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Subtle and Stunning

May 30, 2008 By Jack Roth

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Subtle and Stunning home cinema
Subtle and Stunning home cinema

If Jeffrey Smith hasn’t seen it all in his 33 years in the theater-design business, he has come pretty close. But when the president of First Impressions Theme Theatres in North Miami looked around at the last unfurnished room in this two-story, 12,000-square-foot Miami home, he was blown away by the space’s extraordinary marble floors and intricate crown molding. After Smith recovered from the shock of having to cover up the marble in order to construct a proper home theater, he set about the task of designing and building a room-within-a-room foundation for Danny and Ferne Toccin’s private home cinema.

For custom installer Jan Vitrofsky, the 24-by-26 ground-floor space wasn’t much of a surprise. His firm, HED South, based in nearby Hollywood, Florida, had previously installed the lighting-control and audio/video systems for the entire home. From that experience, Vitrofsky learned just how selective the client could be.

That was February 2006. By August, the team had delivered a home theater package that drew rave reviews from the homeowner, a 57-year-old, retired real-estate professional who cashed in on South Florida’s condominium-conversion craze. His comments ranged from “I’m more than pleased” to “The technology is beyond belief.”

From the outset, the Toccins’ directive to Smith was all about subtlety, but Smith’s design plan for the theater’s technology was far from simple. The two-year-old home’s style is elegant and traditional with a modern feel—minus the pretension.

Smith created a theater design that would remain true to home’s overall design scheme. “I was told to make the room special and different,” he recalls, “but not gaudy.” As a result, Smith went for what he calls “a nearly monochromatic, ultra-functional, classy” theater, which was constructed in First Impressions’ facility and then reassembled on site in the Toccin home.

Subtle and Stunning home cinema

For starters, Smith’s team replaced the space’s original double doors with a massive, single-hung Noise-Lock door that leads directly into a single-door entry.

“People have a hard time entering a theater through double doors,” Smith says, “and a single door creates a better sound swell.” A floating-floor system now rests on top of that beautiful marble. Multilayered plywood is suspended off the marble with the help of high-density neoprene pucks, which are dispersed throughout the room. When the subwoofers reach relatively moderate levels, the room-within-a-room structure literally vibrates as a “natural butt kicker,” Smith says.

Similarly, a plywood substrate covers the walls so that the room-within-a-room structure fastens properly to the foundation. The plywood panels—which contain a 1-inch fiberglass core, along with sound diffusers and reflectors—also minimize vibration.

The space’s four windows are covered to maintain proper acoustics. Smith’s solution involves a fixed, drapery-look panel that mimics the draperies in the second-floor master bathroom (both are visible from outside the theater’s window). From the home’s exterior, the theater’s “draperies” resemble window shades in the down position.

Creative ingenuity marks two of the room’s corners, as well. A walk-in cabinet doubles as storage for the audio/video equipment rack, with a rotating DVD storage wall that also provides access to the room’s concealed heating/cooling system.

First Impressions is a “ying-and-yang” company, says Smith. Thus, an almost mirror image of that corner is replicated diagonally across the room in the form of a door that leads to the CineBar, First Impression’s trademarked full-service refreshment area that includes candy storage, an ice machine, and refrigeration, plus a black-and-gold popcorn machine (a theater-warming gift from Ferne’s mother).

“I spend every day in there,” Danny concedes, adding that he’s even camped out overnight in the space. He’s also prone to wander into his private screening room mid-afternoon to enjoy a starry night.

The room’s fiber-optic lighting system paints a blue sky with fluffy clouds on the ceiling, but it can transform into a setting sun, followed by a nighttime sky. There’s also a shooting star and a full galaxy up there, including Ferne’s zodiac sign: Pisces.

The color palette is a soft, soothing hue of green that’s set off with rich millwork—all of which is anchored by a wool-blend, Greek, key-patterned rug in sage green that was made in England. Save for the accents of honey-colored pearwood, everything else bears the same strain of green—from the wall paneling and theater drape to the 11 fully motorized, French-mohair theater seats—trademarked as CineLoungers—that First Impressions custom-built.

“It’s a stunning, rich, sophisticated look,” says Smith, adding that he navigated through the theater’s challenges without a hitch. His biggest lesson learned, in fact, was how to keep an inquisitive client informed yet somewhat at bay. “He wanted to know how everything worked,” Smith laughs, remembering that the client even climbed up a ladder to inspect the joinery conditions.

Vitrofsky’s view is much the same: The Toccins wanted only the best. “The challenge was educating them about the finest things and having them understand what it’s all about so that they could appreciate it,” he says.

A Crestron touchscreen serves as the heart of the theater’s electronics, delivering function control and connectivity. Additional Crestron interfaces in the master bedroom and living room mean that the homeowners don’t have to remain in the theater to finish watching a movie.

Vitrofsky selected a Kaleidescape A/V server for its ease of use and its compatibility with the Crestron control system. The Kaleidescape system allows the user to digitally store DVDs and organize them according to preference, from movie genre to actor name to film title. A 12-foot Stewart screen works in tandem with a Sony Qualia Q004R1 projector, which is hailed for its image quality and technology. A Lexicon audio package and Genelec speakers bring the audio to life.

For the Toccins, the $390,000 package—$250,000 for the room design/construction and $140,000 for the equipment—is money well spent. From the command center, located smack dab in the middle of the second row, Danny maneuvers audio and video controls with ease. He has his home theater at his fingertips and the world at his feet. “This is nothing I ever dreamed of,” he says.


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