Theater Room Takes Long & Lean Approach

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This DIYer works a big theater into a skinny space, with stunning results.


Nov. 07, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Awkward spaces don’t make for an easy DIY project—but they sure are fun. Curt Caveney knew when he set out to build his basement theater that the narrow shape was going to work against him.

“Our basement is very long and narrow. Being able to watch traditional movies in the first two rows was essential. It was also important to leave the back area of the theater open for a counter, a sitting table, and a future bar,” Caveney says. “Such a configuration will ultimately provide seating for up to 17 people—say at a Super Bowl party. We felt we could get much more use out of the space this way.”

We are guessing that Caveney and his family do get a lot of use out of the room, as well as a lot of praise. Not only did he want enough seating to pack them in; he also wanted his guests to actually enjoy themselves. This meant making sure every seat would provide a perfect view of the screen.

“The seating risers were key to eliminating the problem where people are craning over those in front to see,” Caveney says. “However, too high of a riser would obscure the view of those seated at the counters in the back.” By adding 2x8s in the front, 2x12s in the back, and barstools by the counter in the back he provided the perfect seating height for everyone.

Guests are not only invited to visit the back area during movies; they are encouraged. Using different light fixtures on separate dimming circuits, Caveney was able to create an affordable, yet effective lighting scheme.

“Theaters in general can benefit from the right kind of light in the right locations. A multi-function room such as this should have a variety of lights at various levels to accommodate a variety of situations,” he says. “Sporting events need brighter light for conversing and eating, whereas a movie needs just the minimum amount of light to get in and out safely.”

To help cushion some of the lighting cost, Caveney opted to install PVC-molded rope behind the crown molding. That’s right—good, old Christmas lights. “Considering it might not last forever, we had to make sure it was all removable,” he explains. Other lights can be found by the risers, the columns, the stairs and the curtains. There’s also lighting under the counter at the back. Lutron’s Spacer dimmers and a wireless remote operates each of those lighting elements.

To ensure that lighting wouldn’t interfere with the main attraction, Caveney installed a black border around his 108-inch screen. The entire wall is framed with curtains, which not only enhances the image, but adds a dramatic effect.

Caveney is pleased with how the room turned out, but it was not without elbow grease—and a whole lot of web surfing. “As an educational platform, the Internet was indispensable,” he says. “This project would not have been possible without it.”  His good friend and inspirational theater-savvy neighbor also served as a technical resource and sounding board.

A good portion of that research time was spent studying home theater acoustics.  “We wanted to incorporate a variety of elements to enhance the audio characteristics of the room, but not make the room look like an acoustic or anechoic chamber,” Caveney says. The web helped, and so did making a plan.

The end result has various types of bass and sonic traps positioned at key reflection points. These traps include four 14-inch traps, which were custom-made to look like architectural columns. Another two main 18-inch traps were placed inside the columns behind the curtains. Five more traps were integrated into wall panels about 1.5-inches thick. Finally, thick carpet covers the bottom of the wall, which helps minimize high-frequency reflections.

Caveney picked up many tips on the technical aspects of his home theater by chatting on sites like CurtPalme.com and the AVS Forum, while also collecting lots of ideas for aesthetics from their photo galleries. Referencing several different home theater magazines also helped in refining the overall look.

“My wife implied several times that this better not look like a playroom with black paint on the wall!” An in-wall rack helps keep the installation looking cool, with smoked glass in the front and alcove access from the back.

The awkward room shape and the extensive research involved made this project quite a challenge, Caveney admits. But it’s one he’s glad he took on, as the end result is a far cry from his previous entertainment setup.

“Prior to this project, we owned one 20-year-old 27-inch TV we bought when we got married.” Needless to say, the home theater is a big step up in entertainment value, and one that the long and lean room lets not just Caveney and his wife enjoy, but their entire social circle.


About the Project
Total Money Spent: $22,500
Location: Johnson City, Tenn.
Room Size: 23 by 14 by 9 feet
Year Completed: 2007
Total Project Time: 2½ years

Equipment List
Barco BG808 Graphics CRT Projector
Lumagen Vision-HDP Pro Video Processor
MUX-HD HDMI/DVI Repeater
OPPO DV-980H DVD Player
Phase Technology Velocity Series 5 Speaker System
Samsung DTB-H260F HDTV Terrestrial Receiver
SpeakerCraft AIM7 In-Wall Speakers (2)
Stewart StudioTek 130 108-inch Screen
SVS PB1-ISD Subwoofer
Yamaha RX-V2400 Receiver
ZeroSurge 7.5Amp Surge Suppressor/Power Conditioner



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