Design

Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb isn’t just a casual film fan but a true connoisseur who both loves movies and savors the whole movie-watching experience. So it’s not too surprising that he’s the principal engineer of user experience for the premium movie-download service Kaleidescape, nor that he has a reference-quality theater in his Silicon Valley-area home.

 

What really sets him apart from most film lovers, though, is how deeply he became involved in the process of researching, planning, and executing his theater—a process he recently recounted for Cineluxe’ John Sciacca.

ed.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb

Most people have a story about how they got involved in home theater. For me, I saw Speed on LaserDisc at a friend’s house, and that was it. What is your story?

My dad took me to visit a friend of his who had a home theater. He had a CRT projector with a ridiculously ahead-of-its-time control system called Frox with an onscreen display to control all of the components. The system looked and sounded great for the day, but ironically the thing that really stuck with me was that he had his equipment in a bookshelf on the back wall with a closet you could walk in to access the back of the gear. When I built my theater, I put the equipment in a separate room for sound reasons but I made sure to incorporate access to the back of the racks.

 

How has your theater system evolved over the years?

My first system was just a big rear-projection TV with a LaserDisc player and VCR. After that, I moved to a front projector. Then I bought my own house and planned on 

converting an existing room into a theater, but the dimensions were really wrong, making it hard to arrange seating. We basically had to restructure the house to accommodate my current theater.

 

Your space isn’t really a traditional man cave or reference movie theater, but more of a hybrid. How did that design come about?

It was really an interesting process. I hired general contractor Bob Byrne with the intention of converting that existing room, but as I was explaining the project to him, he realized that if we took out a wet bar and relocated a bathroom and a 

mechanical room, we could gain a lot of space. It went from a 13 x 19 room to 19 x 24, which was a crucial change. It required taking out a load-bearing wall, pouring a couple of footings, and putting in a steel I-beam. A lot of work, but incredibly worth it.

 

I also brought in theater designer Keith Yates, who gave me two proposals for having two rows of seats [shown at right]. One had a riser, and the other required cutting the concrete slab and excavating down a foot to lower the front row, which I never would have thought of, but was the way to go for a host of reasons.

 

I wanted a big bookcase in the room, both because I needed someplace for my books and also to make it feel more like a study than a scaled-down commercial theater. Bob designed the aesthetics of the bookcase and Keith’s team did the engineering to incorporate the center speaker and two subwoofers, air returns for the HVAC system, and acoustic treatments behind all the books. We also have acoustically transparent motorized shades that mask the outer shelves when the screen is down, to eliminate visual distractions.

A Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

I requested the curved stage, having seen a similar design in a magazine. I picked tanoak flooring for it, which is a really pretty wood with a little red tone in it that fits in well with the sapele mahogany used for the bookshelves and the other woodwork, and with the rosewood on the floorstanding speakers. Originally, the boards were going to just run front to back, but Bob proposed tapering them to follow the curve, and that totally took it to a new level. If you follow the convergence point the tapers make, the really cool thing is that the focus of those boards is the front-row center seat, which is my seat.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

A clamping system was used to hold the curved boards for the stage in place
while the glue dried so there would be no visible nail holes

Tell us about your current theater system.

Unsurprisingly, the primary content source is the Kaleidescape—a combination of the Premiere components for disc-based media and our Strato family for downloaded media and 4K content joined through a software and hardware solution called Co-Star that makes it all act like a single system. I have about a thousand movies in my collection. I also have a TiVo and a streaming player to be able to watch other stuff.

 

It wasn’t possible to have a booth or hush box for the projector, so I needed a model that was quiet. I’ve had a series of Sony projectors, culminating with a Sony 995ES. With its laser light engine and ARC-F lens, it produces fantastic bright and vivid images while still being reasonably quiet.

 

Video processing is handled by a Lumagen Radiance Pro, which works with the motorized screen-masking system from Screen Research and also provides the HDR tone mapping. The screen is 96 inches wide, or 110 inches diagonal in a 16:9 aspect ratio, but masks down to 104 inches diagonal for 2.4 aspect-ratio films. I went with a motorized screen because I

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Trinnov MC processor was used during construction to create two
separate calibrations for the theater—one for group viewing and one
optimized for solo listening from the center seat

wanted this room to be multipurpose, with the screen out of the way of the big bookshelf up front when I’m not watching movies.

 

The front speakers are Aerial Acoustics, and the subwoofers are a mix of three Seaton SubMersive HP subs and four Velodyne SC-IWDVR in-wall models, three of which are in the ceiling. I’m currently upgrading my audio processing from the Trinnov MCwhich handles the system’s room EQ and speaker correction, to the Trinnov Altitude 16.

A Control4 system operates everything, including automated screen masking and lighting scenes, triggered by the Kaleidescape system. I have to laugh because the thing that really floors new visitors to my theater is that the lights come up by themselves when the end credits start.

 

How about acoustic treatments?

The acoustics were designed by Keith Yates and his company. All the walls and the ceiling are covered with fabric that conceals the acoustic treatments and the surround speakers.

 

I spent lots of time auditioning fabrics because the material had to be aesthetically appealing, meet certain acoustical characteristics, and not reflect light coming off the projection screen. I bought extra fabric and have it squirreled away in case it’s ever damaged or we have to take fabric down for a repair or upgrade.

 

Keith’s team also designed ultra-quiet HVAC for the room, and sound isolation. The theater achieves an NC-14 noise rating with the HVAC and the projector running, which is comparable to many recording studios. Even the lighting transformers are remote-mounted to eliminate hum. Bob also took great care to ensure that there would be no rattles or vibrations. All the construction is glued and screwed rather than nailed, and even the speaker wiring is glued to the walls. We also did an extensive vibration/rattle test before installing the fabric.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

An interactive 3D tour of the theater

People don’t generally consider seating essential theater equipment, but I know you spent a lot of time researching your chairs.

