Theater Born in a Barn
A deteriorating barn is transformed into a state-of-the-art home-entertainment space with original-looking beam work and warm, stained woods.
At first glance you would never expect that this 1,500-square-foot renovated barn, part of a 13-acre suburban Philadelphia estate in Bucks County, can convert into a high-tech home theater with the touch of a button. But do just that—press a single button on the Universal MX-850 remote—and concealed blackout shades descend from above, a projection screen drops down from behind a ceiling beam, the lights fade to black, and the projector jumps into action.
“We wanted to use it for fund-raisers, small parties and to watch sporting events and movies,” says the husband, who is the CEO of a small investment bank.
While the barn’s previous incarnation—dark, drafty and devoid of character—revolved around TV-watching, the family of five envisioned a modern-day entertainment zone that honored the original architecture.
Naturally, a barn-based theater couldn’t have a contemporary look. To breathe new life into the 15-year-old structure, the couple hired builder Brett King of Brett King Builder-Contractor Inc.
“I listened to their goals and then we dreamed together,” says King, who also transformed the home’s master suite into an award-winning masterpiece. “They gave me freedom to make [their] vision happen. It’s very exciting when I can use all of my creativity in a project.”
Construction began with the removal, reinforcement and insulation of the barn’s interior walls. Next, King tackled the structure’s six central support feet in length. “The sun can be blazing through, but when the shades are lowered it is unbelievably black,” King says. “You can’t even see your hand.”
To oversee the audiovisual details, King brought in Mark Vargo of Audio Visual Specialists in Pennsburg, Penn., with whom King has worked with on three previous projects. To accommodate the owners’ request for the largest movie screen possible, Vargo installed a 106-inch-wide Draper Ultimate Access Series E screen. “It was the best choice because it has an outstanding color enhancement to give the best picture,” says company- owner Vargo.
A high-definition projector —the InFocus IN83—was chosen for its supreme brightness, contrast ratio, and overall resolution ability.
“The IN83 is an awesome projector that supplies the theater with all the adjustments needed for a quality picture,” Vargo says. The projector dangles from a ceiling beam, which was also added for aesthetics.
Suspended from the sturdy beams are delicate tear-shaped glass pendants by Sea Gull Lighting.
“Random accent lights draw attention to the majestic cluster of framework overhead,” King says. “A lot of thought went into the [selection] of these fixtures because we believe lighting is crucial for setting mood.”
Seven mood settings, from “entertainment” to “movies” and “games,” can be activated with a single button press on the Lutron RadioRa lighting system panel.
To provide sound quality that was equitable to commercial movie-theater audio, Vargo used the most powerful 7.1 speaker sound system available.
Interior designers Nelson Zayas and Rich Vergine of Blue Raccoon in Lambertville, NJ, assisted the owners with color and fabric selections. The end result is a palette of muted blues and greens, which lend a warm, natural look that’s classic and slightly contemporary. Instead of traditional tiered home-theater seating, the designers opted for a custom-made sectional from Vanguard Furniture in Hickory, N.C.
The finished project, which took three months to design and six months to complete, exceeds everyone’s expectations. “I stopped by the barn last week and pushed ‘the button’ just for the experience,” the builder/contractor says. “When I watch everything work, it’s as exciting as the day I finished the project. It still gives me goose bumps. It’s a job I’ll talk about forever.”
By Karen Appold/Home Entertainment
It should come as no great surprise that the room dictated much of the equipment selection for this one-of-a-kind home theater. The lack of a conventional ceiling made mounting the projector unobtrusively somewhat difficult. And given how high the projector was mounted, Vargo had the unenviable task of getting the image from way up there—and way back there—down to a viewable level on the room’s drop-down screen.
“We always knew we were going to go with an InFocus projector on this project,” Vargo says. “Their technical support is excellent and we’ve always had good success with them. They’re very reliable. But with this job we actually had to wait for the newest line to come out so we could mount the projector as high and far away as we needed to—and still get the geometry and brightness right on the screen.” The best projector for the job ended up being the InFocus IN83, a very affordable 1080p DLP unit that’s lauded for its accurate colors and rich contrasts.
Getting the Draper Ultimate Access Series E screen installed wasn’t easy either. “Normally the screen would be the last thing we would install,” Vargo says. “But we actually had to bring the screen onsite during the construction phase because of the way it was built-in. The box that the screen is housed in was framed out from the outside and wrapped in wood. It’s actually notched out of the original framing of the structure, and after it was installed and mounted, the contractor finished around it.”
The major challenge, however, was the acoustics. “Our biggest concern was sound reflections. We didn’t want the room to sound like a church—we wanted to sound like a theater. And we’re very pleased with the fact that it does sound like a theater.”
At the heart of the sound system are Sunfire’s TGP-401 Theater Grand Processor and TGA-7401 Theater Grand Amplifier. Vargo chose Sunfire because the processor gave him the sound-shaping features needed to tame the room’s acoustics, and the amplifier’s 400-watt output was sufficient to fill the cavernous space.
As for speakers, Vargo found Atlantic Technology’s IWTS-30 in-wall speaker indispensable in keeping the soundfield under control.
The speaker’s midrange-tweeter-midrange assembly can be rotated 90 degrees to maintain those drivers’ vertical orientation even if the speaker is assembled horizontally, and can also be pivoted left or right up to eight degrees so the sound can be aimed more toward the listener. “We may not have had the best environment from an acoustical standpoint,” Vargo says, “but having a speaker with that much flexibility really helped us.”
BUILDER: Brett King Builder-Contractor Inc. of Quakertown, Penn. (215.536.1145, brettkingbuilder.com)
CUSTOM INSTALLER: Audio Video Specialists of Pennsburg, Penn. (215.679.0444, a-v-specialists.com)
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Blue Raccoon of Lambertville, NJ (609.397.5500, blueraccoon.com)
Photography by Randl Bye
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RESOURCES and GEAR
Atlantic Technology IWTS-30 in-wall speakers (7)
Belkin PureAV Hybrid AVU1500 UPS with PureFilter Technology
Draper Ultimate Access Series E screen
HP Proliant DL185 G5 Server / Home Theater PC
InFocus IN83 DLP projector
LG BD300 Network Blu-ray Disc Player
Marantz IS201 iPod integration dock
Marantz SA-11S2 Reference Series SA-CD / CD player
Sunfire TGA-7401 Theater Grand Amplifier
Sunfire TGP-401 Theater Grand Processor
Sunfire TS-EQ12 True Subwoofer EQ 12 Signature
Universal Remote Control Complete Control MX-3000 remote