Home Entertainment: Your company name implies that you’re builder/developer. How did you end up designing a home theater?
Dennis Radzinsky: I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture, so that’s my first love. After working for a prestigious architectural design-build firm for several years, I received my first commission to design and build a 12,000-square-foot home in 2004. The client wanted a home theater, so that was the first one I designed. I also handled all of the interiors for the home.
Most of my clients build large homes of this caliber, so having a home theater is a required element. Even though I’m not a theater specialist, they rely on me for my vision and design ability. For most clients, first I design the house and then I design the interiors, right down to the custom woodworking.
HE: Obviously your client is passionate about red … tell me a little about what the homeowner had in mind for the theater’s look.
DR: Being an old movie buff, he believes that home theaters should be as formal and spectacular as the old-time movie houses from the 1930s and 1940s. As soon as I knew there was a spot for a theater in this home, my mind started racing with ideas. When I learned that the client was a movie buff, I was even more excited.
HE: So when your mind stopped racing, what was your first thought?
DR: I told my client that I’m not an acoustic engineer. I designed and built the entire home, but I got the right parties involved to do an acoustic analysis—to figure out the right mix of absorptive and reflective panels, diffusers, etc. I knew I could get the design down, but I needed someone to fine-tune the room acoustically, and an acoustic expert can tune a room perfectly.
It’s important to have a designer and a project manager on site to ensure all the trades work together in a timely manner. It’s equally as important that every design detail is completely thought through and discussed with the designer and homeowner prior to construction.
I provided AcousticSmart with my design and color scheme so they could create a virtual model of the theater before it was built. This gave the homeowner an opportunity to participate in selecting the chairs and the wall sconces.
HE: How did you find the right professional to work with?
DR: It was a very easy decision. Being in the field, I know lots of people and AcousticSmart came highly recommended from a reliable source. I had the opportunity to work with the company on my first theater and we had great success. Therefore, I chose them again. I wanted to take this theater to the next level and [by working with] AcousticSmart, I knew I could. The company also supplied the draperies, reclining theater seats, and fiber-optic ceiling.
HE: This theater appears to be a pretty tight space … how big is it?
DR: The size of the theater is 15 feet by 20 feet—or 300 square feet, so it’s small. It’s located in the home’s basement.
HE: I know AcousticSmart provided more than just the acoustic treatments for the theater. How did the selection process for the theater chairs work?
DR: I set up a meeting at the client’s home with AcousticSmart and myself. We all sat down at the kitchen table and reviewed the 12 home cinema loungers that the company offers. We all collaborated and chose the chair based on style of the room and the height of the owners.
HE: Obviously a busy fabric wouldn’t have worked with the chairs since the theater space is so small—a fabric with an elaborate pattern would have looked too chaotic.
DR: That’s true. At first the owner wanted fabric-covered seats, but then he remembered that kids would be using the theater. Therefore, he went with a leather chair named “Rialto.” Those chairs are custom manufactured by AcousticSmart.
The seats in the front row have dual-control motorized mechanisms for the feet and the back—that means they move independently of each other. The seats on the back row have a wall-hugger mechanism that allows the chairs to be installed as close as 2 inches to the wall, but the chairs can still recline.
HE: But you did select a delicate pattern for the carpeting.
DR: The owner originally ordered the carpeting, but then I received a panic phone call about it being on back order. We had a tight deadline—we had to complete the theater by Christmas. So as the builder, I acted quickly and contacted AcousticSmart because I knew they could find the carpet that the owner wanted. And they did.
HE: The light-colored woodworking is gold-like in appearance. What kind of wood did you use here? And the finish?
DR: The wood we used in this theater is anigre. My mill shop supplied me with multiple samples to choose from and this wood caught my eye. The grain is beautiful—it’s the same wood that’s used to construct many old boats. The finish we used is a satin. We applied two coats of sealant and two coats of lacquer.
HE: In most deep red or claret theaters I’ve seen, the designer typically goes with a dark stain … I’m guessing you went with a lighter stain to brighten up the space?
DR: You’re right. The lighter stain contrasts with the deep reds. And the homeowner didn’t like dark stain anyway.
HE: The sconces positioned at the top of the columns are wonderful … they add just the right touch of drama. Where did you find these?
DR: I found them online at lightingdirect.com. They’re made of a paintable ceramic.
HE: The framed, quilted wall panels inset within the acoustic panels—which also appear on the backside of the entry door—really add a lot. The back wall, for example, would look naked without these panels. Explain your thinking here.
DR: This is a very linear room, so I felt the walls needed to be broken up. I also felt the walls needed a subtle texture. So I divided up the walls with tufted velvet panels and a series of framed movie posters. The panels are strategically placed to work with the movie posters, which were selected by the client.
