Expert Advice- Home Drama

Two elegant home theaters show how to achieve fine design and technology on both a large and compact scale


A skilled team of professionals worked closely to build this

elegant home theater.

When homeowners in Clifton, Virginia, were ready to design their home theater, they turned to a team of talented professionals to create a room that wasn’t only entertaining, but stylish as well.

The couple wanted to transform their 3,000-square-foot basement, focusing on a home theater room and using additional space to house game tables, a kitchen, an exercise room and a room for the husband’s large model train. They hired Warrickshire Woodcrafters, a Reston, Virginia-based firm that had created a home office for them in the past, to design the space.

Sterling, Virginia-based Integrated Media Systems (IMS) who had done the audio/visual design in other areas of the home, were brought in to handle the technical requirements of the theater. The homeowner “wanted a really, really nice AV system,” says IMS president Tom Wells. He brought the husband ideas on new technology showcased at consumer electronics shows. Some of the pieces weren’t even on the market yet, and Wells had to consult with the manufacturers about projected specs for the design process.

Once the tech was established, Warrickshire Woodcrafters partner David Fox was able to start his design knowing what to expect in terms of screen size, the number and overall configuration of the theater seating, the number of speakers— all the other “concrete things that I have to do my design around.” From there, he started on the design elements. “One of the things that they did, to begin with, is to give me some pictures they had clipped out of the best home decor magazines. It gave me a good starting point, as far as how to design it for them,” he says. He designed the spaces with a three-dimensional design software to provide his clients with a good idea of what the rooms would look like.

The idea was to create a very relaxing room that wasn’t overwhelming. Throughout the theater and the surrounding spaces, Warrickshire Woodcrafters had solid mahogany paneling and trim carved by hand. Fox considers the design process an art, and relies on classic proportions to make the design clean and balanced. “One of the most important things to me is proportion,” he says. He utilizes odd numbered-groupings, and tries whenever possible to apply the “Golden Mean” to his designs, which represents “perfect proportions” based on a mathematical equation frequently used by artists and architects. “If you can proportion out your work, it will always look good.”

One of the factors that shaped the room was the Runco projector, which adjusts the actual projected screen to show all viewing—television and old movies and more—at true widescreen ratio, without black bars framing it. In the middle of the room, it “was the driving force of the design,” says Wells.

It was for Fox, as well, when he realized that the projector was a much larger piece of equipment than he had initially expected. He designed a larger box for it, well ventilated to handle the heat it produced, and added wings on the sides of the projector box give the room proportional balance. To keep visitors from walking below the box and hitting their heads, he designed a bar into the space, which also provides additional seating in the room.

“The elements that you need to work with might not be the size that you like, or work perfectly with your designs, but you have to deal with that,” says Fox. “I try to play that up somehow, so that it becomes a feature, rather than detracting from the whole scheme of things.”

With the seating, Fox was careful that there was plenty of space for walking between the seats and the walls, so he kept the bar simple and to scale. In a large, spacious home, he cautions, the last thing you want to do is make people feel crowded.

To conceal an unsightly subwoofer, Wells suggested placing it in an unused fireplace below what would be the screen area. The fireplace was bricked in from the flue upwards to close it to code, and the subwoofer tucked into the space.

“It definitely takes a team of people to accomplish something like this,” says Fox. In addition to IMS, he worked closely with Jackson Construction, a Fairfax, Virginia-based firm that did all of the wiring, drywall, painting and plumbing, as well as Centreville, Virginia-based interior decorator Katherine Petty. Petty chose the finishing details throughout, such as the lighting, curtains and wall colors.

The homeowners were very patient during the process, which took about a year and a half from initial concept to completion. “These things take some time to do, and it can get frustrating, but they were very nice to work with,” says Fox.

“All in all, it was a great project, with great people,” agrees Wells.

A big hit in the theater is a candy counter that separates the

kitchen area from the theater space.


Sound Advice

When starting a theater design process, it is important to consider how to place seats and speakers for the most true and accurate sound possible. When Dan Liberman of Fairfax, Virginia-based Infinite Sight & Sound entered the home theater and acoustics field, he dedicated himself to learning as much as he could about the science behind the process. Certified with the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and the Home Acoustics Association, he strives to show homeowners that any theater, large or small, can be a high-performance space.

Working with a modest-sized theater in Arlington, Virginia, Liberman was able to install a reasonably priced but still high-quality theater by focusing on function first and foremost. “People wonder ‘what can you do with this space?’, but there is actually quite a lot,” says Liberman.

He warns consumers against being oversold on too much tech. “One subwoofer is fine,” he says, “or one in the center and one on the side.” He emphasizes that it’s about placement, not quantity, which makes the sound work best. “The subwoofer’s placement controls the room’s ‘mode,’ or reverberation frequency based on length and width of the space,” says Liberman.

Seating should be placed in an area that is free of any modes; close to the wall, modes peak, and all you hear is the “boom, boom,” making most sounds loud and painful. However, the direct center of the space isn’t optimal either. The center “is actually the worst place for seating,” he advises, “you never want to sit halfway between two walls.” At the direct center you hear not only the noise, but at the same time, “some sounds are missing entirely; you don’t hear them at all.” In this theater he put an aisle down the center of the theater, ensuring that no one would sit there.

To mix things up for design purposes, while the front seats are motorized recliners, the back row is made up of high-quality movie-theater style rockers. In addition to varying the look, the rockers prevent people in the rear from leaning back too close to the wall.

Liberman also suggests that homeowners minimize light reflection in their home theaters by not using glass or shiny surfaces. The ceiling shouldn’t be too high, either, as it will “bounce sounds around.” Walls should be the right density, so that they bounce enough sound that the ear can pick it up, but not too much, or it all becomes noise. Basements are good because they are naturally insulated. Liberman recommends putting insulation in the walls, and never using double drywall, which “makes it too hard and too much sound bounces off.”

With a little fore-thought, help from the right professionals–and patience along the way–it’s possible for any home theater to be a high performance viewing arena.