Trekkie Theater

I have been involved in the consumer electronics industry since 1972 and have always had some type of theater, so when I built my home I wanted to incorporate all my accumulated knowledge with the latest smart-home products and technologies. The theater was an integral part of the whole-house design that features multiple zones, automatic shades, cabling and a high level of control. Not only do I have the best home theater I could build, its performance surpasses many commercial theaters. For the whole-home AV, everyone in the family can choose their own personal source from any room in the house.

A Trekkie since the original series, it stands to reason I’d give the dedicated theater a Star Trek theme. The design was taken from various internal ship plans and photos. I drew the plans with exact specifications for the room, the lighting and the “Bridge”. The panels you see throughout the theater came from Paramount, however, the custom light boxes were built based on my design.

The ceiling is hung on springs to isolate the room’s 12,000 watts of power from the upstairs. Additionally, the upstairs floor is made of metal pan decking with 2” of concrete and nothing can be heard in the theater below. The drywall in the theater is mounted to 8” concrete (sides-only)walls using rubber isolators. The walls do not have physical contact with the ceiling making the entire room completely isolated from every part of the house.

The theater is 20’ X 50’ and pitched downward like a commercial theater. Three Klipsch KPT-941T Cinema’s are installed on a platform behind a Stewart 16X9 foot Studiotek 130 perf screen with horizontal masking for viewing 2.35:1 cinemascope films displayed by the Digital Projections 1080P Titan 3D reference projector. There are four 18” Velodyne 1250-watt subwoofers below the screen. Klipsch KPT-250 THX speakers are used for the side (2) and rear (3) surrounds using only the highest quality connectors. The front speakers are biamped using DX38 Electrovoice crossover/equalizers and powered by three McIntosh 501 mono block amplifiers. Four McIntosh MC252 amps power the front horns and five surrounds. The heart of the systems is a McIntosh MX150 12-channel, 2-zone preamp

Electrically isolated from the rest of the house, the theater’s equipment room is powered by its own 200-amp voltage stabilizer feeding a dedicated 200-amp panel. All sub-woofers have their own 16-amp circuit and all the amp and theater switching is done by Lutron. There are four Middle Atlantic racks where all the computer equipment, AMX controller, Autopatch, DISH satellite receivers, digital amps and other equipment reside. All zone amps, computer networking equipment including a commercial router and about 45 Ethernet ports are integrated here, too. Digital amps power all the zones in the house except for the library, great room and hearth room which use separate Denon 7.1 channel surround systems with a variety of Paradigm and Klipsch speaker systems. In essence, we have four theaters throughout the house.

The main theater sources are located in the theater for easy access, including a Sony Blu-ray player, a Pioneer Laser Disc Player, and an SVHS player for all the various media I’ve collected over the years. I can monitor all sources including four DISH satellite receivers from the “Bridge”. There is also an analog editing system for 8MM tapes, which will be converted to computer digital editing later for home movies. Yes, I’ve had a lot of hobbies over the years.

In a separate music room, there is a Request music server mixed in with some “antique” equipment I like to keep around including a cassette player, turntable and a classic Crown open-reel tape deck. Everything is connected to a Lexicon MC12 Preamp, the hub for another Klipsch 7.1 channel music system powered by a McIntosh MC207 amp. I guess you can tell I’m partial to the McIntosh/Klipsch combination, which I’ve used most my life. Only the models change.

I installed a complete AMX control system under the supervision of Digital Home Design of Indianapolis, which runs all the various AV systems throughout. I programed all the page and screen designs while they provided the interface and complex programming. Following my specifications, AV Solutions in Cottonwood, AZ pulled and terminated all the wiring and set up the racks. Both companies have been a key player in harnessing the complex control required in my overall house design.

RPG Acoustics handled the room layout to ensure optimum acoustics and seating positions. There are four base traps in each corner tuned to four different frequencies, utilizing five different types of panels. The two seating areas are recessed in the concrete, plus shock supported platforms where constructed for the seats which are powered by four Buttkicker transducers driven by two, 2000-watt Carven amps.

