Home Makeover Leads to High-End Theater

Home Makeover

Adding on to his 1921 colonial gave this homeowner the space needed to make the perfect movie experience.


Jul. 28, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

When Jeff bought his 1921 Georgian colonial nine years back, it needed a bit of a makeover. When we say “a bit,” the home was basically gutted. However, the end result included a new master suite, a guest suite, an exercise room, and more. Change is good; more room is even better. The upgrade doubled the size of the house, taking it from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet. 

Of course, this addition included the perfect spot for a home theater. Instead of burying his new addition in the basement, the theater room was actually added to the main floor. “It has three outside walls,” Jeff says. Another bonus—and a selling point for Jeff’s wife—the theater size allowed for an even heartier master suite directly above. 

Not that his wife needed much of a sales pitch. Frankly, she was sick of seeing Jeff’s speakers and other equipment hogging her family room space. “It looked like a huge mess,” Jeff says. 

Now all he had to do was design the perfect theater space. “I knew I wanted the theater to perform like no other,” Jeff says. He began interviewing local home theater outfits, but was not convinced that any of them could make his home theater dreams come true. “All simply wanted to sell equipment and paste some acoustical panels on the wall,” he says. “

“‘The more expensive the equipment, the better the experience’ was the theme of these dealers.”

Instead, Jeff decided to take matters into his own hands. He scoured the web, read F. Alton Everest’s “Master Handbook of Acoustics,” and discovered the AVS Forum. At that time, the site was still in its infancy, but he found plenty of info on acoustics, room design and theory. 

It was also in the forums where he touched base with Dennis Erskine, president of Design Cinema Privee and former AVS moderator. “His approach instilled confidence that if I was going to invest the time and money toward a reference performing a room, he was the guy to design it and deliver the goods,” Jeff says. Erskine coached Jeff, who conveyed the messages to his builder. “Dennis was always available at critical junctures in the process and we ended up with a great result.”

While some design theater rooms around a movie or as an homage to a certain era, Jeff’s theme was a bit more simple: performance. “The room was built from the ground up with few restrictions to size, so well regarded room size ratios were employed, acoustical treatments through the entire room, and specialized equipment was installed that allows for superior dynamics, dialog intelligibility, and reference level volume levels,” he says. Erskine suggested an ultra-quiet HVAC system as well as a double-studded construction, which helped contain the sound. This is good, considering Jeff says that his bass response is solid to 10Hz, while the LCRs and subs can easily surpass 120db.

There are no complaints—at least none we’d be able to hear. Powered by 80 amps of Equitech balanced power, the room is capable of cranking out about 1.2kW of amplified power.

While the builder took care of the room construction, Jeff was very hands-on with installing the equipment. However, he did need to call in help when it came to his Sony Qualia projector. “It was one of the first HDMI-equipped 1080p projectors,” he says. “I wanted an expert installation with no mistakes. My dealer had to fly in to install it.” Four years later, Jeff is still singing praises about this purchase. That said, a trip to the CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) tradeshow later this year will be spent browsing for a new projector—likely a new 4K digital cinema model.

While there is plenty of soundproofing to protect his house from the A/V, Jeff decided that the rear of the room would be the best spot to shield his equipment from theater guests. The glare was a concern, and after all that hard work, he didn’t want the equipment distracting the experience. For easy access, everything is controlled by an RTI RF remote system with RS-232 control. “I installed it all myself and programmed the touchscreen remote as well—all 60 pages of commands.”

While many think their ears are a good enough measure for performance, Jeff wanted a second opinion. In addition to an HAA rating, Jeff’s long-time installer Chris Collins, of Collins Custom Electronics, “spent many long hours doing a masterful job of audio and ISF video calibration,” Jeff says. “His services have been indispensable to the system’s performance.” Another essential part was Terry Montlick’s Alpha certification program. “I wanted an expert to survey the room and make suggestions to get performance to an objective, reference standard,” Jeff says. After the results, some tweaking was needed to get the room up to snuff—a prospect that Jeff found to be “seductive.”

It took a lot of work, but the end result was well worth the effort. “Terry’s credentials and program are unique in the industry and will help any enthusiast interested in making his/her room the best it can be. His suggestions turned out to be invaluable in my room.”

Here’s been enjoying the room for a few years now, but Jeff hasn’t stopped tweaking. He recently finished a renovation on the room, adding an improved baffle wall behind the screen, which holds three of the LCRs. In front of that, he added a 14-foot Stewart VistaScope masking screen. “By going from a 10-foot-wide screen to a 14-foot-wide screen, my viewing square footage doubled when viewing scope films (2.35 aspect),” he says. “The screen is huge.” The anamorphic lens is also new, and helps project images as big as the sound. 

There’s also a new sub system, which is one of Jeff’s favorite parts of the room. “There is something about my pants flapping and hair moving during action sequences that brings a guilty pleasure like smile to my face,” he says. “Augmenting the bass response will likely be my next project as you can never have too much low end.”

Quick Hits
Location: Bloomfield Hills, MI
Year Completed: 2002
Room Size: 17.3 x 32 x 9.5 feet (average)
Length of Project: About 18 months
Total Cost: N/A


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