I had previously sat in various dedicated theater seating that I found uncomfortable so I wanted seating comfortable enough for the length of the movie. I happened across these chairs made by a Norwegian company called Ekornes that lift your head slightly as you recline, which seemed perfect for movie theater seating, and there were many models to choose from. I went to the local dealer, told them I was building a theater room, and asked if I could come by from time to time and sit in a chair and read a book for a couple of hours, and that’s what I did until I found the right ones. You can sit in these chairs for hours and hours.

 

Do you have any upgrades planned?

My system is 7.1 right now, but I will be able to use my new Altitude 16 processor to add ceiling speakers to do a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos system. Once we do that upgrade, the room correction processing will move from the MC to the Altitude, and the MC will be retired.

 

With a room like mine, some upgrades are easier than others. Changing the projector is comparatively easy, and we were smart enough to run conduit for any cabling changes. But the speakers behind the fabric are not easy to change. Adding new Atmos speakers will likely mean redoing the entire ceiling. Fortunately, I do have extra fabric. Also, the ceiling is acoustically treated, so I’ll work with Keith to identify where those speakers will go and if anything else will need to be changed acoustically; and of course Keith will update the calibration.

 

Do you plan to upgrade to 8K as well?

On my screen, a 4K pixel is less than 1/32nd of an inch. Obviously, those pixels would be bigger on a larger screen, but I would also want to be sitting farther away from a larger screen. So, do I need my pixels to be smaller than 1/32nd of an inch when viewed from 12 feet away? I don’t think so. It’s already hard enough to get a 4K image in sharp focus—just imagine what an 8K lens will cost!

 

The exception might be something like IMAX. But, in my opinion, IMAX-size screens are only appropriate for content that is shot for an IMAX-style presentation. When you take content shot for cinematic presentation and blow it up to IMAX size, it’s 

too big for my comfort. It doesn’t become more immersive for me, it just becomes too big. If I were watching IMAX nature features at home on a screen double the size of mine, but from the same seating distance, then sure, 8K would be dandy.

 

Has spending time sheltering at home caused you to rethink the space? Are you finding you are using it more for non-movie viewing like TV, concerts, or gaming?

I have definitely been using the space more! I usually watch a movie a week with friends, but since that is not 

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

feasible at the moment, it’s freed me up to watch a movie any time I feel like it, without the pressure to save the good ones for when people come over. So I’m really enjoying that!

 

There have also been some very enjoyable series streaming recently—Watchmen, Westworld, The Mandalorian—though you see the shortcomings of streaming video pretty readily on a big screen, which can be distracting. But The Mandalorian was 2.35:1 aspect, which made it feel more cinematic.

 

I love music and concerts, and I have a bunch of concerts on the Kaleidescape system I watch when I’m in the mood. There are a few I go back to again and again because they look and sound so darned good! Cream: Live at the Royal Albert Hall is one of the best mixed concerts I’ve ever heard.

 

Any closing thoughts?

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hiring great people. Bob was the perfect contractor for this complex and detail-oriented project, and he brought in numerous craftsmen whose skills all contributed to its success, especially Steve Kent, the cabinetmaker and finish carpenter. Keith and his team did a fantastic job with the acoustical and technical requirements of the theater and making it all work within the existing framework of the house. Every time I go into my theater, I’m grateful to everyone who built it.

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

photos by Randall Michelson

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis and acoustician Steve Haas have collaborated on a number of cost-no-object home theaters, but probably none of those efforts has been as ambitious, versatile, or well-realized as the Paradiso. Seventeen years in the making, this Southern California gem is actually an entire home-entertainment complex built around an Italianate piazza. The reference-quality 15-seat home theater doubles as a fully-fledged concert hall. The nightclub features a hydraulic stage and can handle anything from a rock band to a jazz group. Next door to the club resides an arcade, containing the homeowner’s extensive collection of pinball machines and video games. There’s even a g-force flight simulator.

 

At a time when people are developing a new appreciation for what home entertainment has to offer, the Paradiso provides the ultimate example of what can be done when you venture outside the home theater box. I recently talked to Steve and Theo about the project’s genesis, execution, and legacy.

—Michael Gaughn

THEO KALOMIRAKIS: The client had been dreaming about doing a theater with me and asked me to do the basement of his house, which is next to where the Paradiso is now. It had a seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling, so it was only a modest room. I did it because I liked the guy very much. He was passionate about doing something, but there was not much I could do with the space. So he sensed I was kind of compromising.

 

One day, he called me and said, “Theo, I have good news and bad news for you.” I said, “What is the bad news?” He said, “I have to pull the plug on the theater downstairs because I cannot see myself working with you in such a compromised space.” 

“So, what’s the good news?” “I bought two lots next to my house, and I want to set you free to design whatever the hell you want. Let your mind soar. I trust you.” It was the best thing I was ever offered to do.

 

Since the house is located in an Italianate enclave, he said, “We need to do something that would be very much in keeping with 

the neighborhood.” Which is fine, but I realized the size I had in mind for the theater exceeded the one-story height that would be allowed there. That started our endless process of digging down to create a subterranean environment.

 

Originally, there were going to be two more floors below the piazza level, and he kept pushing. “Let’s dig some more. Let’s put the bowling alley there. Let’s have a restaurant for 30 people.” I said to him, “If we dig anymore, we’re going to reach China before we do the theater. So let’s put a stop on it.”

 

And then 2008 came. When the bubble burst, he called me and said, “There is no budget to excavate, so we have to scrap the basement. Can we limit the scope to make it into just the piazza level?” And of course, we redesigned the whole thing.