Lighting control is part of a 180-circuit Lutron Home Works system that I designed from scratch which is located in six mechanical rooms around the house. For the theater, lighting is a combination of back lighting and dimmable Lutron fluorescents with Rosco color tube filters. The blue stripes were created with electro-luminescent light strips covered with Rosco color film, and the star field consists of 750 strands with 1400 points of light that extend through the acoustical material creating an increased depth of field. There are multiple Lutron scenes depending on what we are watching. For instance, the ceiling stars and Trek panels stay on when watching sports but for movies, all lights are turned off except for 70 fiber-optic lights that are gradually dimmed over 15 minutes, allowing the eye to adjust to the darkness. Additionally, no light leaks into the room when people enter and exit from the theater.

The house has 19 HD sets not including the four theater screens that vary in size from 19” to 73”. Even the indoor pool has a 50” rear screen projection system. Thirteen AMX touch screens are located in different areas of the house and we added two iPads for the great room and library. All in all we pre-wired over 100,000 feet of cable plus installed 2” empty PVC pipe for future upgrades. Perhaps, I go a tad overboard but this is my passion, so I image this will be a constant work in progress, yet, it’s been meticulously customized so that every member of the family can easy operate the various systems.

Personalized Theaters

While always intriguing, one wonders if homeowners eventually tire of highly specific themed theaters. One-off theaters, like those designed by Mario Panelli Studios, never grow old. They are inviting and welcoming spaces that reflect the design and lifestyle sensibilities of the homeowner. You are wowed by the timeless beauty and fine detail, which effectively captures the homeowner’s tastes and personality.

In order to create such a personalized space, it’s necessary to develop a very close relationship with the client. “All our designs are one-of-a kind, which start with an extremely thorough client consultation,” says Aaron Clowes, CEO and Co-Founder of Mario Panelli Studios. “The client reviews 100’s of colors, patterns and textures ect. to help us determine their likes and dislikes. In this case, we discovered the homeowner liked abstract art with an affinity toward modern contemporary stylings.”

This relationship that begins with the consultation, and is carried out well beyond the completion of the project, is paramount to ensure that all aspects of the project are not only visually stunning, but that they met all the acoustical requirements needed to make the room sound as terrific as it looks.

This latest theater from MP Studios was built into a new gaming annex that was added to the backside of the property, with the theater portion being 16’ wide by 19.5’ deep. The unique ceiling concept was presented to the client as a physical scale model. Due to the level of trust developed between the client and designer, many elements were altered on-the-fly during construction without further client approval. The theater’s ceiling is a totally self-supported structure and is not connected to the actual ceiling except at the sides of the soffit.

The room design took a month to design and engineer, with another 10 months to build it out and install all the AV gear. The theater itself is independent of the other home systems, except for the smoke detector and intercom. The equipment rack is hidden behind one of the back wall sculpture panels and contains all the electronics including a NAD 775 7.1 Surround Receiver and several source devices. Axiom Speakers were used throughout with M60 V3’s used for the main left and right speakers, a VP180 for the center and QS4’s for the sides and surrounds.

The passive SVS PB13 Ultra Subwoofer coupled with it’s 1000-watt digital amp was so sensitive that even the slightest adjustment, resulted in drastic changes in the room’s sound balance. “This is where the experts at El Dorado Home Theater made such a difference in the overall performance of the room,” explains Clowes. “Without their knowledge of proper room calibration, the end result would have just been average, rather than amazing.”

The video side of the equation included the pairing of the Runco LS-5 DLP Projector and a Dalite Pro Imager screen with horizontal masking. The screen is 54”x126” and configured in the ever more popular 2:35 format.

