If you’ve noticed some changes in the weather in the South recently, you’re not alone. The number of severe storms and tornados striking Nashville and the rest of Middle TN has dramatically increased, resulting in a surge in storm shelter construction. While practically speaking, a storm shelter is a great thing to have; these spaces are often only used for a few hours a year.
The story of this build begins when our client approached us with the desire to reclaim his shelter space as a proper home theater while taking full advantage of the acoustic isolation provided by the 12″ thick poured concrete walls.
Home Theater in a (Concrete) box
With a pre-build width of only 96″, space was at an absolute premium. A design requirement of having at least five fixed seats led us to create staggered wall depths in each section of the theater to help squeeze both the seating and speakers in.
This layout opened the door to employing varying types of acoustic treatments and bass trapping while at the same time creating some visual interest through the use of diffused LED accent lighting.
The crown jewel of the build is a 104″ acoustically transparent projection screen by Screen Innovations. It’s paired with a light blasting HDR projector from LG that makes high-impact viewing possible, even with the lights on.
The room’s soundtrack is voiced by a full accouterment of seven 300 Series in-wall speakers from Focal. All of which are stealthily concealed behind the screen or in the walls around the room.
We wanted to find a way to provide illumination that would be fun but at the same time not distract too much from the theater’s prime directive. Several scenes were created including one inspired by “Stranger Things” (my personal favorite).
Our client chose a fully motorized option for home theater seating by Octane. Trimmed in top-grain leather and equipped with USB power outlets, underlighting, and plenty of storage, these home theater chairs make it easy to settle into a movie or binge your favorite show.
Lights can be controlled by the keypad on the wall or even turned on and off individually with the Elan remote control.
When someone mentions a “Home Theater,” what do you think of? We often think of “movie-themed” rooms cut off from the rest of the house that we retreat to when we want a real escape. However, if you’re someone who wants the best picture and sound, but doesn’t particularly want to slip into a void of total isolation (no matter how cool it may be!), don’t despair. There is a solution for you.
Believe it or not, the trend is moving away from dedicated home theater spaces and more towards lifestyle areas that can provide both a great place to hang out and a highly immersive cinematic experience when you’re ready to watch a movie. Of course, it does require some careful planning and coordination with your interior designer, but in 2021 it’s entirely possible to have your cake and eat it too.
Make the best of a beautiful situation.
The reality is that most dedicated home theater spaces can’t be the “perfect room” anyway for one reason or another. In all but the most extreme cases, some spatial or budgetary constraints will get in the way of a textbook layout. Things are no different than with a lifestyle theater. What’s important is knowing the environment you’re working with and designing a solution that overcomes the decorative and acoustic challenges. If you commit to doing things right, high performance is very attainable.
You’ve probably seen pictures online of some unique multi-use spaces; one of our favorites is a combination bar/theater area by Tym Homes. It’s not drab or dark and offers plenty of spots for both conversation and serious stargazing.
Anatomy of a “Lifestyle” home theater
PSA : Due to the need to conceal wiring and hide speakers inside of your walls and ceilings, pulling off these kinds of spaces is much easier when you’re pre-wiring with new construction or when your remodeling a room. It can still be done when you’re not in the midst of a large-scale project, but you’ll probably at the very least end up with some drywall work.
Step 1. Analyze the Space
There are two gremlins to contend with when designing your home theater area. The first is ambient light, and the second is acoustics.
Ambient Light :
Ambient light is the light that is already in the room. You need to pay close attention to where this light is coming from, how much there is of it, and what type of light it is. Not only can it affect the picture quality of your home theater system, but it can also cause eye strain and even headaches. So, what can you do about ambient light? Our go-to solution is installing motorized black-out shades for dealing with sunlight flooding a room through windows and skylights. Shades let you keep your space bright and airy while still effectively controlling the light during viewing.
We also need to make sure we have control of the artificial light in the room. This can be addressed with a basic dimmer switch, but we usually like to take things a step further. For example, implementing lighting control that triggers a “movie scene” lets you create the kind of “magic transformation” most people are looking after.
Now onto the second gremlin;
Have you ever wondered why movie theater walls are draped in fabric or some other kind of soft cushy materials? We’ve come to associate that with the intrinsic charm of a vintage movie house and probably assume it’s an aesthetic that’s rooted in nostalgic tradition.
In reality, the choice of those materials is very intentional. Hard surfaces like drywall or wood flooring reflect sound, while soft surfaces absorb sound. When sound bounces from surface to surface, this is called a “reflection.” Reflections impact the clarity of the soundtrack, make bass thin and muddy, and generally rain on your parade. Lousy acoustics will make even the most incredible speakers sound anemic.
We tackle these issues with thick fabric walls and huge corner traps in a dedicated theater, but we have to get creative in a lifestyle home theater. Addressing the issue of acoustics is a great touchpoint to coordinate with your interior designer. Ask them to incorporate soft surfaces into your design. If your room has hardwood or stone floors, an area rug under furniture is a significant first step. Furniture soaks up lots of sound, and there is even one more sneaky trick.
If you plan to have any canvases hanging in your room, you can order artwork printed directly on a sound-absorbing panel. No one will be the wiser, but you’ll be effectively taming the reflections in your room.
Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to the rooms around your lifestyle theater. If bedrooms are nearby, adding a backbox to your in-wall speakers will help keep sound from transferring to adjacent spaces through walls and floors.