Inside the Ultimate Luxury Home Entertainment Space

click on the image to enlarge

The idea of adding multiple environments is an extension of what I have described in my book, Great Escapes, as my need to break away from the constraints of a very limited room where you only watch TV. I was dreaming of spaces where before you go into the theater, you have to go under marquees and through lobbies and other areas. And now, here I had the room to do it.

 

We ended up creating a city environment based on his desire to bring in Italian architectural influences. He sent me to Italy and I spent 10 days in Siena. I took about 2,000 photographs in nearby villages for reference. I came back and showed him some incredible charcuterie stores that sold cheeses, and pizzerias, and this and that, and he said, “Let’s do it.” The only things that were dictated by him were the arcade, because he had a very nice collection of pinball machines and video games, and the nightclub because he wanted to have gigs for jazz.

 

He basically gave me permission to go crazy. He didn’t ask me to do this village or do this or do that. I presented the ideas that he gradually grasped and accepted. It’s usually a collaborative effort. The client lets his imagination go to think about the things that mean something to him, and I put them into context.

 

Steve, you were obviously heavily involved in the theater space, but I would imagine you worked on the nightclub as well.

STEVE HAAS: We were involved in all the spaces, really, because acoustics and audio mattered in the pizzeria, the arcade, and even the lobby. For all of these, we provided general noise control, sound containment, and acoustic treatment, as well as audio system design and calibration. But the premier spaces were the cinema, the nightclub, and the pizzeria. This wonderful client was just so open in sharing his goals and desires. In addition to his love for arcade games, he also loved live music. His daughters were both learning to play string instruments, so he wanted the ability to have everything from a more formal concert environment to a loose hangout-type of club where you can have rock bands or jazz groups come and play. He can have a chamber trio performing in the theater and a rock band in the club with no sound bleed between them.

 

Somebody coming into the theater cold would think it’s just for watching movies, but it’s actually a fully-fledged performance space as well.

TK: I want to remind you, Mike, that the theaters that have inspired me over the years were never just for watching movies. The movie palaces were mixed-use spaces where you could have an orchestra and also acrobats or a comedy act or whatever, which is exactly what the Paradiso can do. So it’s not like we suddenly came up with the novel idea of using a

theater this way. This project brought us back, completed the circle to what the movie theaters were supposed to be.

 

Does the desire to be able to do live performances in a home theater come up very often with clients?

TK: Yes, but usually at a much more elementary level.

 

SH: It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. And, yes, that’s a biased perspective, but I think a lot of people just don’t realize what can be done. 

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

And even if you don’t go to the nth degree like we did with the Paradiso, there are many ways to upgrade a theater space, and it starts with the layout. You have to have the space to be able to have one to four people be able to play and perform, and have a system that can support it—not just audio, but lighting, because that’s different from what you need for a home theater system.

 

TK: Because live performances require specific lighting, we brought in a very well-known lighting designer with a background in theater. This is probably the only project I’ve done in the US that incorporated so many different disciplines. It’s not just the clients who don’t realize all the possibilities. Even the designers cannot wrap their heads around how many wonderful things you can do in a space like that.

 

Steve, the theater had to have a traditional surround sound system for watching movies, but you also have your Concertino system in there for live performances. Are they two discrete systems or is there some overlap?

SH: I think we did share a couple of components. Maybe some of the subwoofers were relay switched back and forth, but inherently quite independent.

 

There was a lot of control programming. If you could see all the bells and whistles switching behind the scenes, it would be amazing. Almost a dozen processes switched in a sequenced manner to go just from theater mode to live concert and back, 

but the user interface was as simple as pressing a button for the initial selection and then there were custom presets within each mode.

 

What did the Concertino system bring to this project in particular, given what the client wanted to do?

SH: The Concertino, which is in the nightclub and pizzeria as well, expanded the ability to have various kinds of live music in an acoustically dry room. As Theo knows, we don’t design “dead” home theaters. However, even a mildly dry diffused home theater appropriate for cinema presentation doesn’t provide the right acoustic for many types of live music.

 

This acoustic-enhancement technology allows the performance space to become a true-sounding

concert hall, cathedral, or any other space you can imagine. So if they want to have a choir, string orchestra, or even a jazz group with a bit livelier sound, you can do that and then blend it with more traditional amplified sound as needed.

 

I’ve heard that people have been in that space and didn’t even know there was processing going on because it sounded so authentic, or is that an exaggeration?

SH: That’s exactly right. This is a world of difference from the Concert Hall and Cathedral modes you get in your car stereo or home receivers. This is recreating in the digital virtual electronic world exactly what a real hall of a different size, different shape, a different acoustic will do to enhance sound—the early reflections, reverberations in the proper timing and frequency manner. The technology can be described for days, but in the end it’s all about what happens when somebody presses a button and sits down and that string quartet, that cellist comes out, and just like, “Wow.” It’s just a great experience for performers and audience alike.

 

Theo, you weren’t here when Mike and I discussed how things are changing with music performances over livestream during the pandemic, but having spaces like this, whether it’s to this degree or even one or two degrees lower—I think a lot of affluent homowners are going to say, “You know what, I don’t want to be in a theater with 1,000 or 2,000 other people for quite some time. So why not create great-sounding spaces that will allow me to bring that type of experience home, literally, for not just movies, but for live music and other types of live entertainment?”

 

TK: I am hearing from people, “I don’t want to go to the movie theaters and catch a disease. I want to make my house be more like a theater.” This is an incredible new opportunity. And it’s up to us to capture it and relay the message that you can have this kind of theater space in your home.

 

SH: Am I hearing Theo saying he’s getting back into custom theaters again?

 

TK: I do want to do custom theaters but very, very selectively. If there is something of the caliber of the Paradiso, I will do it.

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.

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

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.