The room was outfitted with 54 light fixtures (total of 7000 watts) using Lutron Homeworks Lighting Control system. The fixtures were grouped into 12 dimmer switches for extremely selective lighting control. Creating a more informal atmosphere, only the front row of the theater has four theater seats. The back row is essentially a wall to wall couch, for a more cozy interaction between friends and guests.

Perhaps, the biggest challenge was the entry door, which was designed to disappear when closed and there’s not even a visible handle. A sound dampening panel was hung from the inside of the door. Two lighting fixtures were added to match the other five panels on the sides of the theater. To complete the effect, a down-lit baseboard was placed at the bottom of the door, which was no easy task according to Clowes. Spring- loaded conduit was used to assure the wires would work for many years without requiring maintenance.

“Nothing in the room, including all the light fixtures were purchased out of a box”, concludes Clowes. “Everything is original and hand-made from raw materials and nothing was machine lathed. Every architectural element is a first time, one-of-a-kind design by us, including the 53-feet of down-lit baseboard. Our clients know that what we offer are the most exclusive and unique theaters in the world because each and every one of them is completely personalized.”

Photography – Joseph Ziser


Interior Design
Mario Panelli Studio
Aaron Clowes/CEO
1101 Plumber Way # 103 Roseville CA 95678

Systems Integration
El Dorado Home Theater
Brian Smith
722 Sutter Street
Folsom, CA 95630
916 933-5777

Into the Mystic

We purchased an ocean front home in White Rock. BC, Canada 8 years ago. The house had an unfinished basement, and we always envisioned using the space for a dedicated theater. We have handled many home improvement projects over the years, and as a long-time subscriber to Home Theater magazine, I knew that I was up for the challenge. The project took five years from start to finish, and we are ecstatic with the results.

Our first challenge was to decide on what equipment would best compliment the project. I visited Paul Wong at the Sound Room in Vancouver and knew immediately that he was the right person to share my passion. Paul advised me that apart from the equipment the most important aspect of any home theater is the acoustics and the location of the speakers.

Section T Consulting helped design the theater layout and completed the bar area. They addressed all other sub-systems as well including ventilation and heating, which had to be modified to suit the intended use of the space, a detail that is often overlooked.

The Theater is 15ft. x 20ft. with an 8ft. ceiling. We wanted to keep the ceiling as high as possible especially since we were planning to install acoustic tile with fibre optic lights, which proved to be a greater challenge than I expeted. The interior walls were completed with a double sheet of drywall attached to resilient RC-1 channels, creating isolation between the drywall and studs to enhance sound quality. I installed all the cables and equipment and an installer from the Sound Room optimized the audio and video as part of the final phase of the setup phase. Keylime Design & Marketing Inc.created and supplied the acrylic LED sign and handled the photography.

When deciding on a paint color that would help darken the room and coupled with gold trim, the final look is very classy, reminiscent of older style theaters. The doors are solid core and custom made by a local supplier. We installed seven Palliser black leather seats with bass transducers built-in. The three in the front recline, and a riser allows the back row of seats to have an unobstructed view of the screen.

We chose Lutron lighting, which is easily controlled, along with all the AV gear, with a Harmony 900 remote control. Since audio is my passion, I included a Pioneer SACD player and a Sonos audio streaming system so we can enjoy all our music from the theater and the bar area. Paradigm speakers were used throughout with a Definitive Technology subwoofer in the front. The video is equally impressive with a JVC DLA HD500 project paired with a 77” DaLite screen. A Middle Atlantic rack was installed for all the components and provided easy access from the rear for installation and maintenance. The separate bar area includes Paradigm in-wall speakers and a Samsung 40” flat screen HDTV.

The sound is simply amazing and the two areas – theater and bar – compliment our social activities where we enjoy entertaining our family and friends.

Choosing a name for our Theater was a highlight of the process, as it meant we were near completion and could start to enjoy the theater we worked so hard to build. The name ”Into theMystic” exemplifies a sense of mystery and wonder.