Pro Tip: Your neck is calling. If this will be your primary display or TV, don’t put it over your fireplace. Most of the time, a TV mounted high over the fireplace spells severe neck pain, even during casual viewing. However, we do grant an exception for a TV that will double as artwork, like Samsung’s “The Frame.”
Step 2. Projectors & Screens
I think the true cornerstone of these multi-use spaces is employing a projector system and a retractable motorized screen. There are a couple of ways we can make that happen.
Recessed projector lifts
The biggest advantage of a recessed model is that it takes up the least amount of room possible. The projector is tucked away into the ceiling when not in use and gracefully descends into its working position when called. This really does provide the ultimate “transformer” moment and allows you to completely conceal your room’s dual personality.
Ultra Short Throw Projectors (UST)
Another option for an incognito projector installation is something called an Ultra Short Throw projector. A UST can be placed inches from a wall and even recessed into a custom furniture piece. Due to their close proximity to the screen material, a UST can produce a much brighter than a similarly rated traditional projector. Just keep in mind UST’s require a particular type of screen to make the most of the technology.
Step 3. Speakers for your home theater
You have two choices when it comes to selecting speakers for your lifestyle theater. You can opt for very low-profile speakers that blend away into your design, or you can incorporate options that become a part of your design. (We’ve covered that in greater depth in our post “Top 4 In-wall Speakers Your Designer Will Love!“) Whatever you choose, there are options available that are sure to complement your design.
It’s always best to install your front speakers either directly beside or behind your projector screen. If space or materials don’t allow for that type of setup, When a wall install is not an option, we’re big fans of Focal’s “Invisible Speaker System.”
These are in-ceiling speakers that fire at an angle to very effectively create the illusion of sound coming from the screen rather than above. They also incorporate backboxes as standard and have a sexy trim-less bezel. Yes, please!
Step 4. Home Theater Seating & Furniture
I think most of us aren’t looking for colossal movie theater recliners in the middle of our living room. That would kind of defeat the whole purpose of a convertible space. Fortunately, several seating companies have stepped up to the plate and now offer home theater seating that’s virtually indistinguishable to even the most discerning taste. Look for “Media Room Furniture”.
Step 5. Bringing it all together.
Elan makes everything easy.
If you’ve made it this far, the pieces are all in place, and now it’s time to tie everything together. Here is where an Elan home automation system can take things to the next level. At this point, if you’ve followed our recipe, you have a Projector, Motorized Projection Screen, Receiver, Motorized Shades, and then, of course, the lights and climate in your room to control. My math tells me that it would require no less than six remote controls.
When a customer requests this type of setup, we create a “Movie Mode” button that simplifies this entire ballet into a single button press. From their Elan remote control, touchscreen, or smartphone, the projector lowers into position and powers on, the screen drops down, the room’s lights dim, the sound turns on, and you’re dropped straight to your favorite channel or streaming service. That same Elan remote can control your Apple TV and even adjust the temperature in the room. This is a killer app for home automation—no switching inputs, no modes, and no digging remotes out of the couch.
When movie time is over, press that same “movie time” button, and everything disappears. Finally, the lights fade up, and you’re ready to make memories with your friends.
It can be tempting to put an arduous amount of effort into a cutting-edge projection system and surround sound only to neglect the one equally important piece of gear, the seats! But, just as you probably don’t want to hike fifty miles of the Natchez Trace in flip-flops, you’re not going to get maximum enjoyment out of your theater or media room with a traditional sofa and chairs
Dedicated theater seating is the secret sauce to making your new space somewhere you’ll love to spend time.
Types of theater seating:
Individual Recliners are connected and arranged in a straight line or arc to help maximize the viewing experience. Since these recliners are purpose-built for theater use, expect to find extras like cup holders, snack trays, LED lighting, and more.
Some manufacturers even offer seats in staggered heights to improve sightlines with the screen while avoiding the need for a riser on the back row.
Loveseats & Sofas
Think of a loveseat as a recliner for two. A loveseat offers all the same features and extras of dedicated recliners without the pesky center armrest to keep you apart.
A chaise can be an opulent and attractive way to take in a movie with loved ones without dealing with reclining. With so much room to spread out, you might be tempted to take a nap after the movie!
Bean bags are the often overlooked but unsung hero for adding extra seating to your theater space. While I wouldn’t suggest them as a primary choice for the whole family, They’re a perfect way to add additional seating for kids.
As a bonus, they sit low enough to the ground that others can easily see the screen overhead.
Look for high-quality options from Lovesac or MoonPod. They’ll fit right in with the rest of your room’s interior won’t turn into a lumpy pile of mush after a few years.
so how much is this going to cost me?
Home Theater seats are usually priced “per seat,” and there can be an extensive range in prices depending on your chosen materials.
While there are some cheaper options out there, I would suggest budgeting a minimum of $1000 per seat as a rule of thumb. Of course, you’ll be missing some of the higher-end materials and extra features like power recline, bass shakers, and LED lighting, but you can expect quality construction at that price point.
If you’ve chosen to decorate the rest of your home with quality furniture pieces from Restoration Hardware, West Elm, or the like, expect to pay anywhere from $2500-$5000 per seat for theater seating of similar quality. Just remember that you’re looking at fully custom furniture at the higher end of the spectrum, and you can have almost anything you can dream up! Top grain leather, vintage velvet, personalized embroidery, and lighting are all on the table!