YOUR KIDS MOVED OUT of the house long ago yet the play- room they had used as children still stands in the finished base- ment. It’s outdated and serves no purpose anymore. It’s a room that deserves a serious makeover. While your house may not have an ancient playroom, there may be at least one area you consider wasted space. It may be the bonus room that you had planned to turn into an office but didn’t, or a guest bedroom that attracts more dust than visitors. Our advice: Clear away the clutter, wipe away the cobwebs and remove all the furniture, and you’ve got a good, solid foundation for a home theater or media room.
By foundation, we mean just that: The walls, ceiling and floor are finished, but you’ll probably need to add cabinetry, furniture and rewire the space to accommodate a high level of electronics. You’ll also probably need to paint the walls, add or remove light fixtures … basically get the room ready to handle a totally differ- ent type of activity than it once did. Despite the often extensive remodeling involved, the modification of an unused room is an affordable alternative to the built-from-scratch dedicated theater. You can go as light or as extreme, and as simple or as sophisticated as you want with the conversion, depending on the size of the room, the structural limitations, your expectations and your budget. It’s a fairly blank canvas, so explore all of your options.
Recognize, however, that like any transformation, a play- room, a guest bedroom or some other space won’t turn into a home theater overnight. You will face challenges and setbacks along the way. Maybe the floor isn’t exactly level or there’s inadequate ceiling clearance to install a video projector. Perhaps the ductwork stands in the way of ideal in-ceiling speaker placement or the wall studs aren’t exactly where you’d like them to be for mounting a flat-panel TV. Another potential drawback is its location in your house. Say you decide to convert the attic. Does walking up two flights of stairs to get to the theater sound unappealing, especially when you also consider bathroom and snack breaks? Maybe it just feels odd to schlep your friends through the sleeping quarters of your house to watch a movie in the guest bedroom-turned-theater. Location is everything when you buy a house; it’s no different when you choose a spot for your theater. Consider this among these other pros and cons before transforming an existing room into a home theater.
Existing Shell: The structure is there; it may just need a little TLC to get it into proper home theater shape. Without the expense of constructing the room from the ground up, you can apply a big chunk of your budget toward the screen, speakers and other electronics. If the shell is solid and requires minimal remodeling, the installation of your theater could be relatively quick and easy, saving you time and money on labor.
Sequestered for Solitude: Often, the rooms chosen to trans- form into a theater are guest bedrooms, storage spots in basements and attics—places that are fairly far removed from the common ar- eas of the house. It’s a quality perfectly suited for that of a dedicated theater. You’ll be able to use the room as your own personal escape where you can completely immerse yourself in a movie, with noth- ing to distract you from the show. You can evoke a “let’s go to the movies” feeling, where the trip down the hall to the converted bed- room transports you to a special cinematic environment.
Property Value: Why waste precious square footage when you can turn an underutilized portion of your house into some- thing really useful? Face it: You’ll hang out in a killer guest room- gone-home theater much more frequently than you had ever used it to host overnight guests. You’ll be able to take what might have been an outdated, largely ignored space and turn it into something you can be proud of and that will add real value to your house.
Bold Statement: You might not like the idea of incorporating a big screen and a set of surround-sound speakers into the beautiful woodwork of your family room or some other common space. The equipment can’t help but clash with the decor. But in a room that stands vacant? You can go as big and as bold as you want with the equipment (depending on the size of the room, of course), and know that the electronics won’t interfere with anything at all, be- cause there’s nothing there for it to interfere with. In fact, you can make them the main eye candy of the room. Plenty of products that are both beautiful and high-performing are available.
Efficiency of Electronics: You won’t need gobs of power in your sound system or a super-size screen to blow you away in a smallish room. Your senses can be thrilled by much less amplification and much less screen material than had you constructed a new, big dedicated theater, which is a good way to save money.
Digging up the Past: On the surface the cleared out playroom might seem ready, willing and able to handle the addition of a screen, projector, speakers, subwoofers and the rest of the necessary home theater gear. But dig a little deeper and you might run into some unexpected issues. It’s no different than any other remodeling project. The wall studs may not be in the ideal locations, the floor may not be level, and the walls may not be plumb. Huge screens and heavy projectors require rock solid structural supports, so be prepared to dole out some extra cash to shore up the shell of your new home theater.
Analyze the condition of the floors, ceiling and walls before integrating home theater equipment
Explore different room orientations; the wall across from the entrance may not always be the best spot for a screen
Don’t try to shoehorn an oversized home theater system into a small room; let the room dimensions dictate which pieces of equipment you choose
Cramped Quarters: There’s a reason you chose that room as a guest bedroom: It’s probably the smallest of the lot. Even attics can be stingy with their real estate, as can bonus rooms and other ancillary spaces. Consequently, the home theater of a converted room might end up being a more intimate viewing venue than you had hoped. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just know that the space probably won’t be able to entertain a crowd as well as a multipurpose room or built-from-scratch dedicated theater would. Moreover, you may need to settle for a smaller screen and surround-sound system than you would have liked.
Stolen Identity: Despite the fact that the room you chose to convert into a home theater wasn’t seeing much action, it’s still stolen square footage. You now have a great entertaining space, but there are fewer beds for houseguests and room for the grandkids to romp. It’s a sacrifice, certainly, but if funds are tight and your desire for a dedicated home theater is strong, you might not have a choice than to sacrifice a few amenities.