When we celebrated our long-awaited opening night of “Into the Mystic”, we hired a personal chef to cater the event for 60 guests. We even had a red carpet and photographer to welcome them, making them feel like celebrities.

We couldn’t be more thrilled with the results and plan to host many social functions around the theater including sporting events, Oscar night, and, of course, movie nights. Ultimately, this was all possible because of the information and expertise I gained from reading Home Theater magazine.

Photography by Keylime Design & Marketing

Theater Equipment
JVC DLA HD550 Projector
Yamaha RXV 3900B Receiver
Pioneer SACD PD-DMK2
Pioneer Bluray BDP-23FD
Sonos Z90 Player
Ultra PGX-500 Power Conditioner
APC 750 Rack Mount UPS
Lutron 3600 Grafik Eye
Harmony 900 Remote Control
Dalite 77” HD Screen
Middle Atlantic MRK 4026 Rack
Paradigm Inwall SA 35V2 Speakers
Paradigm Studio 60 Speakers
Definitive Super Cube Subwoofer
Paradigm CC-590V5 Centre Speaker
Pace HD Cable Box

Bar Area
Samsung 40” LCD Flat Screen
Yamaha RVX 565 Receiver
Panasonic DMP BD60 Bluray
Sonos 90 Player
Paradigm AMS 300 Inwall Speakers
Pace HD Cable Box

Categories: Staff Picks, Traditional

European Delight

Beginning with some postcards depicting old european towns and villages, the homeowners of this “French cobble-stone town” wanted a themed area that would lead into their theater. Designed by JP Themed Theaters along with systems integrator Audio Advice, this basement theater whisks you away to an early 20th century French Quarter.
“The whole-street scene idea was taken to another level when the homeowners asked for a unique way to incorporate their private collections,” explained James Potter, owner of JP Themed Theaters. “So, it was decided to create actual shops that you can enter off the street to view these collections.”

Visitors can mosey through the “shops”, chat in the courtyard and loose themselves in this quaint setting. When showtime comes, they enter the theater through two large wooden doors into an ornate and spacious area that seats eighteen. The overall size of the street area is 21 x 43 feet with the actual theater measuring approximately 27 x 36 feet.

In an effort to make the visual experience in the street appear authentic, Potter used a number of techniques. The building exteriors were plastered, then several layers of paint were applied using 3-4 different colors, creating a feeling that decades worth of maintenance and change had taken place. Utilizing a technique of his own, Potter aged the surfaces to imitate the effects of natural weather conditions. Posters were painted to further create the illusion of a specific time period. For a sense of depth, buildings in the front were painted lighter than the buildings in the back. The final touch is five zones of lighting, with the street lighting capable of representing different times of the day.

Larry Lawyer, of Audio Advice, said, “James and I developed this ongoing partnership throughout the entire project to ensure the design of the street space and the theater meshed perfectly.”

Once seated in this grand theater, you’re treated to a no-compromise cinematic experience featuring high-end audio components and a 2.35:1 image. For reference quality 7.1 multichannel audio, all Classé Delta Series products were installed including the SSP-880 AV surround processor along with the CA-3200, CA-2200, and CA-2100 power amplifiers, which drive PSB CW383 reference in-wall speakers and CHS212 reference subwoofers.

On the video side, a Runco VX44D-CWAS 2:35:1 Cinewide 1080p projector was paired with a Stewart 165″ Cinecurve Firehawk cinemascope projection screen. The projector is capable of brightness levels several times that of most projectors and the curved screen rejects ambient light while reflecting the projected image evenly to all seats, providing exceptional corner focus compared to flat screens. Additionally, the curved screen, along with an anamorphic lens attached to the projector, displays movies in their original widescreen aspect ratio while utilizing the full resolution of the projector, ensuring optimum image quality.

