The Philharmonic House of Design

It’s almost out of vogue to champion the merits of a hidden install in today’s home theater magazines. As technology becomes more and more efficient and form factors shrink, blending interior design and technology has never been easier. At this year’s Philharmonic House of Design project, however, sleek flat panels and discreet in-wall speakers were just the first step in creating a home where technology plays as important a role in the overall design as the gorgeous old-world Spanish fittings.

The Philharmonic House of Design is a traveling home showcase that happens once a year, featuring cutting-edge interior design from some of California’s top designers. This year, 19 different designers descended upon the location, a 8,700-square-foot new home construction in the exclusive Village of Covenant Hills in the Ladera Ranch community in Southern California. Each designer was given his or her own room to design, creating an opulent dream home with breathtaking views of the surrounding hillside.

Many of the past Philharmonic House of Design projects have included technology in the form of a simple dedicated theater or media room. But this time, technology became part of the interior design planning itself. In fact, the technology, like the Spanish Revival dcor, is a theme that unites the various rooms in this home. Rather than simply one room with technology included, this year, the home got a head-to-toe whole-home infusion of audio and video, complete with carefully labeled and organized structured wiring.

Ken Hoffman and his partner Cesar Guerrero, of Digital Home Design in Irvine, California, had worked very closely with several ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) members, who began encouraging him to get involved. “As high-end clients bring in high-end interior designers, they are asking to incorporate technology into the design,” says Hoffman. “This pushes interior designers to learn more about technology and what is actually possible. If a project isn’t coordinated well and interior designers, architects, and installers work in a vacuum, then the home will seem disjointed. I think we’ve accomplished quite the opposite in the Philharmonic House of Design.”

Hoffman and his team began wiring the home for technology back in December of 2005, having only four months to do the entire installation. He began meeting with each of the interior designers to ascertain their technological needs. Most of them, Hoffman states, had no idea the extent of customization that was available to them. “It was an interesting experience working with so many interior designers,” says Hoffman. “We tried to identify what the vision of the room was and how technology could compliment the design and the dcor of the room.”

As you walk into the Philharmonic House of Design, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous family room just off the kitchen with bright sunlight washing in. The eye then goes to the fireplace and the 61-inch plasma, framed to match the wood furnishings in the room, one of many custom solutions to follow. But the real wow factor was the X-arm, an innovative robotic display mounting system by CLO Systems that lets you control the angle of the plasma. If the light changes throughout the day, say, or you switch seats, the plasma can be tilted left, right, up, or down for the best viewing angles. When Hoffman asked me to identify the speakers in the room, I couldn’t. They were completely invisible speakers in a 5.1 array. The five speakers and the subwoofer were in-wall models that had been drywalled over and painted to match the rest of the ceiling or wall.

Moving on to the kitchen, I was tempted to ask myself, “Where’s the beef?” But, before I could get the words out, Hoffman had pressed a button on a remote, and out of gorgeous custom cabinetry above the countertop, two Sharp LCD panels descended. Of course, I only knew it was a Sharp because I asked—Hoffman had custom-framed these LCDs, again, to match the woodwork. He says that such custom bezels can add about $1,000 to the cost of the display.

We then traveled downstairs to the wine cellar and secondary dining space with a completely customizable and interactive proprietary touchpanel on the wall, whose sole function is to monitor the wine cellar. This amazing little bit of custom installation lets you scan the bar code of the wine, which then enters all of the details, the name, the year, the type of wine, and even what the wine might go well with into the hard drive. You can then search by wine type—champagne, syrah, merlot—or any other criteria. The touchpanel even monitors the temperature of the wine cellar.

On the second story, a full-blown media room features a 7-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen, which offers an amazing image, even with some ambient light. The Vidikron two-chip DLP projector fires from the custom coffee table/ottoman. When the screen is not in use, a gorgeous Media Decor HideandChic motorized 7-foot-wide art screen of a Whiteface Mountain artwork replica silently rolls down over the screen. “Once the other interior designers saw this, they all wanted one in their respective room,” says Hoffman. A proprietary quad processor allows the Vidikron to project four separate 16:9 images, with four different cable-box feeds so homeowners can watch PIP programming on the big screen. An IP-based NetStreams automation system allows easy access to the wholehouse system and includes custom graphics based on the environment. For movie-watching duties, a Kaleidescape DVD server lets potential homeowners store and access their DVD collections at the touch of a button.

Hoffman and his team worked around the clock to meet the opening day in the third week in April. All the different trades converged on the house at one time, including designers, cabinet makers, plumbers, and the A/V crew, which made for an extremely hectic work schedule. “Working during the day, we had to park several blocks away and trudge equipment up the hill,” says Hoffman. “That’s why we put in 12-hour nights.

