Cool Homes
Remodeling Instead of Moving: At Home with Sam Runco
The man behind a high-end home theater company trades a big home for the perfect theater.
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Runco’s projector shines from an insulated space in the oven hood (top of picture), which has a stainless steel door that closes over the lens and ventilates the projector separately. Photo by Richard Tauber.
August 01, 2006 by Steven Castle

You might think that video projector king Sam Runco would have a house full of electronic eye candy, from his company’s latest and greatest projectors to its well-regarded plasma screens to its LCD TVs. And on that you would be right. You might also think that a guy who sells high-end video projectors to affluent homeowners would be living in some swank megamansion. And on that you would be wrong.

Sam and Lori Runco’s modest 2,900-square-foot home is smack in the middle of San Francisco Bay Area middle class, and that’s where they like it. When it was time to either move or undergo a renovation, the three youngest Runcos, ranging from 13 to 22 years of age, nixed any idea of relocating to more opulent digs.

And so Sam and his family embarked on their third major re-do in 10 years. In the Runco household, that usually means ripping things up and running more cable for a slew of new video devices and accompanying audio goodies.

This time result is a family room home theater that opens to a gourmet kitchen, complete with Runco’s latest projector hidden in the oven hood and an adjacent pool room with four 32-inch Runco LCDs mounted behind a mirror.

Oh, and the family room has two sets of high-end speaker systems that can be played separately or together, a curved 138-inch-wide screen that adjusts to various video formats—think wide, wider, and widest screens—and a 1950s-style mural of the family that drops from the ceiling and covers the unit when it’s not in use. And that’s just on the first floor.

“We decided to use the whole house and live in every inch of it,” Runco says. To that end, the family long ago took the traditional living room, which was seldom used, and put it to use as a pool room. But pool-shark Sam had his eye on a classic art deco-style pool table that just wouldn’t fit that space. When it was time for the renovation, he asked interior designer Lezlie Trujillo if it could be used, and she made the walnut and polished aluminum table the foundation of the redesign.

Sam also wanted to make all the high-tech plans fit into an acceptable decor. “I’m lucky that my wife and I work together, so I have more flexibility to put technology into my house than most guys. She understands what I’m trying to do with it.” But a lot of people have to deal with the so-called wife acceptance factor, he adds. “We’re trying to make it a little easier for the woman of the house to accept the gear.” So the four 32-inch Runco Crystal Resolution CR-32HD LCD TVs are hidden behind the 6-by-8-foot mirror in the pool room and are visible only when they’re turned on.

Stroll into the kitchen, and you’ll pass a wall-length, climate-controlled wine cabinet. Then the kitchen opens to the family room. It looks like a family room, it feels like a family room—but this is no ordinary family room. With two sets of powerful speakers and two types of media servers, this is a home theater system you’re more likely to find in a very high-end dedicated theater room—or two.

“We’re trying to steal back the family room and make it multipurpose, so it’s nice to sit in and look at and nice to gather to watch a movie,” Runco says. “As a family, we spend our lives in there.”

Press a button on the Crestron home system’s remote, and the door over the oven hood lifts to reveal the new VX-55d three-chip, 1080p DLP projector with Runco’s CineWide lens to enable watching super-widescreen, or CinemaScope, movies in their intended format. The mural ascends into the ceiling, curved pieces roll from behind the screen to mask it for numerous format shapes, and when the score begins, the speakers sound off. When the movie or show is done, the mural is lowered, the projector is hidden and the space reverts to a family room.

“I didn’t want to create a home theater at the touch of a button but create a family room at the touch of a button,” Runco says.

The curved pieces roll from behind the screen to create the video shapes, or aspect ratios, from a squarish TV image (called 4:3 or 1.33:1 for the ratio of width to height) to high-definition widescreen (16:9 or 1.78:1) to even wider-screen movies done in CinemaScope (2.35:1 or just 2.35) and even wider formats like that used for Ben Hur (2.76:1).

So what about the two speaker sets? It was important to Runco to be able to use the room both for watching movies and for listening to music. Three JBL Synthesis speakers are positioned behind grilles beneath the screen, with JBL subwoofers on either side, while three Kef speakers descend from the ceiling in the front, and four more come out of the ceiling for the surround channels in the sides and rear. Runco and his family can watch a movie with the JBL front speakers and Kef surrounds and subwoofers, or use just the Kef speakers all around and the subwoofers, or use both systems with six front speakers, or listen to music with the left and right JBL speakers in stereo.

“My focus in the audio is on dialogue articulation [in movies] and having two-channel audio,” Runco says. “The articulation of dialogue is a problem in a lot of theaters.”

Runco also wanted to use and play with some of the latest stuff, so he has a Kaleidescape video server that stores DVDs to hard drives and enables him to call up any movies in the family’s collection via genre, actors and director.

And he’s looking forward to playing with Niveus’ Denali media server, which functions as a DVR, features hard drive storage for music and movies, runs Windows Media Center and has an add-on DVD changer. “It looks like Windows Media has a good shot at being a server technology,” Runco says. “I want to live with these things. I want to play with them and judge them.”

And all from his still modest-size house.


More Photos

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Four 32-inch Runco Crystal Resolution CR-32HD LCD TVs are hidden behind the 6-by-8-foot mirror in the pool room. The screens are visible only when they’re turned on. Photo by Richard Tauber.

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A curved 138-inch-wide screen in the living room adjusts to various video formats: TV image, high-definition widescreen, and even wider-screen movies done in CinemaScope. Photo by Richard Tauber.


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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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