From Spec to Spectacular Home Theater

In a Difficult Housing Market, an Elegant Home Theater Can be Just the Thing to Turn "For Sale" into "Sold."


When NHL hockey player Cory Stillman and his wife Mara started looking for a new South Florida home, they knew they wanted a home theater.

More importantly, they wanted one that they and their children would actually use.

“We’ve had friends with theaters in their basements,” says the Florida Panther left wing. “But when you have kids who are 10 and under, they’re not going into a dark theater unless Mom and Dad go with them. Maybe when they’re teenagers you’d rather have them in the basement,” Stillman laughs. “We wanted a house where we’d put every room to good use.”

So when the couple stumbled upon a Mediterranean-style spec home in the gated community of Hawks Landing in Plantation, they were wowed immediately by the home’s stunning home theater, which was designed from floor to ceiling by Jeffrey Smith, owner of First Impressions Theme Theatres Inc. in North Miami. Not only were they blown away by the home theater’s elegant design, but they were impressed by the way its layout suited their lifestyle. “It’s perfect that [the home theater] is right off the kitchen so we can monitor what the kids are watching,” Stillman says. “That was the biggest thing for us.”

Little did the Stillmans know, though, that their beloved home theater almost ceased to be. Originally slated to be a billiards room, the space now boasts a 7.1-channel Niles speaker system, a Marantz VP-12S4L DLP projector, 15-foot-tall ceilings, and a clear view of the lake and the Italian-glass mosaic swimming pool beyond.

Long before the Stillmans laid eyes on their future abode, builder Betsy Rauch of Robinette Homes and interior designer Eloise Kubli of Collective Construction & Design Inc. decided to transform the space with the help of First Impressions. “We wanted one extra-special touch that other homes didn’t have,” Rauch says. “Something that would take the house to a level beyond the typical builder’s spec house.”

Before the first piece of gear was selected or the sight lines were calculated, Smith’s team altered the room’s square shape. The room, tall as it was long, was perfect for a brightly lit game room, but it was an acoustical nightmare for a home theater. “The first order of business was to create a lower tray ceiling, which allowed us to give some scale to the space,” Smith says. It also allowed First Impressions’ fiber-optic sky ceiling to be the theater’s high point. “You feel like you’re looking through a skylight into the heavens,” Smith says of his trademarked ceiling treatment.

As for the interior design of the balance of the room, Smith worked closely with Kubli to craft a look that would appeal to a broad scope of home buyers. “The finishes of this home are elegant, traditional, classical—natural woods, recycled glass mosaics, Venetian plasters,” Kubli says. “When I design a theater, I take the approach of [making] it totally different from the main house. [But] in this situation we wanted more of an extension of the house.” As a result, the theater features wool carpeting with a subtle pattern and neutral leather tones; the walls are bathed in suede fabric.

“Elegant” and “subdued,” however, are not the first adjectives to roll off Stillman’s tongue when discussing his new home theater.

“I love that you can watch action movies really loud without the rest of the house hearing it,” he says. “But my big thing is watching sports in there in high-definition. It feels like you are standing right on the field or on the court—or right in the rink. You become part of the game. Really, [this theater] is everything we could have hoped for.”

Tech Talk: A Family Affair

Oftentimes, when discussing the technical merits of a home theater or media room, we focus almost exclusively on the equipment list.

And make no mistake about it: The gear in this theater is a perfect example of how to get a whole lot of bang out of a finite number of bucks.

The Marantz SR8002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver, for example, is a feature-packed, high-performance integrated controller that sells for a fraction of the cost of comparable separates. And the Niles IW2550LCR In-Wall Enclosed Home Theater Loudspeakers are a brilliant selection for the room’s main left, right, and center speakers.

As their name implies, they combine the space-saving and decor-friendly aesthetics of an in-wall with the more robust performance characteristics of a fully enclosed cabinet or floor-standing loudspeaker.

But from a technological point of view, the interesting story is how this room—like all home theaters designed and built by First Impressions—was constructed. Company owner Smith explains: “We build home theaters from the ground up in our facility. They’re bolted together, checked for fit and finish, tagged, taken apart and reinstalled at the site.”

Many of Smith’s clients drive or fly in to see their finished theaters first-hand before they are shipped out to the homesite.

That preview allows them to make reasonable changes to the theater before installation. “That’s unique in the industry —to see a completed theater standing up before it’s actually installed,” he says.

Building theaters this way allows Smith and his team to avoid problems during installation. “Let’s face it: When we go to jobs in France and Sweden and Canada, we can’t count on being able to run to Home Depot,” he says. What’s more, the pre-construction step also facilitates the sort of room-within-a-room design common to high-end recording studios. “We don’t attach to anyone’s walls,” Smith says, adding that this particular home theater is built on 3/4-inch birch plywood backers. Sway braces are added to the walls. “So we technically attach, but we’re still floating,” he adds.

Because of that—as well as First Impressions’ proprietary 450-pound Noise-Lock door system—Smith’s home theaters are acoustically isolated from the rest of the home, assuring that exterior sounds do not interfere with the movie-watching experience, and movie noise doesn’t leak out and disturb the peace and quiet of the rest of the residence.

The room’s live and dynamic floating floor system also contributes to an amazing, naturally tactile bass experience unlike any other. “Nothing transmits bass energy through the chair and up into the torso the way a floating floor does,” Smith says. “The air from the subs gets into the floor and expands and contracts at the different frequencies, so the bass is kicking. It’s natural. You can feel explosions coming up from the floor.”—Dennis Burger


BUILDER: Robinette Homes of Plantation, Fla. (954.370.7172,

INTERIOR DESIGNER: Collective Construction & Design Inc. of Plantation, Fla. (, 954.733.8282)

THEATER ARCHITECT AND DESIGNER: First Impressions Theme Theatres Inc. of North Miami, Fla. (800.305.7545,

Photography by Grossman Photography

Chief Manufacturing Universal Ceiling Projector Mount
Crestron CLS-C6 iLux Integrated Lighting System
Crestron CLW-DIM1 Wall Box Dimmer, Single Button
Crestron CLW-SW1 Wall Box Switch, Single Button
Crestron CNX-B4W 4-Button Designer Keypad, White
Crestron MC2W-C17PAK SmarTouch Control Package
LG BH100 Blu-ray/HD DVD player
Marantz SR8002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Marantz VP-12S4L DLP high-definition projector w/ long throw lens
Middle Atlantic racks and hardware
Niles CM750FX 7″ Surround Effects Loudspeakers with Pivoting Woofer & Dual Tweeter Pod (4)
Niles IW2550LCR In-Wall Enclosed Home Theater Loudspeakers (3)
Niles Pro15SW Professional Quality, Cabinet, High-Power Home Theater Subwoofer
NXG HDMI cable
Vutec 110″ Vision XWF Fixed Screen


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