Design

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 3

Dennis BurgerAt the end of our previous post in this series, I teased the fact that one pair of speakers at the back of the room ended up driving the decision-making process for the entire Atmos surround sound speaker system. It’s worth digging a little more deeply into exactly why that’s the case.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

Just to remind you what the geometry of our demo space looked like, here’s an overhead view of the back of the room. The rear wall is at the top. You can see a rough approximation of what we thought our seating may look like, as well as the canted walls that made the outside of the booth look so great, but crunched us a bit in the demo space.

 

If we had gone with seven ear-level speakers, that would have meant four speakers in the back of the room, at positions marked A and B. But this would have caused problems for anyone sitting in the back row. Someone sitting next to speaker A on one side of the room wouldn’t have really been able to hear speakers A and B on the other side, and the speakers at the front of the room—for dialogue and screen sound effects—would have been drowned out. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better.

 

What I really needed was a speaker I could position somewhat closer to the points marked C, but a little higher on the wall so as not to overwhelm any one seat in the back row. The extra height was also added to accommodate anyone standing in the back of the room, so they wouldn’t block the surround sound effects for anyone sitting in front.

 

I desperately needed a speaker that would project its sound out into the room authoritatively, while also spreading its sound out less like a spotlight and more like a floodlight. 

 

I also needed an in-wall solution, for reasons discussed in our previous post. One speaker came immediately to mind: GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-Wall speaker. The MPX’s bass/midrange drivers don’t point straight out into the room, as do those of most speakers. One of the drivers is rotated a bit to the right, the other a bit to the left. Combine that with the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter (which squeezes air sort of like an accordion to create low-distortion, room-penetrating high-frequency sounds, rather than pushing air like a normal dome tweeter), and you have the makings of everything I needed here—wide, deep, enveloping sound that wasn’t diffuse.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

And with that piece of the puzzle solved, the rest of the speaker system started to fall into place. To match the sound of the MPX, I specified three of GoldenEar’s Signature Point Source (SPS) in-walls for the front left, right, and center speakers, and four of the company’s Invisa 650 in-ceilings for the overhead channels.

 

We also had just enough space at the front of the room for subwoofers, so I opted for a pair of SuperSub X subs. Why two subs for such a small space? It wasn’t so much about producing enough volume as it was about delivering rich, even bass in such a weird acoustical environment and making sure every seat in the room experienced the same level of bass.

 

With those decisions made, I called GoldenEar’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jack Shafton, and asked him if I could take him on a virtual tour of our most current 3D design for the booth. I wanted a second opinion from an industry expert, just to make sure I had made the right choices given such compromises. I also wanted his advice on exact speaker placement.

 

Here’s Jack with his reactions to seeing the 3D renderings for the first time, along with some thoughts on what makes GoldenEar’s architectural speakers unique:

Jack Shafton: When Dennis shared his plan for this booth at CEDIA, my first reaction was, “YIKES!” GoldenEar always uses a fully enclosed sound room for our own trade-show demos, so this was certainly a new challenge. We agreed that this room would never be ideal, but could certainly be done effectively using the Invisa speakers and SuperSubs. Dennis hit on one of the reasons the Invisa MPX was such a good choice: It’s a direct radiator (important for today’s surround formats) with very wide dispersion. But I would also mention that the power handling and efficiency of the speaker are of great importance given the semi-open nature of this sound room.

 

That’s just one speaker, though (well, two in the case of this room). As for why GoldenEar’s Invisa speakers were the right choice overall, remember that this system needed to impress consumer electronics industry members, not the average consumer who has never heard a great-sounding home theater. One thing that I think sets our in-wall and in-ceiling speakers apart is that we design them using the same drivers and technology employed in our award-winning Triton tower speakers. There is no good/better/best stratification in the GoldenEar architectural speaker lineup; just the best of everything we do. The folded-ribbon tweeter offers exceptional dispersion, amazing fidelity, and great power handling, and it is found in every Invisa speaker. Combine that with our mid/bass driver

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

GoldenEar Invisa MPX

technology, crossover design, and GoldenEar speaker voicing, and the result is exactly what Dennis needed to blow people away in a space that had no business sounding as good as it did. Of course, the two SuperSubs helped a lot, as they provide big sub performance in a tiny, vibration-cancelling design.

