Speedy Theater Install Earns Gold Medallion
A clever design plan brings this well-rounded home theater to life in less than a month.
SILVER WINNER: Best Home Theater $50K-$100K
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May 12, 2009 by Lisa Montgomery

Most built-from-scratch home theaters take several months to complete. This beauty broke all speed records by coming together in just four weeks.

“The owner of the house, who’s a builder, wanted to have the house finished and ready to sell as soon as possible,” says Robert Kowalski of Automated Lifestyles in Berwyn, Ill. “We were under the gun, so we had to come up with creative ways to produce something unique.”

The Automated Lifestyles team may have spent less time on this project than most of its others, but that didn’t mean corners were cut.

“Most of the time we saved was incurred by doing a lot of the design work ourselves,” Kowalski explains.

For example, the crew built its own acoustic paneling instead of having specialty products delivered to the site. They also solicited help from some of the other contractors who were working on the space. A friend of the interior designer, for example, sewed curtains for the screen, and the painter faux-finished the room’s large ceiling medallion.

Just as important to the owner was staying within a $50,000 budget. Again, Automated Lifestyles’ willingness to handle almost every aspect of the project contributed to significant savings.

“We also looked for deals wherever we could find them,” says Kowalski. “We bought a projector that came with a free mount, and building the acoustic paneling ourselves saved thousands of dollars.” Even the most expensive looking detail of the theater, the ceiling medallion, couldn’t break the budget. Automated Lifestyles scored the plastic replica at an architectural restoration company in nearby Chicago. “The cost to have built something like this from scratch would have been astronomical,” Kowalski says.

The basic black Bell’O theater seats were in stock and delivered the same day by a local distributor. 

Frugality played a hand in the selection of the entertainment equipment, as well. Rather than spend $4,000 or more on a media server, Kowalski rigged up his own by pairing a $399 Netgear media player with a $199, 500-gigabyte hard drive. A $1,000 Universal Remote Control MX3000 was used in lieu of a pricier touchpanel.

With the money he saved, Kowalski was able to splurge on a 119-inch Draper screen, a solid 7.2 surround-sound system, a Lutron Grafik Eye lighting system, as well as a lobby complete with a ticket booth and concession stand.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

Installers/Equipment List

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  Find custom electronics installers who provide home theater systems,
  lighting, home automation, A/V and more! Click here to get started.

Systems Design and Installation
Automated Lifestyles
Berwyn, Ill.

Interior Designer
Gail Prauss Design
Oak Park, Ill.

Allen Builders
River Forest, Ill.

Charles A. Nitti Fine Art
Forest Park, Ill.

Draper 119-inch acoustically transparent screen
Panasonic PT-AE2000 1080p projector
Denon 2308 surround-sound receiver
LG BD300 Blu-ray player
Netgear EVA 8000 network media player
Lacie USB/NAS 500 GB hard drive
Sonance Symphony LCR speakers (3)
Sonance Symphony 622TR surround speakers (4)
Niles SW300 subwoofers (2)
Universal Remote Control MX3000 remote
Lutron Grafik Eye lighting control
Bell’O theater chairs (8)

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