Home Entertainment


A Theater for all Reasons

November 19, 2008 By Hope Winsborough

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A Theater for all Reasons
The CineLounger theater seats, bathed in custom-dyed cranberry-colored leather, also feature heating and massage capabilities.
Rich colors and mahogany-framed panels envelope the room, while Black Granite serving trays mirror those of the recessed, beamed ceiling. Together, they draw the eye forward to the 135-inch screen.
The vibrant floral rug pattern—which is William Morris-like in design—along with the calculated, intermittent positioning of panels, ceiling trays and seating brings a sense of movement to the oft-used media room.
A Theater for all Reasons
The contemporary wet bar, which was orchestrated by the home’s interior designer, is complete with its own LCD screen.

In downtown Chicago, one family’s home theater brings life to the term “mixed media.”

When the family of one well-known TV broadcaster returned to Chicago, the city they loved most, it was inevitable that their new digs include a state-of-the-art media room.

Working together with Jeffrey Smith of First Impressions Theme Theatres of South Miami, Fla., the husband and wife envisioned creating a venue for home entertainment that is as animated, theatrical and multifaceted as the city itself.

“This particular client is what I call ‘a repeat-offender,’” says Smith, laughing. By that he means that the client had hired Smith before—in this case to help design a cozy, six-seat theater for their previous home in Malibu, Calif.

A Theater for all Reasons

This project, Smith recalls, was quite the feat, given the long-and-narrow footprint of the room, which formerly housed a 30-foot-long shooting gallery. When the family relocated to Chicago in 2007, they called upon Smith to design their basement-level theater in their five-story, downtown Chicago townhouse.

For the clients, having experienced that “prior conviction” helped streamline the design and building process tremendously. In addition, based on previous experience, they knew Smith would deliver.  “We knew exactly what we wanted,” the wife explains. “In building this home, we knew we wanted a larger space—10 seats to be exact. And we wanted it to be quietly understated yet still have that ‘wow’ factor.”

The husband’s broadcasting background made it easy to establish what technical capabilities were mandatory. The clients also knew that they wanted to establish smooth traffic flow (which means that guests can circulate effortlessly throughout the theater during a movie without inhibiting other guests’ view of the film at hand).

What the homeowners did not know, however, or even anticipate, was just how much the new, more formidable screening room would enhance their day-to-day lives. Says the wife: “It’s the ultimate luxury to be able to go into the theater—in PJs no less—and totally escape for a couple of hours.”

The family also has discovered that the theater is a great place to relax even when they are not watching movies. Their daughters use it as a soundproof study hall, while their young nieces and nephews think of it as a playhouse theater.

“And my husband, he drags in a stool and plays his guitar,” says the wife, alluding to the room’s acoustic properties that rival those of Chicago’s best music clubs. But, she adds, their private home theater is far more intimate.

It makes sense when you think about it: The governing concept of home theater is sensory excellence. It’s what makes us appreciate the perfect, unfiltered musical tone or the well-focused director’s cut. But this concept extends to all activities, more or less.

Rich colors and mahogany-framed panels envelope the room, while Black Granite serving trays mirror those of the recessed, beamed ceiling. Together, they draw the eye forward to the 135-inch screen.

Great theater design, then, recognizes that stellar sensory experiences rely on far more than good wiring and high pixel counts. And that’s where Smith’s involvement is key.

“We start by asking a functional question: How many people do you expect to use the theater at once?” Smith says. “With us, form truly follows function.”

The next stage is a technical drawing that takes into consideration sight lines, viewing angles, speaker positions, eye-to-screen distances and acoustical considerations. With full client input and approval, the next move, says Smith, is to “make it pretty.” Or in other words, to make those technicalities aesthetically appealing.

In this case, “making it pretty” was literally a ground-up operation. The lush carpet, by Kashimar Ispaghan Ebony(I’m clarifying with Smith), was pre-selected by the home’s interior designer. Smith drew upon its color palette of rich crimsons, olives and golds, picking up hues that resonate on the walls, ceiling and seating.


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