To hide the Runco projector from view, a custom mounting system was fabricated to place the projector vertically behind a faux building facade. The image is reflected off of an observatory telescope grade mirror and then through a 5” x 12” aperture in the building door. A custom cooling enclosure ensures silent and cool projector operation.

The theater’s equipment rack was located outside in one of the themed rooms with other whole-house equipment placed in a different room. For simple control from any location, a Crestron’s DM “Digital Media” ADMS Media Server was installed, which shared all the video sources with the theater and the rest of the house. A Crestron TPS-6X wireless RF 5.7” touchpanel is used in the theater to access media as well as control the AV gear, lighting and climate. An auxiliary TPS-6L wall-mounted touchpanel was installed just outside the theater for whole-house control.

“What makes this theater so amazing is the pristine video reproduction coupled with the finely detailed sonic performance of the Classé/PSB gear. It’s about as near perfect as you could ask for in a home theater,” concludes Lawyer. “Plus the operations in this fully integrated, state-of-the art theater are as simple as turning on a light switch. To say the least, the homeowner’s expectations were far exceeded.”

Photography by Jill and William DiMartino

Contact Information

Interior Designer
JP Themed Theaters
James Potter
Kansas City, Missouri

Systems Integrator
Audio Advice
Larry Lawyer
Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Ultimate Demo Theater

Prather Warren, owner of Innovative Home Media (IHM), had no idea what he’d signed up for when he agreed to take Triad’s CinemaPlus demo theater after the 2009 CEDIA Expo. It’s not uncommon for manufacturer’s to sell off some demo gear after a trade show so they don’t have to ship it back to the factory…but a whole room? A long time AV enthusiast, Prather founded IHM in 2006. However, the one thing he needed to take his high-end custom AV business to another level was a demo theater. To that end, he had plans drawn to add a floor to his house for a dedicated theater. As he was preparing to built-out the new space, a fortuitous discussion with Bill Ruark, a sales consultant with Triad Speakers, caused him to alter his plans.

Ruark felt that Triad’s CinemaPlus program might be the perfect solution for Prather’s new theater. CinemaPlus is a partnership between American-based Triad Speakers and PMI, Ltd., the company founded by Anthony Grimani, formerly of THX and Dolby. This partnership provides unprecedented support, expertise and resources for custom installation firms like IHM, allowing them to create theaters with performance levels well above the typical theater. A CinemaPlus system consists of a complete high-end Triad multichannel speaker system that is custom designed for the specific room, including a full one-off plan drawn up by PMI.

At this point, the theater changed in scope focusing on a CinemaPlus system. Again fortune intervened and Ruark informed Prather that Triad and PMI were planning to build a fully-engineered, ground-up, CinemaPlus demo theater room on the show floor of CEDIA in Atlanta, and asked if he would be interested in purchasing “some” of the system after the show was over.

Prather ended up flying into Atlanta a few days early to offer his expertise in what turned out to be an over-the-top demo. With theater seating, this would have cost about $400,000 if purchased at retail. Ultimately, Prather purchased a good deal of the components, speakers, acoustical treatments, cabling and all of the sound isolation materials.

After four days of continuous and impressive demos at the expo, the room had to be taken down carefully, all the gear packed properly, and somehow get it to Prather’s home in Baton Rouge, over 525 miles away. A dozen people worked for two days to unscrew drywall, pack amplifiers and speakers, coil wire, and disassemble the Triad BaffleWalls. The estimate of the total weight was at least 25,000 lbs., requiring an 18-wheeler to make the long haul to Louisiana.

“By now, the project had grown exponentially, and was well beyond the scope of the original demo room I’d envisioned,” recounted Prather. “However, I was confident we’d transform these materials back into a superb home theater again.”

After arriving in Baton Rouge, the shipping crates and pallets were loaded into smaller trucks and transported to Prather’s home. The shipment was large enough to fill his carport, back porch, courtyard, and a good deal of the driveway. Over the course of the next six months the materials were continuously sorted and rearranged to locate the pieces and parts that were needed as the project progressed. Moreover, everything had to be carried up a flight of steps since the theater was upstairs.