“I think by participating, we were able to show off what can be done with high-level technology,” says Hoffman. “By showing potential clients how clean the wiring can be, how you can actually hide an LCD behind a mirror in your bathroom, and how you don’t have to be stuck with the oftentimes unattractive industrial design of products, we make our industry more user friendly.”

Entertainment, comfort, and security are perfectly integrated throughout the kitchen, the bath, intimate spaces, entertainment areas, patios, and the spa and pool area. Donations from the public benefit the wide range of music and education programs that the Philharmonic Society provides.


Designers participating are Lori Hankins, Sheldon Harte, Elizabeth Burris, Adriel Cogdal, Jason Titus, Michael Fullen, Steve Stein, Frank Pitman, Wendy Miller, Marvin Stark and Kerry Harker, Anne Figueroa, Chris Kittrell, Beth Whitlinger, Barbara Coulter-Phillips, Susan Wesley, Gayle Lee, and Joan Wilson. Built by custom homebuilder David Mulvaney of Mulvaney & Co. Installation by Digital Home Design. Photography by Martin King and Stephan Brown.

How It Works For You

Think big. Just because a plasma or speaker doesn’t fit with your dcor, if you have a truly innovative interior designer or custom installer, you can have custom solutions for your particular environment.

Don’t miss out on technology. If you think you don’t want audio/video capability in your home because you don’t like the way it looks, consider options like in-wall speakers that can be covered with drywall and painted to match your dcor or an automated screen that covers plasmas or projection screens with world-renowned artwork.

Categories: Formal, High End, Pro Interiors

DIY Reader Home Theater: Kern

I’ve always loved going to the movies. Most of my childhood Saturday mornings were spent at the Palace Theater in Winchester, Virginia, where I could watch two films, cartoons, a newsreel, a short, and coming attractions—all for a quarter. About three years ago, I was surfing eBay and ran across a listing for a movie poster from the 1956 horror film The Mole People. I became obsessed with that poster and soon found myself in a fierce bidding war. Later, I realized what was really going on. The Mole People poster had rekindled those childhood memories, and I somehow wanted to go back in time and relive those special Saturdays. That’s when I decided to design and build an ornate 1950s style home theater.

The space I chose for my theater was a 14- by 38-foot upstairs bonus room that I’d designed into our house when my wife, Patricia, and I built it in 1993. The room had an alcove at one end, and we realized later that it would be perfect for a home theater stage and screen.

I began doing research immediately, searching the Internet for information on all aspects of home theater design and equipment. I read back issues of Home Theater and any similar pubs I could find. I visited A/V dealers and pestered them with technical questions about types of projection systems, acoustics issues, construction, and so on. The more I learned, the more I didn’t know. In some cases, I got conflicting information, which just confused me more.

Getting that ’50s Look

I’d been unable to locate examples of 1950s style home theaters. I saw either very modern or simple earth-toned, sedate rooms. But I wanted the gaudy, over-the-top, outrageous look of the old movie palaces. By this time, I had acquired many reference books on the history, construction, renovation, and preservation of the grand movie houses, and I began to develop my own vision for a theater. I also found a couple of theater owners’ equipment catalogs from the 1930s and ’40s, so I knew exactly what the various vintage theater items looked like. But where was I to find them?

Looking in antique shops for theater items wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I was getting discouraged. I wanted my theater lobby to have original movie posters from my favorite 1950s science-fiction and horror films, and these posters were hard to find, as well. I tried eBay again. I set up searches for posters and vintage theater items that I ran every day for almost three years! I really had to persevere, because these types of vintage theater items are getting harder to find as time goes by. Sometimes, I would search for weeks and find only one item. The hardest items to find were the wall sconces. I had no trouble finding two or three, but I needed six! Finally, after almost three years of searching, I saw a listing for two 1930s sconces from a theater in Ontario, Canada. I e-mailed the seller to see if there were any more. To my amazement, she replied that she had eight altogether, six with their original parchment shades!

Up to this point, I’d spent two years researching home theaters. One day, I was telling my son, Tom Jr., that I was still analyzing my theater design, and he said, “Dad, you’ve got analysis paralysis! You need to start building something!” He was right. Although I have good working knowledge of A/V components and systems, I had never tried to build anything like this, and I had become consumed by the fear that I would do something wrong that could not be corrected.

Using my drawings, I made an initial list of building materials and supplies I would need and headed to the nearest Home Depot. During the course of the project, I visited Home Depot so often that I came to be known as “that theater dude.” I don’t have a formal workshop, so I cleared out my garage, set up a few tables, and went to work. I worked carefully, frequently referring to my drawings. I religiously followed the carpenter’s adage: “Measure twice, cut once.”

