Home Entertainment


Red & Revved

November 1, 2007 By Jean Penn

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For their home theater, Timothy and Kelly Phelan wanted the look of a 1920s picture palace, complete with heavy red velvet theater curtains and a lot of antique gold. And like the rest of their 17,000-square-foot Colorado Springs home, they wanted their private screening room to be comfortable for them and their five children, whose ages range from 3 to 22. That mission was accomplished, says Kelly, by designating the lower floor of the house as the kids' territory, and by installing a turnkey home theater by First Impressions Theme Theatres—a space that is sophisticated enough for the adults, but also fun and kid-friendly for their active brood.

"Except for the 3-year-old, who is down the hall from me," says Kelly, "their bedrooms are all on the lower floor, below our bedroom. Besides the home theater, we have video games, a pool table, an exercise room, and a computer tech station, so the kids have to come out of their rooms to work on the computer with the other children." And all of the technology is easy for the kids to use: The touchscreen has specific buttons for every automation feature.

The Phelan residence is tucked into a gated country club community built around the Broadmoor, a five-star Italian Renaissance-style hotel that has been around since 1918. "Lots of homes in the community are loggy, mountain homes," Kelly says. "I like the Mediterranean/Floridian architectural style and wanted to do something different."

Lighting, flooring, and fine finish work make for seamless transitions between the home's different spaces, thanks to the expertise of Kelly Wiley of Creative Gold Interior Design in Colorado Springs. Architectural detailing includes stone columns, archways, custom iron railings, and fresco paintings that adorn the barrel-vaulted ceilings, wine cellar, and powder rooms. The stone and wood floors throughout the house are inset with custom medallions.

With a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi, numerous outdoor fountains and water features, and an outdoor fire pit that overlooks the city and the mountains, the home is built for entertaining. But the family's favorite hangout is the lower floor. Around the corner from the theater's lobby is Phelan's Pub for grown-ups, complete with an antique pool table and a luxurious wine cellar.

Wiley called on designer Jeffrey Smith, owner of First Impressions Theme Theatres, to handle the interior architecture and interior design of the home theater. It's the first turnkey theater project she has supervised for a client, but she knew First Impressions was the right company for the job because Smith had designed her own home theater. "We originally planned to build the theater on site, but once the Phelans saw First Impressions' portfolio, they were sold. They presented us with a design, build, and ship program that we would never have achieved locally."

The interior designer, who says home theaters have become a standard in her part of town, didn't have a problem passing the baton to a theater designer. Wiley believes that the home theater exists "outside the home" because it's the one room that doesn't have to reflect the home's overall design scheme. "Whether inside or outside the home, theaters are used for escape," she says. .

From the braided-rope columns finished in antique gold leaf to the elaborate crown moldings, gilded gold ceiling medallion, gold-tasseled theater curtain, and the Belgium-embossed red velvet theater seats, the opera house style has been a First Impressions signature look since the company's beginnings in 1987.

"I use classic detail elements that have been around since Roman times, scale them down for a smaller space and try to make them look bigger than they are," Smith says of his design technique. He points to the tiny LED lights used to illuminate and emphasize the ornate gold medallions that encircle the top of every column. "The trick is in placing details strategically and accenting them in a meaningful way," he says.

Smith and his 62-member team communicated with the family about their needs. After reviewing First Impressions' extensive brochure, the Phelans offered their detailed feedback. From that, First Impressions created design schematics for an old-world theater with a slight Western touch. Once the family approved the design, Smith provided detailed instructions to the subcontractors who were working on the theater. Smith's precise directives enabled the space to be designed as a tight shell—about 27 feet long and 16.5 feet wide with 11-foot-tall ceilings. All the major components for the theater, from the seating to the acoustical panels and the custom woodworking, were prebuilt in First Impressions' 32,000-square-foot North Miami facility. The "finished stage set," Smith says, was disassembled and delivered in the company's custom semi and installed in the Colorado Springs home. "It took us two weeks to reassemble with four men on the job," Smith says. "The project manager flew out to kick off the project and I closed it and did final inspections [with the client]."

Timothy Phelan—who builds commercial buildings, shopping centers, malls, and commercial theaters—did not have any trouble understanding Smith's design-and-build concept. "We do many office buildings the same way," the homeowner says.

Before switching over to private home theater design exclusively, Smith designed yachts, airplanes, nightclubs, and many of the home interiors used in the 1980s TV series Miami Vice. The former MGM publicist is fond of unusual lighting and theatrics. In the Phelans' home theater, for instance, a small storage closet is disguised as the "manager's office" with backlit frosted glass that bears an etching of a man's silhouette (he appears to be sitting at a desk and talking on the telephone). "When you put a light on it, you think there is a shadow," Smith says.

While theatrics are like candy to Smith, his favorite part of every theater project is designing the ceiling—what he calls "the biggest uninterrupted canvas on the job." Here, instead of an atmospheric treatment or one of Smith's stellar starlit skies, the look is of a classic, old-timey hardtop theater designed with large gold stamped-metal "coins," a ubiquitous architectural feature in old-time theaters. Crossbeams conceal the LED lighting that casts a golden glow on the ceiling.

But according to Lilly Phelan, 13, the coolest element of the family's new home theater cannot be seen or heard. "My friends and I like to watch really loud action movies like Titanic because the noise makes all the seats vibrate," she says.

Tech Talk: The Phelan Theater
by Dennis Burger
Aside from the Vidikron Vision Model 90 DLP projector and the AMX MVP-8400 Modero ViewPoint touchscreen, one name brand alone graces the faceplate of nearly every piece of gear in the Phelan home theater: Meridian. And according to Jason Perez, CEO and cofounder of Conundrum Technologies in Denver, that's no coincidence. "You can get great sound from a lot of different speakers, a lot of different processors and amplifiers, but there's no other total package engineered start to finish as one complete system," he says. "Most importantly, Meridian's room-correction capabilities allow us to focus less of our energies on room acoustics. That way we can go to the client and say, 'Don't let the technology hinder your dreams. Let's make it beautiful and comfortable, and the Meridian will take care of everything else.'"

Of course, few people would go so far as to call Meridian a budget brand, but the custom installer argues that the company's systems are an enormous value, mostly due to their digital design and the internal amplification of their speakers. "If we had the amplifiers in the rack, not only would we have had to deal with signal loss and interference, it wouldn't be nearly as cost effective," Perez says. "It would have cost anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 more to get the same kind of performance in this room with an analog solution. Just think: We're running six-cent-a-foot RG-6 coaxial cable to the speakers. Compare that to the cost of good speaker cable."

Perez says the speakers in question—Meridian DSP5000s up front and DSP3100s across the side and rear—matched the needs of the room exactly. "Would the top-of-the-line DSP8000s be awesome in there?" he asks. "Yes, but you'd be getting into diminishing returns. If the client says, 'I don't care about money, I just want the best of the best,' that's one thing. But our clients have never said that. And I guarantee you no one would ever walk in that room and say, 'This could be a little better.' There's no way. The 5000s and 3100s are perfect for this room."

Perez also didn't feel that Meridian's flagship 861 surround processor was necessary to achieve the level of performance the client was looking for. Instead, he opted for the company's mid-priced G68 Surround Controller. "At the end of the day, in this room, the difference between the 861 and the G68 was the difference between a Porsche GT3 and a Porsche Turbo," he says. "Are there differences? Sure. But you're splitting hairs. To this homeowner, the difference didn't amount to much, and there's nothing we needed to do that the G68 couldn't do. I believe our responsibility as problem-solvers is to deliver value and performance while driving the costs down. The money saved there allowed him to do other things, like have touchpanels throughout the home."


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