Big Room Requires Big Theater

Homeowners scrap their modest plans when a room's home theater potential is revealed.

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Photo by Mark Borosch

What makes this home theater space on Florida’s Gulf Coast look so sleek and sophisticated? Maybe it’s the soothing earth tones, combined with the leopard-print carpet, that adds a hint of excitement. Maybe it’s the starfield ceiling that provides a sense of spaciousness. Or perhaps it’s the fact that once you sit in one the leather reclining chairs, you’re staring at a 100-inch Stewart Filmscreen that displays high-def images from a ceiling-mounted Vidikron projector.

We think it’s all of the above. The cumulative effect of an inviting space decorated with style and class and a very good home theater system make this roughly 20-by-24-foot theater stand out. “It’s the fun room in the house, because of the animal print on the floor,” says the homeowner. “We’re in that room every night.”

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That’s saying something, considering their plan was to stay in their plasma- and surround-sound-equipped great room with sweeping views of the bay.

Sound in the theater comes from in-wall Sonance Symphony speakers hidden behind the fabric walls in the front and Sonance in-ceiling speakers in the rear. A Denon AVR-3806 receiver and DVD player provide the juice from a built-in equipment rack in the back, where a Velodyne subwoofer also pumps out the low effects. A LiteTouch lighting control system illuminates and dims the theater, and it is all operated by a Philips Pronto remote. With the touch of a button, the lights dim, and your eyes are drawn to the twinkling starlight ceiling above.

That makes for a pretty good system, but some of the best qualities in this theater are in the way it was constructed and finished. The original plans called for a room with a much more modest, out-of-the-box system and an adjoining wet bar. That changed when custom electronics specialists Sights, Sounds and Such of Sarasota, FL, came on the scene. Sights, Sounds and Such owner Ryk Schoonheim persuaded the homeowners that a room this size deserved a better system.

“We redesigned the room, that day, on the spot,” says Schoonheim. “The seating was relocated from the middle of the room to the rear wall so you wouldn’t be looking at the backs of chairs when you entered the room.” The opposite wall was extended to accommodate the large screen while keeping it centered. This would now affect a wet bar area that had already been framed and plumbed. In the end, the bar area was reconfigured so the beautiful custom cabinetry and marble tops were in clear view when you walked in, instead of tucked away in the corner.

That affected speaker placement, as the right-front speaker could not be located next to the screen, the way the left-front one is. The right-front channel is in the corner near the drapes, on the other side of the alcove from the wet bar. The homeowners wanted all the speakers hidden, and they also asked for a starfield ceiling.

In this case, hiding the speakers was the easy part. Sights, Sounds and Such brought in contractor QuietRooms Technology to do the acoustical wall treatments and stretch fabric over them to form the seamless-looking walls.

“QuietRooms uses an extruded plastic tracking system that stretches the fabric over the wall for a very clean look,” says Schoonheim. “I didn’t like the idea of having fiberglass panels, and in a half-inch, QuietRooms gets the same same acoustical rating as others get in 1-inch of paneling.” Absorptive acoustic panels were placed behind the fabric walls—without producing a pillowing effect present in other systems. In addition, QuietRooms’ Kevin Brown can sew the seams together so they look like one piece, Schoonheim explains.

Creating the starfield was another issue. Sights, Sounds and Such typically feeds the many fiber-optic cables that create the star look through drywall from the attic, but there was no attic above this room, so the many fibers had to be fed through 1-mm holes in the drywall from the bottom up. To further complicate the matter, the wires had to hang long so painters could come in and spray paint the surface black, without darkening the “stars.” Then the fibers were clipped to their proper length. (It isn’t easy playing God.)

The equipment is stored in an audio/video rack located in the back of the room, out of the line of sight, so it does not serve as a distraction while movies are playing. “As a whole, the room is more inviting and makes better use of the space available. And most important, the theater sounds as good as it looks,” says Schoonheim. The homeowners couldn’t agree more.

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