 

 

DB again: In addition to confirming my speaker choices, Jack gave me some helpful advice in terms of placement, especially of the front speakers and overhead channels. That guidance was invaluable given the weird geometry of the room. Mind you, the odds you’ll be installing a cinema sound system in a room as compromised as ours are slim. The lesson to be learned here is that when taming a problematic home cinema space, you’ll sometimes find that solving your most daunting problems first makes all of the other pieces fall into place.

 

Still, as amazing as GoldenEar’s speakers are, if we had merely slapped them in the walls and ceilings and provided them with power, they wouldn’t have sounded their best. In our next post, I’ll be discussing how Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer helped us tame some of the room’s worst acoustical problems and give the GoldenEar speakers room to shine.

Jack Shafton is a 40-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry who has been
involved in the design, manufacture, and marketing of some very successful specialty
audio products, including two highlighted in
Stereophile’s “100 Most Important Audio
Products in the Last 40 Years.” Jack’s love of music and movies, combined with a
passion to bring better sound into everyone’s home, has been the driving force in his
commitment to help the industry grow. He also loves fast cars and
cats. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Tribeca Trendsetter

Cineluxe Showcase

Ed Gilmore casually bringing some shots of an install he’d done in Tribeca up on his computer monitor was a major “a-ha” moment for me. The first shot showed a stylish, obviously comfortable living area that also served as a billiards room, dining area, and kitchen. The second showed the same room transformed into a home entertainment space a lot of people would kill for. That, a completely intuitive part of me screamed, perfectly represents the new paradigm.

 

Others must agree with that conclusion because people just won’t leave Ed alone about that space. Ironically, even he admits it’s not perfect—but it’s getting there, as the client invests more and more in turning what was initially a whim into a room that can blow most movie theaters out of the water.

 

Having since visited the apartment, and shot some video there, I recently circled back around with Ed to talk about all things Tribeca.

Michael Gaughn

 

 

People seem to love that installation because it says that almost any room can now be transformed into a legitimate entertainment space.

 

I think what we did was to, in a minimally invasive way, create a home theater experience in a room that, if you looked at it from any angle, you would immediately say it couldn’t be done there. There was just no way.

 

Aesthetically, the room had already been designed before you came into the picture. How were you able to navigate those waters?

 

We just needed to be open and try to find really unique solutions that would both satisfy a high-end level of performance as well as maintain a certain aesthetic value the client wanted us to maintain, and be true to the bones of that room. I don’t think that’s any rare talent. The issue was that he had interviewed a lot of other AV guys who told him right off the bat, “No, we won’t do that.” And that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. So we were lucky enough to be able to convince him that we could do it, and it could be compelling.

That communal area wasn’t supposed to be the main entertainment space, right?

 

Right. The den [shown at right] is the room where he really sits and watches most of his TV. That was the room he wanted to spend some money on. This other room was kind of an experiment for him.

 

But as he saw it implemented, immediately he thought, “I’m going to

A Tribeca Theater to Die For

photos by John Frattasi

sink some more money into this room.” And that’s exactly what he did. That’s what he did with the Kaleidescape Strato, that’s what he did with the Steinway Lyngdorf speaker system, and what he’s about to do with projection, by upgrading the projector there as well.

 

Are people fascinated by that room because it’s a kind of outlier or because it represents a trend?

 

I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s tapping into a trend, that trend being that people aren’t interested in having dedicated rooms for specific purposes like a theater, or even a dedicated music room.

The promotional media-room tour I produced of the Tribeca space.

There’s an aspirational aspect to it as well. It resonates with people because it’s well done. I mean, it’s a really beautiful space. And it’s well thought out. And that goes back to the developer, who did a really nice job on that building. The dimensions of the room are great, and it has this wonderful warm feeling to it without really needing much in terms of other types of interior design.

 

But these particular clients do have taste, and they’ve been around the block a few times in terms of renovations. He is a serial renovator. And so their choice of artwork, their choice of furnishings—those little details that they have there are great. And I think that resonates with a lot of people too.