6 Questions to Ask About a Private Cinema

This theater’s sleek decor conceals finely tuned engineered acoustics and a high-performance, high-channel-count immersive audio system. An admirable place to shelter during the crisis and to celebrate when it’s over!

Why private cinema?

Film, television, and music are three of the most important art forms and media of modern society. While music has existed for ages, film and TV are more recent phenomena. All, however, share a timeless attribute that fulfills a necessary aspect of our lives: Entertainment. 

 

In times past, we would go to the theater for our drama or to a hall for our music. Now we carry them with us, but at what cost? Arguably at the cost of the experience and quality. Private cinema can reverse this trend. In the case of film, even noted directors have publicly stated that a private cinema, properly executed, is superior to any commercial theater. The beauty is

that a private cinema can deliver all three of these important entertainments at the highest level in a setting designed to be shared with our dearest friends and family!

 

What attributes should you look for?

A quiet room that delivers your choice of entertainment without distraction or interruption. An acoustically balanced room that is skillfully designed to also be ergonomically correct for your desired audience size. That design should be elegantly integrated to provide beauty but without compromising the performance. Your cinema should be properly equipped with a system engineered to deliver a defined level of performance, and that system should be calibrated, tuned, and programmed to provide reliability and ease of use. Finally, the room and system must be skillfully constructed, finished, installed, and managed so the engineered performance and designed elegance will be successfully delivered, assuring that you can enjoy your entertainment reliably for years.

 

How can you be assured your private cinema includes these attributes?

Just as there are several attributes to consider, all of which are vital, this assurance will mandate a closer look. Resist the trend to favor convenience and compromise over perseverance and performance. There are many home theater solutions that promise a one-stop, turnkey solution but leave many vital elements unaddressed. Unfortunately, when the truth comes out, it is too late to correct these oversights. Construction and design considerations, no different than with any residential project, must be addressed. Acoustics and aesthetics need to be integrated to bring out the best of both worlds. Ergonomics and engineering combined to assure comfort and an unequalled experience. Technical expertise is needed to provide the cutting-edge systems that drive the action. There are many moving parts that alone, would fall short. 

 

Who can bring it all together?

Someone will need to take responsibility for all the essential attributes, advise you on the impact of every decision, and help you make the right choices. Once these choices are 

made, these directions need to be documented and verified through a reliable design and engineering process. Subsequently, the team necessary to bring it all to fruition must be coordinated and supervised in order to assure quality control and verify performance.

 

In the past, a vendor for one or more sub-categories found within a private cinema has attempted to provide this project management and oversight with mixed results. The better approach is to engage a professional who, like a project

architect, has the overall objective in sight. Like a symphony orchestra, a conductor is needed to keep all the parts in harmony. The grand finale, the responsibility of the maestro!

 

When should I get the process started?

The correct answer is simple, however, rarely given. The response will differ depending on who is asked. The provider of seats may quote the lead time for manufacture of the furniture. A manufacturer of electronics may look at inventory to provide the answer. A finish subcontractor, their current pipeline and backlog of work. These considerations and others are coming from a limited perspective and wrought with potential pitfalls.

 

The correct answer is, “immediately”!  A private cinema is possibly the most complex and interdependent design specialty in any architectural project. The potential for missteps is tremendous. A designer may like the idea of a refrigerated snack bar that could be located in a lobby but 

TRENDING IN PRIVATE CINEMA

Current events have spurred some unique feedback and inquiries from both current and prospective private cinema owners. Here are a few examples:

 

Video conferencing
Current owners are commenting about how great it is to reach out from an ideal environment to others, while prospective owners are seeing the potential benefit. Any private cinema can serve as an unparalleled environment to conference in, and pre-planning can raise the quality of this experience.

 

Healthy break
It can be hard to find respite in stressful times but private cinema owners have the advantage of a space designed to be insulated from the outside world. A refuge in which to read, listen, and relax. It’s good for our health.

 

Entertainment is good for us, too!
There are many things we cannot do currently, but enjoying entertainment together is one of the most beneficial activities of all!

 

The new normal movie theater experience?
The film and theater industries were in flux even before the crisis. What will the future hold? We are already seeing developments for bringing the movies home. For those with private cinemas, the “new normal” may be better than the old!

S.C.

instead compromises the noise level of the cinema. Poured-in-place seating platforms “cast in stone” create poor listening positions. An unfortunate entry-door location skews the immersive system configuration, negating a smooth and believable immersive experience. A shared mechanical system shares not only ventilation with the adjacent powder room but the sounds. These defects and more can simply be eliminated with early planning. Some, however, cannot be corrected after the fact. The price for early consultation is no more, but the cost of oversights can be irreparable.

 

Where?

Your home. Do not allow yourself to be compromised. It is your home, your life, your time with those you love. There are many choices we make when we design our homes. From kitchen appliances to living-room furnishings to swimming pools and spas. Likewise, we make many acquisitions that bring us joy. From fine automobiles, jewelry, and watches, even fine art. All worthy rewards for a life well lived! But consider this. A private cinema is one amenity that serves to enhance and even facilitate the most elusive and irreplaceable asset: Good times in the company of those we love.   

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

What we do seems frivolous at times like this, but is it?

 

A time like this elicits many thoughts and emotions. Naturally, concern ranks high on that list. However, self-reflection may also arise. What can we do to help? Are we doing enough? How about our work. Is it relevant? Is it frivolous?

 

As a private-cinema design and engineering firm, this last consideration resonates. In the gamut of career paths, from first responders, doctors, nurses, and public-safety providers to those of us providing entertainment solutions, we might think of

ourselves as being on the unimportant end of the spectrum. Certainly, in times of immediate crisis, screening a film or the availability of background music are not urgent needs.