First, I painted the ceiling a very dark blue to simulate the night sky. I used a tinted primer and was surprised to find that it took four additional coats to completely cover the previously white ceiling. I also painted the theater and lobby walls using a warm gold color. Meanwhile, I ordered my projector and screen, having settled on the Sanyo PLV-Z2 LCD projector and the Da-Lite Cinema Vision Da-Snap 45- by 80-inch screen.

I used two-by-four studs to build the screen wall, painted them flat black and mounted the screen. I also painted the wall behind the screen flat black to eliminate any reflections and stapled black Acoustone speaker-grille cloth around the perimeter of the screen to allow maximum sound transmissibility from the speakers, which would be located near the screen. Then, working with the projected image and the manufacturer’s recommendations, I determined the optimal location for the projector, seats, and seating platform. I also used two-by-fours for the stage foundation and added a subfloor made of two sheets of plywood interleaved with 30-pound roofing felt and a top layer of Pergo laminated wood flooring. The roofing felt helps eliminate rattles caused by low-frequency sounds. I recommend using wood glue and deck screws for all joints. Predrill holes for the screws, apply the glue, and fasten with deck screws, and you will have tight, solid joints and no rattles. I used the same technique for the seating platform. Always lay the beams on the floor at the hardware store before you buy them to make sure they aren’t warped. I didn’t pay attention with my first batch and made the mistake of trying to screw together warped beams.

I get the most compliments on the columns flanking the stage. They are pine with resin capitals, available by special order from Home Depot. I had been experimenting with a variety of gold paints and didn’t like anything I tried. A decorator told me that the only paint that looked like real gold was Ralph Lauren Duchesse Satin Ballroom Gold, which had been discontinued because it streaked badly when people used it to paint entire walls. After calling all over the country to find some, I checked eBay, where I bought two quarts for $100. The paint is very thin, almost like a glaze, so, when I painted a test piece of molding, I was very disappointed with the result. Then, I noticed that the flat paint I had put on the walls was about the same gold hue as the Ballroom Gold, so I primed a piece of molding with it and then painted the Ballroom Gold over it. It looked dull at first, but, when it dried, it shone with the most gorgeous, vibrant gold color I’ve ever seen!

I have 2,000 laserdiscs, so I located a preowned Pioneer Elite CLD-99 laserdisc player. I also purchased a Samsung DVD-HD931 DVD player and a Monster Power HTS2600 power conditioner. The final component I bought was a DVDO iScan HD processor, which provides high-resolution video scaling of standard-definition video content. The receiver (the Yamaha RX-V2090 with an external Yamaha DDP-1 AC-3 decoder), B&W; speakers (DM602s and CC6 center channel), and a Velodyne 10-inch sub were from my previous system. For the time being, I decided to ignore all of the information on acoustic treatments, and I think the sound in the theater is excellent. At some point, I will engage a sound engineer to properly calibrate my system.

My original goal was to faithfully recreate the nostalgia and charm of the fabulous movie palaces of the 1950s, and I think I have accomplished that. When it’s show time in the Kern Theatre, the chandeliers and wall sconces gradually dim, and the main curtains slowly open, revealing a gold curtain behind them. Sound fills the room as the gold curtain slowly rises from the stage floor. At that moment Patricia and I are eight years old again, and it’s Saturday morning at the movies!

My Budget
Building Materials & Supplies $1,500
Electrical Work $1,100
Carpet $4,500
Curtains & Motorized Curtain Rods $4,100
Palms, Ferns & Stage Columns $1,350
Slipcovers for Chair $600
Vintage Movie Theater Seats (8) $550
Vintage Lamps, Chandeliers & Wall Sconces $1,150
Vintage Movie Theater Items $6,000
Antique Concession Area Display Cases $1,000
Star Antique Design Popcorn Machine $350
Archival Movie Poster Frames $2,800
Sanyo PLV-Z2 LCD Projector & Ceiling Mount $2,250
Da-Lite Cinema Vision Da-Snap 45- by 80-inch Screen $1,000
DVDO iScan HD Video Scaling Processor $1,700
Pioneer Elite CLD-99 Laserdisc Player (used) $550
Samsung DVD-HD931 DVD Player $300
Power Conditioner, Equipment Rack & Cables $1,050
Total $31,850

How It Works For You

  • Persevere If You Want Vintage. If you like the idea of doing a vintage theater, the stuff is out there, but be prepared to spend a lot of time and money finding it. It took Thomas Kern three years and $6,000 to acquire all the vintage items for his theater.
  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. Learn the tricks from the ones who have done it. Avoid warped lumber—always check boards by laying them on the floor before you buy. Avoid rattles by using wood glue and deck screws for all joints and roofing felt between plywood sheets. Measure twice, cut once.