 

If luxury is really about details—about somebody caring enough to make sure every last thing is done right—Tribeca would seem to qualify.

 

I think you and I agree on this, right? Attention to detail is really what matters in a luxury space. People have asked me about what luxury is, and I typically say that it needs to be inspirational. But that doesn’t mean it really needs to be noticeable. It’s something that kind of unfolds. And by the time you realize what’s happening, you’re kind of taken by surprise by it. And it’s organic—it feels like it was always part of what was meant to be there.

 

 

In a followup post, Ed will talk more about turning problem rooms into great theaters and about the increasing importance of interior designers in home entertainment spaces.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ed Gilmore

Since 1991, Ed Gilmore and Gilmore’s Sound Advice, Inc. have been designing, deploying, and servicing hundreds of integrated systems by strictly adhering to a word-of-mouth recommendation policy. Typical systems consist of audio & video distribution, home theater, lighting & shading systems, enterprise-level network/WiFi & telephony, along with HVAC & security systems integration. In 2016, Gilmore created one of the most unique showroom & event spaces in New York City. Increased space also allows GSA to rack-build, program, and test systems prior to deployment.

About HTA

The Home Technology Association is an independent organization that connects homeowners with the most reputable and qualified professionals in the home technology industry. In an industry that has no barriers to entry, it has created a rigorous set of standards for companies to adhere to. Only firms that meet the 60-plus points of evaluation criteria are granted certification status. Once certified, these firms must maintain HTA standards or risk losing certification.

 

Gilmore’s Sound Advice is an HTA member, and Ed Gilmore believes it provides an indispensable service. “I think the value of HTA is that it’s a vetted process. It’s a certification program that vets integrators and lets the general public know that we hold ourselves to very high standards. And no other organization does that.”

HTA Logo

REVIEWS

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague
Superman: The Movie
Amazon Prime "Homecoming"
Papillon (2017)

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Specs vs. User Experience
So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3
Small Room--Big Sound

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 2

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 2

We concluded our last post facing two major challenges: Squeezing a completely enclosed space into the middle of what had previously been an open-floorplan tradeshow booth, and then outfitting it with the kind of reference-quality movie system you usually only find in luxury home theater rooms.

 

It would seem like creating the room should have been easy. Just throw up four walls and drop a ceiling on them, right? Well, yeah—if you have enough space to work with. But the booth needed to be able to handle a constant flow of business traffic, and filtering all those people through a movie theater almost continuously in use for demos wasn’t an option. So we had to strike a balance between having a theater that groups could rotate in and out of while also having enough room on the outside for meetings and product spotlights—all within the confines of a 20 x 40-foot space barely large enough to hold a typical dedicated theater room.

 

We also didn’t want to give up the canted divider walls in the middle of the booth since they’d be used to hold big TVs showing videos that would lure people into the booth. And we didn’t want to completely give up offering a glimpse of the den-like theater room, since we wanted to make a statement that luxury cinema isn’t just about home theaters anymore.

The early, open floorplan, followed by the revised design incorporating
a self-contained room for a reference-quality home theater.

The solution was to cheat—a lot. Dennis, Marcelo, Melinda, and I kept moving the walls around, our fingers crossed the whole time, until we found positions for them that might allow the demo room to hold about a dozen people while about 40 other people milled around in the rest of the booth. The fire marshal nixed our plans to cover the whole booth, but we did get approval for a roof over just the demo area.

 

We eventually arrived at a 22.5′ wide by 14′ deep space—but remember that the back two corners were lopped off, thanks to the angled walls, so it was actually smaller than that. And, yes, under saner circumstances, the room would have been 14′ wide by 22.5′ deep—but that’s a whole other story.

 

So we ended up with a seriously space-challenged demo room with angled walls and the wrong orientation, the whole thing built out of narrow metal supports, thin fabric, a bunch of foam core, and not much else. And here’s where Dennis returns to continue the tale.

