Info & Answers
Turn Your Basement into a Home Theater
A 100-inch screen and a booming sound system might not work in your living room, but they fit perfectly in a remodeled basement.
Photography by Ron Ruscio Photography, Inc.
August 01, 2006 by EH Staff

You’ve known for a while that your spacious basement could be so much more than the dark, dank disorganized space that it is. But bringing that subterranean space out of its concrete shell will take more than just a couple of weekends at the table saw. Heck, just getting the walls up will require a least a few months of your blood, sweat and tears.

A professional handyman or remodeler can take the room only so far. They can put up the walls and ceiling and lay down the carpet, which is a good start, but design the room for a big-screen TV and surround-sound system? That takes a certain knack.

The Finished Basement Company specializes in, you guessed it, finishing basements. “That’s all we’ve been doing for nine years,” says company president Patrick Condon, who operates offices in Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Washington, D.C. “And what’s driving most of our projects is the fact that nobody wants to have a 110-inch screen in their living room.”

More than 80 percent of The Finished Basement’s projects involve the installation of some type of home theater. The most popular request? A home theater that’s part of a larger entertainment room. “In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, we were putting in a lot of dedicated home theaters, but now the trend is to create the feel of a dedicated theater but leave that portion of the room open to other areas, like a bar or game room.”

A multipurpose space is exactly what Tom Wilkinson of Golden, CO, envisioned five years ago for his partially finished basement. “For years, I’d been working on my plan, drawing sketches on napkins,” he relates. “But basically, I wanted a multifunctional environment —something with a theater, a bar area and a place to play games.”

For Tom, the basement was the obvious place for his entertainment playground. After saving up enough money, he called The Finished Basement for a meeting. “After hearing my expectations for the room, they took the floor plan I had laid out and spiced it up.” Some of the spice, like the 1-inch thick fabric wallboards that conceal the room’s speakers, was fairly simple to incorporate—at least after the original drywall and carpeting were yanked out.

Other elements, like blending an ill-placed post into the design, were more complicated. “One particular post was going to sit right in the middle of where we planned to have a hallway,” Tom explains. “Based on its awkward position, there was no way we could work it into the design.” The solution was to move it out of the way. A structural engineer was called in to guide this part of the project. The Finished Basement team jack hammered the post out of the floor, expanded the piling underneath the concrete and moved the post to a different spot.

“It probably cost me $200 an inch to do this, but if I had left the post there, it would have always bothered me,” says Tom.

As with all of its projects, The Finished Basement subcontracted a local audio/video firm to install the electronics gear into Tom’s basement. The room’s 12-foot ceiling afforded enough headroom to hang a Sony video projector and a 92-inch screen. Six speakers and a subwoofer are hidden behind fabric walls, while all the amplifiers, video scalers and receivers were placed in a room with the furnace, water heaters and other mechanicals. The Finished Basement framed the screen with custom cabinetry and downplayed the appearance of the projector by placing wooden beams along the ceiling.

“The tall ceilings certainly helped with the installation of the A/V equipment, but it made the design much tougher,” says Jeff Garfinkel, a consultant for the company. “Tall ceilings have the potential to be an attention getter and to make the space seem almost too large,” he explains. “The wooden beams helped cozy up the room.”

The Finished Basement incorporated beautiful wooden pieces throughout the space to create the feel of a rustic mountain lodge. Logs serve as a handrail for the stairs and for the top of the bar. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, complete with a sliding ladder, evoke a sense of nostalgia, while a stone fireplace adds warmth. “The goal when you’re converting a basement is to make it look and feel like the rooms in the upper levels of your house,” relates Garfinkel.

Although the rustic, lodgy design of Tom’s basement is a huge departure from the traditional decor of the rest of his house, the new space gets used more than any other. “My parents always had this theory when I was growing up that if we had fun, cool things at our house, my friends and I would hang out there instead of somewhere else,” Tom explains. “So I’ve always felt compelled to create my own hub. And that’s what my basement has become. It’s a place that gives everyone in the neighborhood a good reason to come to my house and hang out.”

Design Tips for Remodeling Your Basement

  • Remove the door leading to the basement.
  • Add a foyer at the bottom of the stairs.
  • Disguise ductwork, water lines and posts as architectural details.
  • Add plenty of decorative lighting.
  • Create the illusion of height by adding soffits to the ceiling.
  • Keep the space open; don’t section it off into several separate rooms.
  • Use sound-absorbing materials like fabric wall panels and carpeting.
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