Home Entertainment


As Good As It Gets

December 1, 2007 By Jean Penn

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"Too much of a good thing is wonderful." Those famed words, uttered by none other than the silver screen siren Mae West, is a sentiment shared by Dan Kelleher, the owner of this Montana home theater. In fact, "Too much of a good thing" is a description the former Silicon Valley Bank chairman uses a lot when discussing his 69-acre compound in Flathead Valley, which is 15 minutes outside of Big Fork, and just around the corner from Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier National Park.

Affectionately named Avalanche Ranch, the property revolves around an 18,500-square-foot main house, two guest houses and two guest cabins, and a 4,000-square-foot stable that houses draft horses, cows, goats, sheep, and dozens of free-range chickens.

Kelleher and his wife, Amber, like to think outside the box. As a result, the compound's timber-framed buildings are architecturally detailed in a 19th-century Norwegian revival fashion known as "dragon style." The lodge's front door, for example, is flanked by two carved dragon portals, while two more dragons coil across the peaked roof. The exterior is a pastiche of ornamental gables and verandas—all painted in blood red, golden yellow, and Prussian blue to resemble Oslo's Rica Holmenkollen Park Hotel.

This capacious theater hosts 26 Tannoy speakers—and a balcony.

Inside, from the great room's soaring 27-foot ceiling and 19th-century European antiques to the foyer's wood chandelier by renowned Norwegian woodcarver Philip Ogden, the home is a museum of "good things." One of Dan's favorite hangouts includes the entertainment floor, complete with an elaborate home theater by renowned theater architect Theo Kalomirakis. The screening room boasts a 12-foot screen, 17 automated Fortress theater seats and a wheelchair-accessible balcony that seats six. Dallas Eccles of Sound Decision in Kalispell, Mont., supervised the installation of the property's automation system and the home theater. "It helped that we designed the automation system on paper before we started," he says. "In a project of this magnitude, it shouldn't be done any other way."

For the theater's loudspeakers and amplification, Tannoy installed an advanced prototype of its Definition Install system, for which Eccles provided his insight about the requirements that custom installers face). "This was the first time we used the system [in a residential application], but now it's the main push at the high end of our home theater business," says Darrin Kavanagh of Tannoy, North America. Graham Hendry, who heads up product development and is based in Tannoy's main factory in Scotland, also worked on the project.

"There are more than 30 miles of wiring throughout the house," Kelleher says, "which includes Category 5 and Category 6 fiber-optic cable and electrical wiring. And you will never have to rip out a wall to add wiring." The home's HVAC systems are strung across 13 different zones, and the audio is distributed across 24 different zones—allare controlled by a Crestron home automation system.. Each room has its own control panel. The project took six years to complete, and was finished in summer 2006. But for many homeowners, the end result—the acquisition of "good things"—isn't the only reward. The true prize lies in the journey itself. And thanks to Kelleher's wife Amber, there's probably another home project on the horizon.

The theater's Runco three-chip projector shines out from a compartment underneath the balcony.

"Dan has always joked that I'm the Energizer Bunny on steroids," says Amber, a former runway model in Paris. "When we moved here, it was understood that there was the option of staying here forever. Or, if I got a bee in my bonnet and wanted to do something different, we would do that too."

Amber, an Indiana girl at heart, missed the changing seasons while living in the Bay Area. So she and her husband put their newly decorated villa on the market, packed up their two dogs, and began the search for their next home.

In their travels, they kept coming back to Flathead Valley. The Kellehers loved that 80 percent of the area is conserved as parkland or timberland. "We have a sense of peace and quiet without feeling remote," Dan says, adding that the airport is just 30 minutes away. Like many Flatheaders who build on large tracts of land, the couple first built a guest house for themselves, along with the estate manager's home and the stables. "It was a way to test out all the subcontractors," he says.

The circa-1870 chandelier in the theater's lobby was originally crafted for a Spokane millionaire.

Athough Dan doesn't have much patience for architects (they tend to be of the "sensitive artist" personality, he says, and oftentimes design what they like instead of listening to the client), he hired Theo Kalomirakis of TK Theaters in New York. "I would trust no one but Theo to design the theater," he says. The couple envisioned a design that reflected the elegant turn-of-the-century bordello featured in a limited-edition print that hangs in the bar (the print is based on a puzzle Amber purchased for Dan while visiting the Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho). The adjacent 2,000-square-foot lounge is fashioned after gentleman's clubs of the same era, as well as the Peacock Room at the newly renovated Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash.

Often called the "father of home theater," Kalomirakis has designed private screening rooms for clients that include Kelsey Grammer and Eddie Murphy. But this project especially interested Kalomirakis because of his clients' passion, and because of the theater's locale—in the middle of nowhere. "They are very happy, simple, rustic people—happy to live among cows, horses and birds," Kalomirakis says. "For them, it was not about impressing their friends."

"We live quiet lives and don't belong to the party-of-the-week set," Dan says.

The Kellehers named their theater after their white standard poodle, Bijou. Amber says she's a real princess, a "daddy's little girl." Not surprisingly, Bijou has a great seat in the theater. The sweet spot is the center seat in the middle row. "My wife is on one side of the center seat and I am on the other," Kelleher says. "Bijou sits in the middle."


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