Michael Gaughn

Needless to say, getting a roof on the theater room was a boon for a few reasons. One, it meant we could control the light coming into the room. Two, it meant we could do an Atmos surround sound system, which was top on the client’s priority list. But it’s a pretty big step from figuring out, OK, yeah, we can do Atmos in this room, to actually deciding which components are going to come together and create such a system.

 

If you’ll indulge me some basic home theater ABCs here, I need to walk through the components of an 

In our sixth revision of the booth design, you can see how the shape of the demo room was defined by the needs of the booth exterior. The overhead view gives you a sense of what little space we had to work with, how the angled back walls ate into that precious space, and why in-room speakers were ruled out.

Atmos sound system, not because I assume you’re not familiar with them but to illustrate my thought process.

 

To do Atmos (or DTS:X) surround, you need to start with the components of a typical home theater system: Three speakers at the front of the room to deliver dialogue, music, and sound effects to the sides of the image, two or four speakers at the sides and/or rear of the room to deliver the offscreen ear-level sounds, and at least one subwoofer to deliver really deep bass.

 

To get from there to Atmos, you need to add two or four (or in some extreme cases six) channels of sound overhead.

 

Notice that I said “channels” there, not speakers. Because you can actually create those overhead sound effects by bouncing sound off the ceiling from little modules that sit atop your ear-level speakers. And that was certainly one possibility I explored for this room, since I wasn’t sure our ceiling would be strong enough to hold speakers.

Using sound reflections to create ceiling channels

This illustration shows a
driver on top of a soundbar
firing upward to create
sound reflections in order
to simulate Dolby Atmos
ceiling channels.

 

graphic courtesy of Dolby Labs

But at the same time, I also didn’t know how high the ceiling would be (it changed a few times) or if we would have room for physical speakers sitting out in the room. How many seats would we have in here? That question wasn’t going to be sufficiently answered until the last minute. So I decided that we needed to go with in-wall speakers all the way around, except for the subwoofers.

 

Mind you, there are some speaker manufacturers that make in-wall speaker modules designed to reflect off the ceiling to create those overhead effects. But while I was juggling all of the information above, I also had to consider the speakers in the back of the room. I needed a very specific type of speaker that would generate wide, immersive sound that would reach out into the room, no matter where people were seated. And I wanted all of our speakers to match in terms of the quality and character of sound. I quickly figured out GoldenEar Technology offered the ideal solutions.

 

We’ll dig into GoldenEar’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers in the next post, explaining the exact problems their speakers solved, the guidance they gave us in terms of placement, and how I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the rotation of a single tweeter.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad

We recently faced the challenge of trying to convert a clearly compromised—some would have said impossible—space into a reference-quality home cinema demo room. We’re going to tell our story over a series of posts, not because anyone should care about the innerworkings of a tradeshow but because we think anybody with a seemingly unusable room can learn from our experiences and will hopefully be inspired by them.

 

This series is an exercise in problem solving, meant to show that the technology and expertise now exist to take just about any room and turn it into a luxury entertainment space. In other words, don’t give up on the place you know you’ll be most comfortable just because it seems like a lost cause.

Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger

 

M.G. sets the stage:

 

Kaleidescape tasked the extraordinary designer Marcelo Murachovsky, the equally extraordinary project manager Melinda DeNicola (of Detail in Design), and me with creating a booth for a recent convention. The booth was meant to show that luxury entertainment rooms aren’t just about dedicated home theaters anymore but can be just as satisfying in den/family-room/living-room/communal/mixed-use/multi-use/whatever spaces too.

 

We devoted about half of our design to an intimate, inviting area that would have been clearly visible to anyone walking by. No, you couldn’t blast Baby Driver in there without having it heard across at least half of the convention center, but our super-luxe media room would have definitely intrigued the showgoers.

So You Think Your Room's Bad

An early sketch of the booth, before Marcelo came on board.

But then, two weeks before the booth had to go into production, we were told to work a completely enclosed reference-quality demo room into the middle of the, until then, wide-open space. After a blizzard of phone calls, Hangouts, emails, sketches, renderings, and texts, Melinda, Marcelo, and I decided there was no way it could be done. But, given that the alternative was to have no booth at all, we decided to take a shot at it anyway.