 

Not everyone can be on the front lines. Just like theater designers and integrators, most who own or are considering private cinemas or other similar entertainment amenities are more of the entrepreneur type. Entrepreneurs’ contributions to society include providing careers, stimulating the economy, and providing products and services that enrich the lives of others. Where would we be without these things? All of us look forward to when we can get back to business and on with our lives.

 

And what about that? What our lives will look like is an important consideration. Undeniably, they will be different. How so is yet to be determined. That determination is in many ways up to us. Individually, we can choose to shrink away, following recent trends even further into an isolated lifestyle, connecting electronically but leaving more tangible contact in the past. Too risky. 

 

And what about those pursuits that feed our happiness—fine dining, art, and entertainment, among others? These will change for certain. But it will serve no good purpose to compromise on life well lived. It is vital that we continue to pursue and celebrate the best that life has to offer. Our meals should be exquisite; we must find beauty and appreciate it. We are created to celebrate and enjoy. 

 

But not alone. A 75-year Harvard study tells us that it is the quality of our relationships that counts. Good relationships keep us healthier, happier, and living longer. So, it isn’t just about finding things to enjoy, it is about enjoying them with those we love. We know this but we don’t always act on it. We are more likely to grab a bite on the run than prepare a meal to enjoy together. Plug in our earbuds instead of going to a concert and stream the latest movie on our device rather than go out to the movies.

 

Next to dining together, group entertainment activities are the most important times for building togetherness. Unfortunately, these facts do not bode well for us given 

today’s trends. It seems the mad rush to do more has resulted in our doing less of the more important things. We do not take the time to savor a meal together. Instead we rush to a convenient eatery to sit at the same table miles apart from others as we check email, social media, and text before rushing off to the next pressing activity. Would it make a difference if the dining experience were more compelling—a meaningful occasion, capable of breaking the spell of our urgent lives, enabling us for a time to pause, connect, and enjoy the time and each other? 

 

Applying this logic to our entertainment activities, we can see that private cinema has much to offer. First of all, movies are intended to draw us away from the whirlwind of life and into a story. Using our emotions, thoughts, and senses, film is the one artform capable of engaging us so completely. The result is a connection.

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

This CEDIA Gold Award-winning private cinema was designed and engineered
by Paradise Theater and installed by DSI Luxury Technology

Even in a public theater, strangers laugh, curse, and cry together. How much moreso if the audience is family and friends gathered together. The private cinema experience itself becomes an event and a destination. Important if we are to realize the benefits of gathering. It is too easy to multi-task our way through casual gatherings, thus failing to connect. Choosing to come together for the purpose of enjoying an anticipated movie or program and sharing that experience is singularly bonding. What’s more, private cinemas, when well done, are particularly attractive spaces. It’s easy to lose track of time when ensconced within these environs. A private cinema is an altogether appealing diversion!

 

None too soon, there will come a time for us all to put this social distancing behind. In the meantime, we can all do our part to stay safe and make those first responders’ and public servants’ jobs easier. Those of us in business can be diligent to maintain our enterprises and supply the jobs, products, and services we have under our purview.

 

We in the entertainment-related industries can take heart that what we do will be essential to our society as we recover. Who knows, we might have some impact in doing it better this time around as we offer ways to make our homes into places that draw us together rather than staying apart. Where our love of life, beauty, family, and friends can be more contagious than any virus. After all, it is transmitted with laughter and a smile. Both pretty common occurrences in a private theater.

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

Michael Gaughn

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.

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

REVIEWS

Casino Royale (2006)
A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story
Bloodshot
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Onward

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms
Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies
Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?
The Cineluxe Hour

Art Walls: The Next Big Thing?

Art Walls: The Next Big Thing?

Refik Anadol’s data sculpture Melting Memories

This all started as a side conversation with Cory Reistad, the head of SAV Digital Environments in Bozeman, Montana. We were discussing emerging trends in luxury home entertainment, and Cory mentioned that his company is getting an increasing number of requests for video-wall installations so people can display unique, commissioned works of video art

in their homes.

 

Intrigued, I reached out to a number of people I trust to know a lot more about something like this than I do. Some of them were well aware of, and up to speed on, the whole “art wall” thing and excited about the possibilities. Some of them had no idea what I was talking about. That suggested that this is a bona fide trend that hasn’t yet achieved broad awareness even among the luxury-tech cognoscenti.

 

What follows can’t really be called an introduction to art walls—it’s more like some random notes pointing in their general direction. But I wanted to send out an early missive as I do my due diligence and we, as a site, begin to wrap our arms around the phenomenon.

 

It would probably be a good idea to show you what I’m talking about. A bunch of website loops and Vimeo clips obviously can’t begin to convey the impact of these installations, but they can at least give you a taste of what they’re all about.

First up, a projector-driven installation Barco did at the the Carrières de Lumières, a quarry-based exhibition space in Provence, France. (Early evidence suggests Barco has been largely responsible for defining, promoting, and facilitating the art-wall category—but we’ll circle back to all that in later posts.)

Art Walls: The Next Big Thing?

Next, two works by Refik Anadol. I was steered to these by Barco Residential managing director Tim Sinnaeve, who has been tremendously generous and patient about addressing my ignorant queries and bringing me up to speed. The first is Melting Memories, a 20 x 16.7-foot LED video wall of “data sculptures” based on brain-wave activity associated with memory:

The second is “Wind of Boston,” a series of video paintings that feed off from a one-year set of meteorological data gleaned from Logan Airport:

Art walls seem to be catching on for a number of reasons. Projectors are brighter, projection screens are better at rejecting ambient light, and technology like MicroLED is taking hold that will allow you to create practically any size screen out of flat-panel video displays. Also, people are finally starting to think of video screens less as eyesores and more as design opportunities. Third—although this might just be wishful thinking on my part—the proliferation of content via streaming might be creating genre burnout, causing people to reject cookie-cutter mass-market diversions for more meaningful work. Or maybe they’re just taking video works more seriously as art.

