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Bespoke Beauty Home Cinema

December 5, 2008 By Brooke Lange



Click the images below for bigger versions:
The acoustical arrangement of the front wall helps with the room’s acoustics.
Leader designed and manufactured the custom speakers.
“We optimize the performance of the speakers and the acoustics of the room—we leave nothing to chance,” he says.
“And the room itself is a physical device.” The front wall has a 14-foot microperf Stewart screen.
Bespoke Beauty Home Cinema
Bespoke Beauty Home Cinema

A custom installer brings new meaning to the concept of custom installation.

Custom installer Michael K. Leader of Leader D-Cinema Systems Inc. in Beverly Hills likes to apply haute couture-level craftsmanship to his custom-designed-and-fabricated audiovisual systems. “I like to apply bespoke tailoring to my work,” says the man who won an audio Emmy for his work on the XXIV Olympics for NBC.

Leader’s appreciation for the most minute details of a handmade suit, for example, is directly reflected in every A/V system he designs and builds.

“My grandfather was a beautiful tailor and my father was an exceptional musician, so I bring these sensibilities into the technology. This makes the speakers I build very unique.”

While Leader mostly installs large-scale Hollywood-caliber screening rooms for movie studios, post-production facilities and corporations, he occasionally designs a high-end residential project. Or seven.

The acoustical arrangement of the front wall helps with the room’s acoustics.

A case in point is this media room, located in a Michigan home owned by a well-known retired music-industry executive who has represented many of the world’s biggest internationally acclaimed musicians. Leader has designed seven audiovisual systems for this client to date.

Leader first met this client in 1992.  The client’s insatiable passion for designing the most elite industry-quality cinema—with a special emphasis on supreme music playback—piqued Leader’s curiosity so much that he courted the gentleman for nearly two years. It took that long to convince the client that Leader was the right man for the job.

“He was not confident that anyone could create the system he wanted,” he says, adding that the potential client not only had access to the most elite speaker manufacturers in the world—he had experienced those speakers first-hand, as well. “There are great speakers made by other companies, but it would have been impossible to meet the client’s demands with an off-the-shelf speaker,” he says.

Twelve years and several elite systems later, Leader, no doubt, won over his client. “He wanted the world’s best system to play chamber music, jazz, harp recitals, movies—everything,” he says. “It had to be the closest thing to the real thing.”

The first project Leader completed for his client prior to designing this 700-square-foot media space, which includes the kitchen and dining room, is about 2,800 square feet and can accommodate 200 guests. “The Michigan system had to retain that same luster, front and back depth and dimension, and be capable of retaining the subtleties of all musical forms at a whisper.

“This system is on the level of a Maybach,” Leader says. “When it plays Mozart minuets, Led Zeppelin or David Bowie, it performs. You’re in a concert setting.”

Not surprisingly, the client wanted the technology concealed. “When the system is in operation, it’s invisible,” Leader says, adding that he always strives to honor the room’s look. “I respect the architect’s work and art. I have an understanding of what it takes the architect to satisfy the client.”

Leader designed and manufactured the custom speakers.

Since the client wanted to duplicate his previous theater’s A/V system, Leader’s work was cut out for him. The challenge was to duplicate the system in a smaller, space.

“First and foremost, the room had to function as a formal living and dining room,” says interior designer Michel Laflamme, adding that the client requested a more relaxed look and approach since the space opens up to Lake Michigan’s shoreline. “But it couldn’t feel like you were in a home theater either.”

In addition to designing a room with multiple personalities, the architect had to address the owner’s passion for finely crafted sailing vessels, and his desire for a contemporary look that complemented the Victorian architecture. “The owner had a ship and he wanted the room to have that feel,” Laflamme says. “He understands the craftsmanship of a fine boat—the beauty of subtle details.”

Luckily, the architect and installer spoke the same language. “We were on the same wavelength,” Laflamme says. “It can be a real fight when working with any sound consultant. But Michael understands that the sound and image are the feature of the home theater—not the equipment.”

The rectangular nature of the room is a natural byproduct of the architect’s intension to capture the stunning water views from every vantage point, and to make the most of the area’s beautiful ambient light. “The view is to the North, so it was important to keep the house narrow [to enjoy] the view and get southern sun,” he says. As a result, the length of the house runs from East to West.

The living-dining-media room is anchored with the kitchen and the projection screen wall at opposite ends. The seating and the dining area fall in between. The fireplace is designed as part of the room’s focal point, while the room’s second focal point is the water. Neither distracts from the other, nor does the gas fireplace distract from the 42-inch Pioneer plasma TV when it is in use.

Cherry woodworking frames the floor and the walls; even the kitchen cabinets are cherry. “The owner wanted a nautical feel,” the architect says, making note of the neutral color palette. The handrails throughout the home are also crafted in cherry and are strategically punctuated with elaborate brass anchors. “The owner appreciates the handrail every time he walks by, every time he uses that handrail or runs his fingers along it,” says the architect.

Heavy wood ceiling beams alternate with acoustic fabric panels. The same fabric also frames the projection-fireplace wall, concealing the massive custom-designed speakers. “Instead of seeing speaker grills, you see something that’s integrated,” Laflamme says. “That was a key thing Michael and I tried to do—integrated it all.

“And the room itself is a physical device.” The front wall has a 14-foot microperf Stewart screen.

“The ceiling took all of 30 seconds to discuss—we wanted something minimal that wouldn’t compete with the views,” Laflamme says. The design team did most of “the back and forth” for the front wall design while working on the client’s first residential project. “We went through about 100 swatches to find the right fabric,” says the architect. Above those fabric-covered ceiling panels is about 210 cubic feet of space, which is treated with more acoustical materials.

Leader tested the fabric numerous times for acoustical transparency. Thus, the treatment helps eliminate floor-to-ceiling reflections, speaker-to-ceiling bounce and reflections, and controls reverberations and echoes. Walk into this room and you immediately know you’re in a different acoustical space.

The proof that Leader’s work sparkles in any sized system came in the form of a compliment from his client’s wife. After she experienced a smaller Leader system in another home, “she could tell it was designed by [my] company,” he says. “It has [fewer] speakers, but the system retains a sense of all musical forms. [The speakers] have impact, dimension and space. Yet the quality is still remarkable.”

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