 

Dennis had been involved from early on, initially a sounding board. But, citing his civil engineering background, he soon volunteered to create 3D renderings, which would prove invaluable in figuring out how to incorporate the demo space.

 

The four of us quickly came up with a layout that retained key elements of the original design—like an entranceway meant to evoke a hyper-modern theater proscenium, and canted walls that allowed big flat-screen TVs featuring promotional videos to be easily seen by passersby—while carving out an area in the midst of the booth just big enough for a theater room—maybe. If we got really lucky.

 

It would be hard to pinpoint the exact moment Dennis shifted from doing drawings to figuring out what gear we could use for the system without embarrassing the manufacturers. But I was eager for him to take over the system design, since I knew he wouldn’t feel constrained by any traditional notions of home theater or media room spaces.

The original sketch revised, with dividers placed between the demo area & the rest of the booth.
This is the design we were asked to add an enclosed room to.

D.B. picks up the ball from here:

 

If you’re unfortunate enough to work in an office environment littered with cubicles, imagine taking one of those infernal things, sizing it up to the dimension of a decent living room, slapping some foam-core board on top of it for a ceiling, and then lopping a couple of corners off for good measure. Now imagine that your job is to turn that area into an unimpeachably high-performance movie-watching space.

 

That is, essentially, the puzzle we had to solve with our design for the Kaleidescape booth. My efforts were at first focused on the 3D engineering and CAD drafting of the space based on Marcelo’s 2D drawings and Mike’s vision, with Melinda’s design input. But as we approached our deadline, I was also tasked with engineering the AV system for this quickly built temporary structure in such a way that it would deliver an immersive, full-fidelity audiovisual experience. One good enough to make attendees forget that they were actually sitting inside a jumbo-sized Erector Set covered in essentially the same material that we all used to make our middle-school science projects from.

 

Even though we were tight on space, part of our mandate was to incorporate an Atmos sound system complete with ceiling speakers, so picking the right speakers was critical. And we needed to find electronics with digital room correction to deal with such unenviable room geometry and atypical surfaces. I also knew early on that acoustical treatments were a must, but I expected a bit of pushback here because our goal was to create a room that looked like a relatable living space, not a recording studio.

 

If we’d had months to figure out how to make all of this work, I probably would have panicked at the impossibility of it all. But as is the case with so many home entertainment installations—in which construction and design schedules create an unavoidable ticking clock—we didn’t have time to panic. So we spent many a sleepless night collaborating, arguing, doing complex math, arguing about the math, revising our designs, and realizing that every problem we solved created another problem, right up to the minute in which our designs were locked and we couldn’t make any more changes because the booth was literally being constructed.

 

In followup posts, Mike and I will be digging into the specifics of the decisions we made along the way, and how we ended up turning this weird overgrown cubicle into a beautiful and effective luxury home cinema environment. Because if we accomplished anything, it was to demonstrate that practically no room is completely untameable.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

The Media Room Challenge

After reading Adrienne Maxwell’s recent piece “What is a Media Room?” I feel compelled to add my opinion.

 

I used to think that media rooms unacceptably degraded the viewing experience compared to watching something in a home theater. Why? Because seeing a movie or listening to a concertor anything other than the newsrequires you to focus your attention on the presentation. How can you do that when you’re distracted by things like windows, streaming daylight, hyperactive children, unruly guests, or family members who talk on the phone while the movie or whatever is on?

 

For me, a dedicated theater solves most of these problems. I didn’t think a media room didor could.

 

Well, we live in a constantly evolving world where it isn’t always possible, or desirable, to have the ideal solution a dedicated theater represents. During the last few years, the demand for more casual spaces for home entertainment has multiplied. I realize now that unless the challenge of media rooms can be addressed with an open mind, reality will render the emphasis on dedicated home theaters elitist, if not anachronistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many
TVs in this room
that you can’t focus
on the main one.

So, what is a media room?

 

The current definition is left over from the days when people had a special room, other than the living room, for watching a movie or listening to music. I agree with Adrienne that “media room” may be nothing more than an old industry description defining a space that has evolved into something much broader that includes living rooms, family rooms, and dens.

