Chicago Home Theater-in-the-Round

Q & A with the Interior Designer John Cannon


Theater by Cinetec Audio Video Design Centers of Palos Hills, IL

Award-winning Chicago Interior Designer John Cannon of Cannon Frank, weaves together an elaborate downstairs entertainment zone that revolves around an antique Parisian bar and a breathtaking home cinema, all decorated with the utmost in Art-Deco detailing.

HE: The home is designed to resemble an Italian villa with Greco-Roman touches throughout, but the theater isn’t Greco-Roman in style. How did the Art Deco look come about?

JC: My client took a photography trip on the Orient Express in the early 1990s and fell in love with the original styling of that train. So there was some influence from that. We all felt the theater, train room, exercise room and game room were perfect places to showcase some of the owners’ Art Deco sculpture, which they found during their travels to various art shows in Palm Beach, Chicago and New York. So that’s how the Deco look came in.

Even the wall treatments in the spa’s exercise room tie into this overall Art Deco look: They replicate some of the murals at New York’s Rockefeller Center, which include Art Deco-style gazelles and impalas in a forest setting.

The entertainment zone’s sauna, hot tub and steam shower are all tiled in an Art Deco-style design with Ann Sacks tile and very elaborate tile bordering.

HE: How did you weave in the antique French bar?

JC: After I found the Parisian bar at Judith Racht Gallery in Michigan, I began the design of the lobby bar and the theater. The bar is made of mahogany and it’s inlaid with several kinds of wood in an intricate geometric patterns.

The bar’s antique, zinc-topped countertop wasn’t large enough to accommodate everything we wanted, so we added onto it so it could hold a popcorn machine and drink fountains.

HE: The footprint of the home theater doesn’t appear square or rectangular, although I’m not sure that it’s concentric in shape either. Please describe the floor plan.

JC: The room is basically rectangular with a full radius at one end. The home theater itself has the same footprint as the family room right above it. The projection screen is recessed into an alcove on the opposite end of the room.

So we created two alcoves on either side—one at the entrance and the other as a niche for an 18th-century sculpture of [the Greek God] Mercury, for whom the home theater is named.

HE: Is there a specific element in the theater—such as the chandelier or the proscenium—that served as the catalyst for the overall look?

JC: My clients love the old movie houses of Hollywood, so after we purchased the pair of Sue et Mare torchères—designed and fabricated by the contemporary of Lalique, Ruhlmann and Edgar William Brandt—the tone for the room was set.

The torchère style is pure Art Deco. They are made of cast bronze, a gold bronze and solid onyx. The proscenium followed suit.

We used two different kinds of draperies in this theater. The panels that envelope the room are a crepe silk velvet in a dark rust, trimmed in a gold metallic Greek key pattern. The ivory panels behind the screen can change color, as determined by the neon control panels.

How did you create the proscenium and its elaborate scrollwork? It looks like you can change the illumination from behind the ironwork to change the mood?

JC: I love [the style of] Ruhlmann and Edgar William Brandt. Since we had to create a level of camouflage to hide all of the technical aspects of the screen, we came up with an ornate, highly stylized proscenium and crown that hides the screen’s masking elements.

The proscenium is very heavy, but we can access everything—the speakers, the screen—for maintenance without dismantling a lot. The gold-leaf “waterfall” panels on the sides hide the neon lighting. The clients can change this lighting from yellow to gold, orange to red, and blue or lilac to emerald green.

You can achieve any color you want to suit the movie you are watching or your mood by dialing in any combination, using the three dimmers, one for each primary color.

HE: Many theaters of this scale and complexity are designed with theater curtains that close to cover the screen, but you opted to do something very different here.

Originally we wanted a traditionally draped theater screen, but we couldn’t do that and accomplish everything our client wanted—such as accommodating the depth and width of the screen, and the chosen screen lighting.

As a compromise we incorporated an ivory velvet backdrop behind the screen. This light hue is a wonderful canvas, and accommodates any color the clients choose from the behind-the-screen lighting system. I designed the proscenium with a lot of open space so the illumination from behind glows through. You can actually see through the proscenium, as well as around the screen.

HE: Let’s discuss the seating arrangement you created for the private screening room. You incorporated three different kinds of seating, all of which commingle in harmony.

Since the theater is so elaborate—we envision it as more of a private screening room in a Hollywood producer’s home rather than a home theater—we decided against theater-style row seating. Additionally, we know some people like to sit alone while watching a movie, and some people want to sit together. Our clients wanted to sit right in the middle of the room on a love seat, so we opted for a seating arrangement that mixes several styles, fabrics and types of comfort.

The chairs and ottomans are from the Lucien Rollin Collection through William Switzer & Assoc., and are covered in Edelman leather. The velvet-covered sofas are custom designed by our firm, Cannon Frank, and fabricated by our custom upholsterer, Anees Upholstery.

To design these custom sofas, we studied photos of old Ruhlmann rooms: our renditions are more comfortable and are designed in a more suitable size than the originals would have been.

HE: The wall treatment for the theater is an orchestration of wood paneling and more Deco-inspired scrollwork.

JC: In keeping with the concept of a movie mogul’s private screening room, we designed the walls with book- and end-matched, horizontal-crotch mahogany panels, trimmed in walnut with pilasters. The pilasters are covered in speaker cloth and are faced with additional iron and gold-bronze ornamentation that’s reminiscent of Deco grasses and seeds.

Talk to me about the transitioning you created in the lobby and the bar’s mural.

JC: My client wanted to have an area for refreshments and entertaining large groups, so the bar area evolved into more of lobby with concessions.

The mural is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of a scene from “Cleopatra,” complete with a leopard, movie-set lighting, and the director and actors.

HE: This entertainment zone is larger than many people’s homes. How long did you spend in the design and build-out processes?

JC: The project took about two years to conceive, shop, procure and then fabricate; it kept evolving as we went along.

HE: Have you had the privilege of watching a movie in this theater?

JC: My clients, assistant and I got to watch the very first movie! We wanted to make sure the system worked well, so we did a “test” run, but we all became so engrossed in the movie we ended up watching the whole film. We were really blown away. I actually felt as if I was in Louis B. Mayer’s private screening room. The only thing missing was the cigar smoke.

By Brooke Lange/ Home Entertainment


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