closer you sit toward the screen, the smaller the screen should be to prevent eye and neck strain. In addition to settling for a smaller screen, you may not be able to fit as many seats in a bonus room theater as you would have liked. You can make room for more seats by having tiers built on the floor. Similar to stadium-style seating in a commercial cinema, the tiers let you arrange the seats in rows, where the back rows sit up higher than the front rows. This arrangement ensures that everybody gets a good view of the screen.

Tips from the Pros

  • Flatten the walls: Slanted walls cause problems for a home theater system. Even things out by building a new, flat perimeter for the room.
  • Stuff it. Bonus rooms often sit next to bedrooms, so be sure to fill the space behind the walls with soundproofing insulation. You’ll be able to enjoy a late-night action movie without waking anyone.
  • Control the climate: Bonus rooms often suffer from drastic temperature swings, so consider giving the space its own thermostat. You’ll be able to keep the room more comfortable.
  • Construct risers: Floor risers provide additional room for seating, and will ensure that everyone—from the front row to the back—can clearly see the screen.

Lending their advice: Michael Dodson, M Audio Video Design Group, Dallas TX; Michael Bonetti, Home Theater and Beyond, Merrimack, NH.

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