 

So, is there a new word that better describes this evolved and broader concept? Nothing comes to mind and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter. We can call this space whatever we like as long as it includes a big TV (the larger the better, so the experience is immersive) and a quality sound system so music and dialogue can be heard with clarity and precision.

media room solutions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The TV is an
afterthought in this
otherwise attractive
unit that draws
attention only to
itself.

The designer’s role is to minimize visual distractions in a room (such as too many decorative flourishes and too many objects around the screen fighting for attention) and focus attention on the main viewing area. The AV integrator’s role is to incorporate the audio system and acoustic treatments into the design of the room without the technology being too distracting.

 

As I come up with media room solutions for Rayva, I will continue to hone my definition, and will chronicle the evolution of my ideas as I shift my attention from dedicated rooms to the more flexible spaces that are increasingly in demand. Whatever we call them, these spaces enjoy a new popularity due to the explosion in content and staggering advancements in technology. To meand to again echo Adriennethey represent the continuing democratization of home entertainment.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

My Trip to Greece: Marina Vernicos

Marina Vernicos

I came back from Greece last week, where we printed the latest brochure for Ravya and I supervised the shipping of Antonia Papatzanaki’s light sculptures to the U.S. The trip was eventful for another reason as well: I met Marina Vernicos, an accomplished artist whose creative photography is about to become a great addition to Rayva’s growing library of designs.

 

Marina’s accomplishments as an artist spread across many continents. She was born in Athens, Greece and studied Communications and Photography at Emerson College in Boston and Business Administration at the Harvard Extension School.

Since 2001, her work has been featured in a number of solo and group exhibitions, including the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, the Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Hangaram Art Museum in Korea, and galleries in London, Monaco, and NY. She has been awarded the Sandro Botticelli Prize at the Palazzo Guicciardini Bongianni in Florence and the La Grande Exposition Universelle at the Eiffel Tower, and has published four books of her work. She is the Founder and President of CREAID, a non-profit organization that commissions creative projects that are then auctioned to support humanitarian causes. She has also created a line of clothes and accessories under her name.

 

I spent the morning of a beautiful sunlit day at Marina’s spectacular residence at the foot of the Lykavitos Hill in Athens, familiarizing myself with her work. I knew right away that her stylized seascapes could be the basis a new design theme for Rayva.

Many of her images are captured using a camera mounted on a drone. Others are closeups of sea shells“daughters of the sea,” as she calls them. Her work evokes a reality where the mind isn’t bogged down by the minutiae of everyday life and can soar free to liberating heights.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

A Visit to the Leon Loft

I had heard a lot about Leon Speakers and the artistic culture that permeates the company. Noah Kaplan, its CEO, is the driving force behind Leon in more than one way. He runs a well-oiled machine that is producing top-performance speakers with an emphasis on customization. But he also understands that technology without design is half as powerful. An artist himself, Noah knows instinctively that design makes technology more “relatable” to the end-user.

 

That understanding defines Leon Speakers. It also defines Rayva’s mission, which is why my trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan was so invigorating.

 

Noah has surrounded himself with a team of artistic-minded engineers. The energy that comes out of the Leon Loft (as they call their facility) is palpable. When I took a tour of their offices and factory, two things drew my attention: One, every wall is filled with eclectic artwork, an extension of Noah’s artistic personality.

And, two, everybody I was introduced to seems to have an artistic backgroundthey all paint or sculpt or play music. This has an obvious impact of the work they do for Leonthey don’t see themselves as laborers who work 9 to 5 producing impersonal widgets. They are artists who take ownership of what they do, and they are proud of their factory’s culture.

The main purpose of my trip to Ann Arbor was to find out more about Leon’s speakers and how they could be incorporated into a media-room wall unit I am in the process of designing for Rayva. But my extensive tour of their factory gave me additional ideas about working with Leon besides just using their speakers for the media-room unit.