The actual construction of the room was anything but typical. In order to achieve a room that was perfectly quiet, the walls ended up being 13” thick including acoustical foam and several soundproofing materials from QuietRock ( The floor consists of 2 x 12s on 10″ centers designed to support the load. Rubber isolating material was placed on top of a 1-1/4″ layer of plywood flooring along with QuietWood and mass-loaded vinyl. All the seams were filled with QuietSeal. The finished measurements of the theater were 16′ 4″ wide and 23′ 6″ deep. An 18″ tall riser, 10′ deep, extended across the room and 50% filled with rock wool. The upper surface consisted of two layers of 3/4″ plywood, then sealed and glued with QuietGlue.

When the frequency response was measured, it was determined that 3/8″ diameter holes (1,523 of them) drilled across the entire top of the deck would naturally attenuate peaks at 45 and 63 Hz. An extensive rattle test was performed, however, absolutely everything had been glued and screwed together, leaving few issues to address.

The air handling capacity of the HVACs supply and return grills was implemented utilizing three times the surface area that would normally be specified for the number of cubic feet in this room, rendering it virtually silent.

Terry Hill of PMI spent a week applying the finishing touches including the projector housing and installation of a 300 lb. QuietDoor. Robbie Burns of Better Acoustic stepped in and installed the acoustically transparent fabric on the walls and ceiling, hiding all the acoustical materials and wall mounted speakers.

The final system consisted of CinemaPlus versions of Triad’s Platinum LCR in-BaffleWalls, six Gold Surrounds, and twelve 12”, 500-watt Silver DSP Subs. The Parasound Halo amplifiers delivered over 12,000 watts, capable of attaining peaks that exceeded 113 dB, however, sound levels outside the room were literally inaudible. Incorporating PMI’s 2.0 video projection solution, a Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice 2.0 160” wide 4-way masking screen was coupled with Digital Projection’s Titan 1080p Dual 3D projector. (For details about PMI’s 2.0:1 screen concept go to

“I was amazed at the flat response of the room even before equalization,” said Prather Warren. “This really demonstrates how important it is to professionally design a room. When combining science and great equipment, it’s possible to create terrific custom theaters in a wide range of budgets and needs, and not just at the upper end.”

While the CEDIA attendees were wowed by the Triad demo, they missed the truly insane part of the story, which was disassembling an entire room, board by board and screw by screw, transporting it 525 miles, and then re-engineering and reassembling it into a world-class home theater.

Equipment List

Digital Projection TITAN 1080P Dual 3D projector
Stewart FilmScreen’s Director’s Choice 160” wide 4-way masking screen
3 )Triad’s Platinum LCR in BaffleWalls
6) Triad Gold Surrounds
12 ) Triad 12” Silver PowerSubs
12) 500-watt Silver DSP amplifiers
3) Parasound JC1 amplifiers
3) Parasound A21 amplifiers
Crowson Tactile Motion System
MSR Acoustic Treatment
Kinetic sound Isolation and suspended ceiling system
Denon AVP-A1HDCI Ultra-Reference preamplifier
Oppo BDP-83R Bluray player
DirecTV receiver
Lumagen Radiance XS Video Processor
Ashly ne24.24M Multi channel matrix audio processor
Fortress seating
Exactpower 10 kVA Powercore power conditioner
2) Middle Atlantic Racks
3) Middle Atlantic 293 CFM venting system
1) Dedicated 10,000 BTU portable AC unit for equipment rack cooling
Crestron AV2 control system and Crestron C2ENET-1 ethernet card
Crestron TPS-6X touchpanel
Crestron infiNET lighting

Photography by Prather Warren

Company Info

Innovative Home Media
Prather Warren, THX, HAA, CEDIA, ISF Certified
Baton Rouge, LA.
225 766-0885

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.