 

Tim Sinnaeve discourages using the phrase “art wall,” by the way, in favor of “Architectural Digital Canvas,” while referring to the content itself as “New Media Art.” I can see the need for the more accurate nomenclature—there’s no reason, for instance, why you can’t have video images on the ceiling or the floor as well as the wall—but “art wall” seems like the more intuitive term, at least as we begin to explore the trend.

 

Tim pointed out something that was kind of an epiphany for me, since it suggests that these installations are part of a larger paradigm shift in luxury tech. Art walls deliberately try to avoid the connotations of the 16:9 aspect ratio, which we associate with computer monitors, movies, TV shows, and gaming, so the viewer will more readily embrace the art work on its own terms. The idea of freeing screens from the tyranny of the proscenium could clear the way for other innovative tech-driven art/entertainment experiences in the home, again, helping to break the stranglehold of mass-produced genre-driven melodrama. It could also finally provide a way for architects and designers, who tend to look askance at the man cave and its descendants, to embrace cutting-edge video tech in the home.

 

Like I said—just a bunch of random notes as we begin to look into a development well worth checking out.

Michael Gaughn

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.

Cineluxe Talks To Paradise Theater’s Sam Cavitt

A sampling of Sam Cavitt’s theaters, showing the wide variety of his work

Lisa Montgomery recently talked to Paradise Theater‘s Sam Cavitt about his advocacy for no-compromise high-performance home theaters in an age of “good enough” entertainment spaces. As you can read in Sam’s “A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine,” he feels that the move toward non-dedicated spaces is keeping people from appreciating the extraordinary playback quality contemporary gear can achieve. Sam further develops that theme in his conversation with Lisa, while also discussing the true definition of “luxury.”

—Ed.

How has the perception of home theater changed over the years?

Today, when I tell someone my company designs home theaters, it’s likely they think I’m talking about as little as a single soundbar-style speaker and a big-screen TV in the family room. Home theater has become such a generic term and the products so seriously commoditized that it’s lost much of its significance. People no longer look at home theater as what it can be—what it can bring to their lives—but instead focus on how conveniently and affordably it can be added to a home. Building a special space for the enjoyment of movie viewing is often deemed to be unnecessary.

 

It sounds like home theater has become a more mainstream amenity instead of a luxury item. Is this a bad thing?

If you mean the difference between a commodity and luxury item, the answer is yes. Today the word “luxury” is misinterpreted. The true definition of luxury is something that is so clearly superior to alternatives due to quality of materials,

Sam Cavitt Interview

Sam Cavitt

workmanship, and design that it is inherently of a greater value; whereas a commodity is something that is only differentiated by low price.  Which would you prefer?

 

While mass-market home theaters may have exposed more people to the concept of home theater, it devalues the art, craftsmanship, and difference inherent in a genuine, state-of-the-art private cinema that’s been designed expressly for movie viewing. The general public isn’t being shown the differences between the experiences you get from a home theater “kit” versus the bespoke private cinemas we provide.

 

I notice that you’ve been referring to home theaters as private home cinemas. Is this intentional?

Yes. The level of engineering and design that goes into the theaters we create for our clientele is so many levels above and the results so substantially different from what you can get from “off the shelf” alternatives that we must be differentiated from what is commonly called home theater. The elements of a theater we think are vitally important simply can’t be achieved through easy-does-it 

types of approaches. We want to set ourselves apart as “cinema sommeliers,” an organization that helps our clientele understand and appreciate the differences we offer. One way to do this is to stop referring to our completed projects as home theaters and instead refer to them as “private cinemas.”

 

As a cinema sommelier, what level of service can clients expect to receive?

Like a wine sommelier imparts their knowledge to help each client select the perfect wine pairing, as cinema sommeliers, we help our clients understand the value of improved sound quality, video quality, acoustics, and aesthetics of a space, the differences between a great private cinema and an out-of-the-box home theater. We can identify the specific elements—from a room’s geometry and sonic signature to the expectations of those who will be enjoying it—to enable us to transform the space into something that’s truly amazing.

 

In our industry, most home theater specialists fail to identify and promote the value of what they do for their clientele. We feel home theaters have become a pleasure unexploited. I’ve made it my personal mission to spread the word to the public that it’s possible to have something great, that it is worthy of their consideration to acquire a private cinema that will enhance their enjoyment and that they can share with those they love—similar to what people now do with fine art, personal wine cellars, gourmet kitchens, and so on.

 

How does Paradise Theater handle the actual design and installation of the elements that make up a private home cinema?

We provide comprehensive private cinema design and engineering, including design of what we call the chassis or how a room is built, acoustical engineering, system specification, interior design services, and full documentation to support the build-out of the space as well as quality control and performance verification throughout the construction process. What we

don’t do is sell equipment. We leave that to the many well-qualified integration companies we partner with on projects. This allows us to focus on our core competency—ensuring that each phase of the project is completed to perfection. We are like an architect who leads the construction of a home, but providing complete quality assurance for private home theaters. From the first glimmer of an idea to the final experience, we handle the entire process from A to Z.

 

Your projects represent the upper echelon of home theater design. What can potential customers expect from Paradise Theater that they can’t get elsewhere?
Every theater we create is bespoke—there are no

cookie-cutter theaters. Each one is purposely designed to the specific objectives and desires of the client. The reason Paradise Theater exists is its commitment to excellence. Other firms might talk about “how” they do theaters and “what” they do to create theaters, but we focus on the “why.” Why do we create home theaters? Because creating something excellent is the basis of everything we do. It’s in our DNA—our raison d’être.