The design principle behind Rayva is to commission artwork from painters, photographers, and sculptors that I then help incorporate into dedicated theaters as limited-edition designs. During the Leon tour, I saw an exciting sculptural piece Leon produces that is meant to hide an array of speakers. I recognized it right away as something that can be developed into an additional design for Rayva. Leon’s Senior Industrial Designer Rob Waissi and I are working together to make this happen. We also plan to develop a media-room unit inspired by the various pieces of industrial artwork that hang on the walls of the Leon Loft.

I spent the evening of my visit to Ann Arbor having dinner with Noah Kaplan and his Senior Account Manager Camila Ballario. Camila lives and breathes the Leon Speakers culture and seems to be an extension of Noah’s energetic personality. During dinner, Noah started drawing something on his plate using his finger as brush and wine from his glass as paint. The drawing, an impression of me, was done with the same focus and commitment that define Noah’s personality. I was impressed and surprised at the same timeexactly how I felt throughout my brief visit to the Leon Loft.

 

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Not My First Media-Room Rodeo, Pt. 2

In my last post, I described a string of failures I became involved in while trying to come up with a collection of media room furniture that incorporated technology into design. Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, what continues to compel me to keep trying to tackle the media room space? Lots of things.

 

The selfish reason: As a designer of custom home theaters, I don’t enjoy as much anymore trying to please one client at a time. Isn’t it better if I can make a living from designing things that can please multiple clients at the same time? I see designing media rooms as akin to directing a movie. You do get paid an initial fee to direct, but the real compensation comes from sharing the financial success of the movie at the box office.

 

The un-selfish reason: Media room design has remained the ultimate challenge for me through the years. Why? Because it’s hard to conquer the challenges of a space you don’t have ultimate control over. In a dedicated room, I can do whatever I, or the client, wants. I don’t have to deal with the inherent handicaps of making the best of existing rooms—walls of windows, more than one door, furniture that has more to do with décor than with watching a movie—not to mention barking dogs, ringing phones, or hyperactive children. I’m a control freak, and a dedicated room is a space where I can be, well . . . in control!

 

But times have changed. As entertainment lifestyles have relaxed and the bragging rights of having a dedicated theater have lost most of their early cachet, my real motivation for wanting to deal with media room design is that I have changed. After years of enjoying movies in my theater, I now find that I want to see some movies more casually in my living room or bedroom. I don’t want to be locked in the theater to watch a few episodes of my favorite series. I would rather watch it on the sofa, stopping to check the news on my phone or taking a break to check what there is to munch on in the fridge.

 

That’s what most people do when they don’t have a theater in their home, so how can I use my experience to help elevate their experience? In the collection of media room furniture I’m designing for Rayva, I’m focusing on the two most essential things: the seating area and the area that contains the screen.

 

The seats must be comfortable and have space around them to rest a drink or a plate of snacks. And the screen must be the focal point of the room—just like an object on a stage set that is “hit” by a single beam of light. This can’t be done by just hanging a TV on the wall—it needs to rest on some kind of backdrop that acts like the proscenium in a traditional theater, where it focuses our attention on the performing space.

 

I won’t share visuals of this concept until it’s more fleshed out, but the images below will show you what I’m not going to do:

media rooms designs

            The tiny TV is overwhelmed by the décor around it.                 If you like vegetation so much, go enjoy it in

                                                                                                    the garden.

media room designs

               The TV looks like an incidental accessory instead               Again, what should have been the star of the
                            of the focal point of the bookcase.                         media wall is reduced to being a supporting player.

To be continued . . .

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

This is Not My First Media-Room Rodeo

I have almost lost count of how many times over the years I’ve tried to break free from designing only full-blown home theaters. The challenge of trying to figure out what to do when there is no extra room in a house for a dedicated theater room has haunted me since the early 1990s. The question has always been the same: How do you hide the technology so it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the movie (or concert or sports event)?

 

Since people think of me as the designer of lavish home theaters and a staunch supporter of watching movies in a dedicated room, my name doesn’t immediately bring “media rooms” to mind. Even I forget that.

 

But this morning, I was reminded of how untrue that is as I searched through my computer trying to piece together my various—and mostly failed—attempts to come up with a media room concept that other designers haven’t already tackled successfully. I guess the common theme through all my previous attempts has been my effort to hide the technology. That may not have amounted to much, but it does show how determined I’ve been to come up with a more casual way to enjoy home entertainment when there isn’t the space—or lavish budget—for a theater.

