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Midnight at the Oasis

February 3, 2003 By Hope Winsborough

When the Gorman Richardson design team was invited to build a state-of-the-art theater for a customer, they faced a major challenge. Their world-traveler clients envisioned a screening room that would feel like their own private harem, a place where they could “escape into a fanciful world.”

“We planned to do a traditional theater with stacks of seats,” the owner recalls. “Then my wife and I decided against that.” Instead, they imagined a room that did not resemble a theater—a small, intimate space that comfortably seats four to six guests.

Other factors included several pre-existing conditions. The theater had already been established in the basement of the client’s 14,500-square-foot home outside Boston, Mass., which was designed and built in 1997 by Gorman Richardson. Also the space needed to accommodate a library of thousands of DVDs and CDs, and prominently display a family heirloom—a dark blue Sarouk rug with red and gold accents.

Midnight at the OasisA Panja (now AMX) touchscreen controller makes the "Oasis" home theater easy for anyone to control. (Click image to enlarge)

Clearly, some calculated whimsy was in order. “Our goal was three-fold,” explains interior designer Kelly McGowan, who worked in tandem with architect Michael Gorman. “We had to prepare the room acoustically, create space for storage and equipment, and do it all in a way that’s not readily available to the eye,” she says.

Guided by the owner’s vision, the designers formulated the design concept of watching movies under the stars in a tented area à la The Arabian Nights.

To start, the rectangular room was camouflaged—corner-softening textiles and the dramatic ceiling mimic the feel of a circular “tent.” A lush, encapsulated viewing area gives rise to the “starry, starry night” above. Cozy chairs, richly colored and textured floor pillows and miles of luxurious fabric generate a warm, tucked-in feeling. Yet the room—just 17 by 12 feet—never feels contained, thanks to the expansiveness above.

Lush fabric treatments throughout elevate acoustics. The heavy theater curtain features an otherworldly dragon motif; a purple velveteen corduroy masks hidden drawers that encircle the room. Tapestry-like fabric blankets the walls and thick, merlot curtains with gold ties smooth corners.

The use of tiny, individually upholstered “pillows” that frame the muraled ceiling and top the concealed cabinetry adds to the mood. The pillows—in muted hues of golden olive-green, steely gray, rusty terra-cotta and a lilac-infused silver—shimmer with iridescence like glowing tilework.

Such elaborate details required highly orchestrated coordination between Woodmeister Corp. and Drapery House, who together designed the tiny pillows and enveloping trim that rims the storage drawers and the “sky.” After toying with various fabric combinations, the owners hired a loal design firm to design the fit-for-a-sheik, ottoman-style floor pillows, tables and the curved foot rest.

Midnight at the OasisThe seating arrangement, circular ceiling mural and strategically placed drapery lend a "theater in the round" look and feel. (Click image to enlarge)

Next came the storage challenge. With speakers concealed behind the screen and a subwoofer below, the side speakers are nestled into a custom-made grille. Woodmeister’s grille allows the precise ratio of space-to-wood openings to achieve maximum quality sound transmission. The bulk of the theater’s technology is housed in a small vestibule-like anteroom that echoes the theater’s design scheme.

The space literally takes “tricking the eye” to new heights. As in most home theaters, a touchscreen panel raises the curtain and dims the lights. Here, the “home” setting stages the lighting to permit guests enough time to find their places upon entering. Next, the room is down-lit. Spotlights highlight the drapes, then the house lights come down and the stars—350 pinpoint fiber-optic lights—come out, twinkling across a custom, hand-painted sky. Fluorescent uplighting from behind the pillows draws attention to the heavens above.

Nestled within the dramatic skyscape are two pendant-style lighting fixtures in silk with gold and silver detail. They, along with the quartet of matching teardrop sconces, were discovered by the clients in Italy. To accommodate the 49-inch-wide chandeliers, the ceiling was raised to a dome shape, arcing to almost 10 feet in height.

The beloved heirloom Persian rug is centered on a midnight-blue carpet and encircled by a marble mosaic band. McGowan notes that in Byzantine and Arab architecture, textures and patterns abound. “There was so much detail in the room that it didn’t make sense to bring it down to just a carpet. So we carried that over to the floor.” The striking border is constructed of a small strip of marble, creating a 10-inch band that frames the room.
Six chairs—two permanently fixed leather captain’s chairs and four on wheels—form a cozy configuration. For larger audiences, the owner adds a few director’s chairs, but he notes that the grandkids often prefer the rug.

McGowan admits it was difficult to create an ornate space without being ostentatious. But the resulting “Oasis” theater does just that. “The client allowed us to push the envelope,” she says. “There’s a really nice harmony overall.”


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