 

Given the high-end nature of your theaters, your target customers are those with the disposable incomes to afford them. What is it that inspires this group of consumers to invest in a private cinema designed by Paradise Theater?

The love of finer things. Paradise Theater clients are the same people who buy fine art and luxury automobiles. They are investing in things they love. We position a home theater the same way as any other luxury item—people should have one because they love movies, but even more so for the love of having an environment that lets them connect with friends and family and create unforgettable moments. We want our theaters to bring people together, share special experiences, and connect.

 

Have any of your clients found that your theaters have, in fact, enhanced their lives in some significant way?

Two top executives who were previous clients had such busy lives that they told us that they had never watched a movie together. After we created a private home cinema for them, movie night became a regular part of their personal and social lives—it was game-changing for them.

With more than 20 years under her belt covering all things electronic for the home, Lisa
Montgomery 
has developed a knack for knowing what types of products and systems
make sense for homeowners looking to update their abodes. When she’s not exploring
innovative ways to introduce technology into homes, Lisa breaks away from the electronics
world on a bike, kayak, or a towel on the beach.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

The integrator (Station Earth), interior designer (Red Theory), and theater designer (Paradise Theater)
teamed up to deliver the best of all worlds with this unique private cinema

Years ago, when the term “home theater” originated, it was used to describe something exciting and new. For the first time, the window to the world of fantasy, formerly only available through the venerable “silver screen,” became available in the home. Larger-than-life images, the first immersive audio, and the rooms themselves—from Art Deco to classic to modern, reminiscent of famous theater palaces—started appearing in the homes of those who had the passion and the means to pursue the emerging amenity. A new community emerged, and for the first time we became home theater enthusiasts.

 

In the beginning, those who took up the challenge to bring this experience into the home were inspired by the challenge and the opportunity. The objective of the film producer, to achieve the willing suspense of disbelief, became the challenge for home theater designers. This suspension of disbelief is what great films produce, enabling the viewer to become fully

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

There are no limits to style when aesthetics are artfully integrated with engineering

engaged in the cinematic experience. To quote Roger Ebert: “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes.“ It takes a great theater environment to realize this experience.

 

On one hand, this earlier era might be considered the “heyday” of home theater, when owning one was considered a worthy

aspiration, and the professionals who designed them were part of an elite group committed to delivering spaces that included emerging technology, aesthetic elements, and performance. Home theater was emerging as a considerable pursuit with a growing community of enthusiasts and professionals. 

 

Ironically, this heyday, while enjoying the enthusiasm of a new idea, fell far short of today’s capacity to deliver excellence. In fact, we were learning, and made many mistakes along the way. However, those who have stayed the course now have the ability to deliver cinematic experiences in the home far superior to any past home theaters—and, in fact, far superior to all but a very few elite commercial or professional screening rooms. The images, the sound, the acoustics, and the knowledge enable us to deliver a level of quality we could only dream of in the past. Unfortunately, along the way home theater has taken on so many forms that those who might have an interest in the experience face a confusing set of options.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A bespoke interior design conceals a state-of-the-art immersive audio system
and theater chassis in this luxury-resort amenity cinema

Manufacturers today offer many alternative solutions that can transform family rooms, dens, even spare bedrooms into what are now called home theaters. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that a larger population of homeowners has an awareness and opportunity to enjoy home theater in some form. The problem is the inference that this defines home theater, that the difference between these solutions and a fully engineered high-performance home theater has become obscured. The rhetoric in some circles is that there is very little difference or that most people can’t tell the difference.

 

But these systems are a far cry from what is readily obtainable today and, most importantly, the purpose of home theater as it originated—a space created to support the artists’ intent, a willing suspension of disbelief; and the potential of the art today—a window to experience a world of art and fantasy like never before. 

It’s like wine. Some people are fine with a mediocre wine, while others have learned to appreciate the qualities of a finer, more expensive wine. People will always find a less expensive and less perfect way to do something, and, until they are shown the difference, will not realize there’s a big difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is especially true when it comes to home theater.

 

Rather than merely focus on the technology behind the movie magic, my company applies a holistic approach, where every aspect of the environment—construction, engineering, aesthetics, and ergonomics—is crafted for the purpose of producing the finest private cinema experience every time. Consider us a bit of a unicorn in the home theater industry by focusing on what we have done and still do best: Designing luxurious, high-caliber, private spaces dedicated to superb movie viewing for our clients around the globe. 

ABOUT
PARADISE THEATER

 

My company, Paradise Theater, which has offices in both Hawaii and California, engineers and designs extraordinary high-performance private cinemas worldwide. Working with integrators, architects and interior designers, Paradise Theater provides the value-added services of optimized room acoustics, private theater performance engineering, design development and integration of theater interiors, and performance verification. The pursuit of excellence in private cinemas is the raison d’être for both me and my company.

—S.C.

Although a lot has changed in the home theater world—the types of technologies available, the variety of professionals who install them, and a looser definition of the term—my team and I have stayed true to the original goals of home theater design by customizing each and every room specifically to provide the best experience possible.

 

We have indeed carved a niche for ourselves in the home theater market by giving consumers a high-end option with high-end results. Yes, technology plays an integral role in the rooms we create, but amazing movie viewing is best achieved when in a space that’s been built, engineered, and designed for that one pastime. Light from windows, noise from a busy street, the hum of a video projector—nothing interferes with the movie-viewing action in an expertly crafted private home cinema.

 

Our mission is to create excellent home cinemas. It’s my passion, and the reason I continue to do what I do.

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Luxury Can Be Invisible

Luxury Can Be Invisible

For many people, luxury and beauty are inseparable. Whether we’re talking about an Aston Martin sports car, a TAG Heuer watch, or even a Sub-Zero refrigerator, part of what makes it a luxury item is the beautiful design. It’s something people like to look at and show off.

