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Balancing Act Home Theater

December 12, 2008 By Hope Winsborough



Click the images below for bigger versions:
“The biggest key in this room is the lighting,” says interior design consultant Jennifer Griffith. Not only does it eliminate any question of claustrophobia, but it allows the viewer to vary colors according to mood.
  The columns are made of 3-Form resin, and are mounted between the track system using metal-capped towel holders Kyle Griffith discovered at Ikea. The LED lights are affixed to the tracks and are mounted inside frosted polycarbonate resin.
Custom cabinetry houses the snack bar’s offerings, including refrigerated beverages and a popcorn-ready microwave.
The family’s favorite movies— including Pirates of the Caribbean —assume positions of honor.
Balancing Act Home Theater - Images of the various colors possible with the LED lighting.
Balancing Act Home Theater - Entrance

Creative collaboration produces a home theater that’s truly life-enhancing.

Can home-theater technology help alleviate the chaos of modern life?

It’s not the typical path-to-enlightenment story, to be sure. But it’s one that rings true to Stephen and Kelli Brown of Austin, Texas.

As parents of four children ranging in age from four to 17, the Browns are well-versed in “chaos.” Add to that the fact that Stephen, a prominent oncologist, and Kelli, a former Broadway dancer, kicked-off their screening room project while they were already knee-deep in the process of renovating a newly purchased 6,000-square-foot home. From their perspective, vision superseded chaos.

And their small attic office represented 170 square feet of potential.

“The biggest key in this room is the lighting,” says interior design consultant Jennifer Griffith. Not only does it eliminate any question of claustrophobia, but it allows the viewer to vary colors according to mood.

“They wanted a modern, chic room with state-of-the-art audio,” recalls Kyle Griffith, who handled the custom installation of the project with Bryan Arnold of Texas Integrated Systems/Texeleco. (Griffith is now the director of dealer relations for California Audio Technologies/CAT, CAT Elite, CAT MBX and Newport Audio.)

Stephen envisioned building an in-home oasis—a space that would help him maximize his limited downtime. That meant the theater had to comfortably accommodate the entire Brown family, as well as a regular stream of guests.

“With four active children, our family time consists of sports activities, meals at home and watching movies or playing games,” Stephen says, adding that the theater brings everyone together. “It’s an environment that all ages can enjoy.” When the younger kids are in bed and the teens are doing homework, Kelli retreats to their home theater to take in some jazz or blues.

From her perspective, the space is “a vacuum without time.”

To create the Browns’ mulipurpose in-home getaway, Kyle enlisted a group of experts to handle everything from the system’s sound design to the custom lighting. Together, they created a remarkably dynamic audiovisual system, one that features a wide-aspect ratio screen and seat-shaking subwoofers—all of which are fully integrated into a compact-yet-aerodynamic space that the family calls “the airplane.”

  The columns are made of 3-Form resin, and are mounted between the track system using metal-capped towel holders Kyle Griffith discovered at Ikea. The LED lights are affixed to the tracks and are mounted inside frosted polycarbonate resin.

Engineering this luxury “aircraft” was a multistep process. First-up: structural issues. To deaden sound transmission, the entire room was enveloped in Acoustiblok, a rubber-like mineral composite. “After [we installed] that, whenever you walked in the theater it felt like you were in a vault,” Stephen comments.

The next challenge was the room’s layout. The configuration options for this 10-foot-by-17-foot space were further limited when the Browns opted for a larger projection screen, which required an 8-foot screen throw. The new screen is so large that it nearly extends to touch both of the home theater’s right and left side walls.

According to the custom installer, such limitations are worth the trouble. “If you have the budget, the wide-aspect provides a more [engrossing] experience,” Kyle says.

“With the invested effort in acoustic design,” Stephen adds, “I felt that a standard screen minimized what had been accomplished with the space. Cinematic video from wall to wall would be astonishing.”
To amp up the room’s intimacy, a lobby was incorporated into the theater’s blueprints; the space also is blanketed with Acoustiblok material since it is located directly above the master suite.

“That kept all noise and traffic outside the room,” Kyle explains. “Once you are inside [the theater], you can fully disappear—and you can do it at night without disturbing anyone.”

The family’s favorite movies— including Pirates of the Caribbean —assume positions of honor.

The curved ceiling that draws the eyes upward lends a sense of spaciousness to the otherwise small space. Design consultant Jennifer Griffith, who is married to Kyle, worked with Kelli to orchestrate a kid-friendly palette of finishes and furnishings that infuses the space with depth and texture.

The theater’s wall panels, made by Acoustic Room Systems, are covered in sandstone fabric with horizontal patterns, which lend a modern touch to the room. The theater seating by Acoustic Innovations—three chairs up front that are combined as a sofa with two elevated loveseats in the back—are upholstered in a warm, distressed premium leather. But the most important design element, everyone agrees, is the lighting.

The Browns wanted to incorporate some form of special lighting into the room—including a blue hue to sate Kelli’s love of water. The idea for the lighting system first occurred when Kyle picked up a piece of 3-Form resin. Why not use the product to create columns of light?

To bring the idea to life, Kyle enlisted the help of Acoustic Room Systems’ Frank Rose and Texas Integrated Systems’ Rod Mueller. The trio began experimenting immediately. In the end, the red-green-blue LED lights from Solavanti were placed on a track and back-mounted to the wall track.

The lights were then tucked behind the 3-Form, which was cut into columns, end-capped and mounted nearly flush with the wall panels. With 18 color variations programmed into the Lutron system, the glowing columns inject the right level of pizzazz and offset the room’s elegant neutrality.

Balancing Act Home Theater - Images of the various colors possible with the LED lighting.

After using the theater for a month, CAT’s audio engineers performed their customary on-site calibration. “I was impressed before it was fine-tuned,” Stephen says, “but I couldn’t believe the sound quality after the calibration. Listening to an HD concert is now the equivalent of [experiencing] a private concert.”

Kyle christened the theater with a showing of Transformers.“[The Browns] thought we put vibration in the seats, but it was the bass management system at work,” which includes four subwoofers in the ceiling and four in front. “It really shook them up!”

More importantly, says Stephen, the home theater has met the family’s oasis requirements. “It’s mood-enhancing,” says Stephen, adding that it provides a respite away from his world of never-ending demands.

“It’s a place for me to relax and listen to music,” he says. “The times when I just chill out in the theater are my release.” That satisfaction extends to the rest of the family. For example, Kelli has hosted showings of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” and the teens invite friends over for eight or 10-hour movie-fests.

The screening room has been a major attraction for adults, too. “Sometimes during parties, I notice people are missing,” Stephen says. But when he dials into the security system, he often finds everyone in the theater—especially during a major sporting event.

Though the theater continues to amaze the Browns, Stephen still is surprised by its new role in the family. “It’s neat how it has played into our shared activities,” he explains. “In our hectic lives there aren’t many opportunities to shut down your working environment (he cites the ever-present Blackberry as an example). The theater is a way to do just that—just by listening to music or watching something enjoyable.”

 

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