The capital at the top of each pilaster lines up with the top of each poster frame, and the tufted wall panels line up likewise. I treated the doors with the same look for consistency.
HE: Why didn’t you extend the ceiling grid in the back of the theater for parallelism? Instead, you left that part of the ceiling grid open.
DR: I liked leaving this part of the ceiling open so movie-goers could appreciate the more realistic night sky above. Leaving the grid open also creates a feeling of space—it makes the theater feel bigger than it is.
HE: What does the “night sky” do?
DR: The ceiling showcases random constellations with the Big Dipper, Little Dipper and Orion, as well as two shooting stars. The client can turn the shooting stars on and off, but didn’t want anything more than that.
AcousticSmart designed the fiber-optic ceiling. It’s framed with a custom beveled edge and the company’s custom black acoustical panels. They manufacture the panels with fibers of various diameters to create a more realistic night-sky appearance. It gives the sky more twinkle and realism.
HE: Does the homeowner have the ability to change out the framed movie posters?
DR: Yes, he loves the fact that he can change them out, so he had us create 10 different ones. AcousticSmart scanned the posters and printed them on a breathable fabric so they don’t take away from the acoustics. Unlike coated paper posters, our breathable versions are not reflective, either.
HE: When you take a step back from this theater, what’s the first thing that crosses your mind?
DR: This is a room that allows guests to escape from reality and the daily stresses of everyday life. The deep claret and the goldish hue of the woodworking give the theater an inviting and relaxing feel. It’s almost like the space is enveloping you with the velvets, the reds, and the warmth. Maybe some of that coziness has to do with the theater’s intimate size.
Basically when you sit down in this space, you feel good.
Bill Alexander, owner of Eagle Eye Audio Video of Centerport, NY, has a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to equipment selection: “If this were my home theater, what would I do? The goal here was to spec in great equipment, but not the esoteric stuff where you’re paying a lot more money for an extra two percent of performance.”
For high-performance speakers that didn’t break the bank, Alexander turned to Tannoy, a British speaker manufacturer known for its trademarked Dual Concentric driver design (the high-frequency drivers are nested within low-frequency drivers, rather than stacked or aligned horizontally). This, Alexander says, makes for an extremely phase-coherent sound source: “They’re spectacular for dialogue, and really image better than anything else I’ve ever heard,” he says.
Three Tannoy Definition DC12i loudspeakers serve as left, center, and right channels beneath the screen. Above and to the right and left of the screen, two of the company’s iw6 TDC in-wall speakers serve as the front presence channels—a feature unique to Yamaha receivers and surround-sound processors, including this room’s RX-V3900 7.1-Channel Network Home Theater Receiver.
As to the need for these speakers, Alexander says, “When someone does a theater like this, there’s a lot of absorption in the room—arguably almost too much. So in a lot of cases you end up with a dry sounding room and you don’t really get the theater experience. But Yamaha has [dozens] of algorithms—based on measurements they’ve taken of professional performance spaces—that really make a space sound convincingly larger. So I wanted to advantage of that capability.”
Doing so came with a cost, though: Because the RX-V3900 only provides seven channels of amplification—and two of those channels were being used to power the presence speakers— Alexander lost the ability to provide discrete surround back channels for the room. But he didn’t want to merely go the 5.1-channel route because the surround speakers would have been perpendicular to the main listening positions, which isn’t ideal.
So Alexander came up with an inventive solution for the quartet of Tannoy iw62 TDC in-wall speakers at the side and back of the room: “I took the left side surround and the left rear surround and made them both play left surround information, but put them out of phase with one another. Likewise for the right surrounds. So each pair made an [improvised] dipole radiator, and the effect was absolutely spectacular. Putting the rear surrounds out of phase with their side counterpart really made this schmear of ambient sound just the opposite of a direct radiator, and in that way made for great surround ambience.”—Dennis Burger
Acoustics/accessories (acoustic wall treatments, chairs, threater curtain, fiber-optic ceiling): AcousticSmart of Merrick, NY (516.623.5711, acousticsmart.com)
Builder/designer: DMR Development Ltd. of Stony Brook, NY (631.675.1055, dmrdevelopment.com)
Custom Installer: Eagle Eye Audio Video of Centerport, NY (516.297.7400, eagleeyeav.com)
Custom Wood Working: G.A. Feddersen of Holtsville, New York (631.758.3646)
Photography by Phillip Ennis Photography
“Our team’s approach to this theater, and all theaters, is to provide excellence with every detail in a practical way.”—Bill Alexander, custom installer
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Netgear GS608 8-port Gigabit Ethernet Switch
Panamax M5300-PM Home Theater Power Management / Surge Suppressor
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