 

Looking through the TK Theaters archives, I was reminded of not one, not two, but at least nine attempts to create a relevant media room design. I’ve arranged those efforts chronologically below. Each entry in this catalog of failures is followed by a brief explanation of why I think the effort didn’t work.

 

1992: Hammacher Schlemmer

The company that specializes in curio items asked me to design an armoire that would fit a huge Sony tube TV. No space was needed to hide speakers because, in those days, the sound came from the TV itself. What killed the idea was that I didn’t know how to produce the piece for less than $5,000 cost when the list price couldn’t be more than $2,500!

 

1995: Henredon

I designed a line of traditional-style media room armoires, meant to include electronics, for this manufacturer of luxury furniture. The collection was never produced because of a change in management and maybe because, as I soon learned, furniture retailers have a natural aversion to anything that incorporates technology.

 

1999: Connoisseur FX

Supported by Owens Corning, and with electronics by JBL, this collection of predesigned home theaters included furniture meant for sports bars. Lots of money, energy, and good ideas were waisted on that enterprise. Besides bad management, September 11th and the blow that tragedy dealt to the economy helped bring Connoisseur FX to an end.

 

2007: Prestige

I was asked to design a full-blown media room collection. The furniture was developed in China and included some very innovative accessories that incorporated technology. Prestige made a valiant effort to persuade retailers the time had come for furniture with electronics but it wasn’t able to raise enough money to get the venture off the ground.

media room designs

2010: Disney Signature Collection

Here I was again designing media room furniture that included technology, this time for Disney. Once again, lots of time, effort, money, and marketing support was lavished to produce and introduce the collection to furniture retailers. And, once more, it didn’t work. Thanks to an inexperienced distributor, a still skeptical retail industry, and diminishing support from Disney, the plug was pulled from the collection two years later.

 

2012: TK Living

A group of industry friends and I created a sort-lived company that sold home theater accessories and templates directly to the AV industry. What didn’t work this time? In hindsight, the idea seems half-baked—selling home theater design accessories and leaving out the electronics is a recipe with half the ingredients missing.

 

2013: ESPN

After the cancellation of the Disney Collection, Disney-owned ESPN asked me to work with them to develop a sports-themed collection of media room furniture. The idea excited me, but before I got a chance to design the collection, ESPN had a change in management and terminated the effort.

 

This long trip down memory lane brings me to Rayva. After such a string of misses, what has changed that I again feel compelled to come up with a media room solution that incorporates technology? Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, a lot has changed over the past few years—which I will talk about in my next post.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Theo’s Corner: How to Keep a Client Happy

keeping clients happy

The other day, a writer from Luxury asked me: “What’s the most challenging thing for you in designing a dedicated theater?” It only took me a second to come up with the answer: “Windows,” I said.

 

I wasn’t joking. Half of the time I spend creating a new design goes toward figuring out what to do with the windows most rooms have. I would rather not cover them with curtains as I did for a client in Beverly hills a few years ago. (See the photo above.) Curtains in front of windows is a design copout. The only curtain in the room should be the one in front of the screen. When I must deal with windows, I usually try to hide them behind some type of treatment, usually operable panels that conceal acoustic treatments. (See the photo below.)

keeping clients happy

With Rayva, things have gotten easier for me. The large acoustic panels in these designs can be placed in front of blacked-out windows without fussy customization. (See below.) The trick is trying to persuade a client to agree to cover their windows permanently.

keeping clients happy

I had such a conversation earlier this week with a Rayva client on the west coast. He would have liked to have kept the windows accessible. But when he realized how cumbersome it would be to make floor-to-ceiling panels operable, he gave me the reason why we should leave the windows concealed. “How many times will I watch a movie,” he said, “while I’m staring out the window?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Nobody likes to be told they’re stuck with an unsolvable problem. In a situation where a decision needs to be made, all it takes is laying out the options and letting the client decide. A happy client is a client who’s given options. And a good designer is one who makes sure the client is happy.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.