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Aesthetically Asian Home Theater

June 18, 2010 By Susan Sharpe



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We try to invoke in our theaters a sense of a bygone era—when movie theaters became the show and the film itself was secondary,” Smith says. This project, from start to finish, took six months to accomplish.
 The custom-designed and theater chairs are equipped with First Impressions’ standard heating, massage and vibration capabilities.
Aesthetically Asian Home Theater
Aesthetically Asian Home Theater

First Impressions Theme Theatres’ Jeffrey Smith inherits a theme for a home theater and creates an original masterpiece.


We try to invoke in our theaters a sense of a bygone era—when movie theaters became the show and the film itself was secondary,” Smith says. This project, from start to finish, took six months to accomplish.

Home Entertainment: Tell me a little about this theater … I’m guessing that this client had a penchant for Asian-inspired design.
Jeffrey Smith: The client was a married couple—he was a world-renowned ophthalmologist who pioneered a laser procedure for removing cataracts. Their home was developed by a builder, and the entire residence had an Oriental influence. The clients loved the Asian look and contracted our company to design a Chinese-themed private home cinema. The wife, who also collected Fu Dogs, handed me one and said…“Design a theater around this.”    

The space we had to work with was a hodgepodge media room that was already in use. So we gutted it and started from scratch.

HE: Many of your home theater designs fall into the “old world theater” category, but this is clearly more of a “themed” theater.  
JS: This is not the first themed theater we have designed. First Impressions has developed home theaters that resemble spaceships, caves and other styles as requested. This particular design, however, is clearly unique and was made as detailed as possible.

HE: You’re right—there are numerous levels of detail in this space. Care to elaborate on the intricacy of the ceiling design, as well as the lacquered pillars and the dragons?  
JS: As with all of our designs, we start with space planning, clinical studies for sightlines and acoustical issues. After all this is dialed in, the “pretty” stuff emerges. But the design elements must capture the electronics package—as in screen, video projector, surround-sound speakers, etc.  By capture, I mean accommodate.

After this is accomplished, the architectural elements are introduced to envelope the technology, starting with the front-end proscenium. The wall columns and pilasters are developed next; then came the ceiling.

HE: You make it sound so easy—as if you just woke up one day and put pencil to paper. How did you come up with some of these design elements? Did you hop on an international flight, or camp out at the Morikami Museum for a few days?
JS: A lot of the elements infused in this project came, in part, from [studying Mann’s] Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles—a classic, Chinese-themed commercial auditorium. The surround-sound lanterns in this home theater are similar to the one’s used in [Mann’s] pagoda roof line and coloration, all inspired by this wonderful old, classic movie house. They don’t make theaters like that anymore, so we do our best to carry on the “architecture of fantasy” in our work. In this case, it’s just a wee bit smaller in scale.

HE: This home theater looks huge, but the screen isn’t as large as I’d expect. Maybe there’s an optical illusion going on with the curtains and such that makes it appear smaller than it really is?
JS: This home theater is large—it’s on the larger side of what we do with a 14-foot-tall ceiling. The screen shot has the drapes masked in tight for a 4.3 aperture to show classic black-and-white Charlie Chan flicks, for example. The fixed screen format is 16:9 at 120 inches wide. The overall space is 27 feet by 24 feet. This theater is located on the first floor of the home.

 The custom-designed and theater chairs are equipped with First Impressions’ standard heating, massage and vibration capabilities.

HE: I love how you concealed the projector lens … is this enclosure designed to resemble a specific Chinese temple?
JS: It’s a hush box we designed for the projector, and it’s placed in a strategic position for optimum performance. As such, the hush box became a pagoda in the typical Chinese style. A film port lens was installed, along with adequate ventilation with a high CFM extraction fan and the [necessary] air intake to temper the projector properly.

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