 

In the world of high-end home cinema, luxury can certainly be beautiful. You may choose to assemble a system that gorgeously melds form and function—maybe a set of Focal or Sonus Faber speakers, a rack full of McIntosh’s cool retro-

looking electronics, and ornate lighting fixtures and shades that demand to be seen.

 

For some people, though, the ultimate luxury is a home media system that’s completely invisible and doesn’t detract from the home’s decor. A system that guests would never know existed—until the press of a button brings it to life to deliver a high-performance experience. If that sounds appealing, the good news is that today’s custom market offers plenty of ways to achieve invisible luxury.

 

Of course, audio is the easiest to hide. Gear racks can be tucked away in closets, wires can be run through walls, and there’s an endless array of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers from which to choose. The quality of in-wall speakers has improved greatly over the past 10 years; they’re no longer relegated to providing background music. Speakers from companies like Triad, Wisdom Audio, and Pro Audio

Luxury Can Be Invisible

Sonance’s Invisible Series in-wall speakers (also shown in the illustration at the top of the page)

Technology really can deliver audio- or theaterphile performance from within the walls.

 

And hey, if the average in-wall speaker is still too visible for your tastes, consider a truly invisible model, where you can’t even see a bezel or speaker grille. This is a growing category and now includes offerings from the likes of Sonance, Monitor Audio, Stealth Acoustics, and Nakymatone.

 

“Invisible” video products require a bit more creativity—or at least a bit more expense during the installation process. If you’re going the front-projection route, it’s common to install a projector in an automated cabinet that can lower from the ceiling,

and motorized drop-down screens are readily available.

 

If you’re thinking you can’t use front projection outside of a dedicated theater room, think again. These days, you can find projector/screen combos that work very well in a brighter room, and screen manufacturers like Screen Innovations even have creative drop-down screen solutions that hide in your window frame.

 

Where you really have to get creative is if you want a TV instead of a projector. Sure, smaller TVs can be hidden in cabinets, even automated ones where the TV rises up from within the cabinet itself. But it’s a lot more difficult to hide a 65- or 75-inch (or bigger!) screen. You may have to settle for a creative disguise, and technological advancements are helping this along. Back at CES, LG showed off a rollable 65-inch OLED TV that disappears down into a modern-looking cabinet. It’s supposed to come out this year, and we’ll see if LG offers announces larger screen sizes down the road.

 

MicroLED, which consists of smaller individual panels that can be combined in all shapes and sizes to form a TV, is also promising. It’s not invisible per se, but there are ways to creatively blend the panels into your wall design and perhaps use them as artwork when they aren’t functioning together as a TV.

 

In the meantime, another way to disguise your TV is to go with something like Samsung’s The Frame, which looks more like an art frame than a TV and displays art of your choosing when it’s in standby mode. Lots of TVs can show 

art as a screen saver, but The Frame does it more thoughtfully, keeping the power use low while automatically adjusting the screen’s appearance to suit your room’s lighting conditions.

 

The final piece of the puzzle is the home automation system that makes the invisible visible, transforming your everyday living space into your luxury home theater. Some dimmable lights. Blackout window shades (which, by the way, don’t have to be black—they can be quite lovely). And a controller to handle it all. A stack of remotes is hardly invisible, but all the major home-automation companies, from Control4 to Crestron to Savant, can put advanced control into an iPad or tablet that looks like every other tablet lying around your house right now. You can also integrate that control into subtle but stylish (and fully customizable) on-wall keypads. To your visitors, it’s just another switch on your wall, scarcely worth noticing.

 

As Lisa Montgomery said in her recent piece “Techorating—It’s a Thing,” the best way to achieve the perfect blend of technology and design is to get your interior designer and home technology team working together, on the same page, from the start. Creating a completely invisible home media system may take a bit more planning, a bit more expense, and a bit more patience, but the result will be a luxury that’s well worth the wait.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

Techorating–It’s a Thing

Techorating--It's a Thing

Samsung’s “The Frame” TV 

How long have you dealt with that stack of black boxes perched somewhere within the vicinity of your TV or those strands of spaghetti snaking across the floor to connect this widget to that widget? Maybe you’ve been living in this high-tech state of disarray so long that you’ve started to turn a blind eye toward these and other eyesores.

 

It’s time to stop and do something about it. Your house doesn’t have to look this way. Stereo equipment shouldn’t clash with the cool paint colors on the walls and wiring shouldn’t crinkle up the carpet. Really, there’s no reason that any type of

technology should overpower the cosmetics of any room of your house.

 

In fact, when infused appropriately into the design of your home, things like speakers, cable boxes, security cameras, and remote controls can actually make your house look better than it ever has . . . and make it perform a lot better to boot.

 

How?

 

The secret behind maintaining a clean, uncluttered appearance inside a home occupied by technology is teamwork. Don’t worry—this type of teamwork requires no uncomfortable hugs, handholding, or pep talks. In a home where the goal is to have design and technology work in harmony, you’ll need the teamwork of two very important home improvement professionals: An interior designer and a home technology specialist

 

These two people may seem like an unlikely duo, but when they come together amazing things can happen. Naturally, 

the interior designer’s objective is to turn your house into to an aesthetic masterpiece by applying new textures, colors, and furnishings and revamping architectural elements. Meanwhile, a tech specialist wants to improve the way your home performs through the installation of high-caliber music and video systems, smart lighting and climate controls, and convenient, effortless automation features.

When these two goals are tackled independently, you might sacrifice design for technology or vice versa. But when the tech and design professionals devise and execute a plan together, you get the best of both worlds. That stack of black boxes standing next to the TV disappears, residing instead inside a specially built equipment closet. The TV? With teamwork, the screen can sink into beautifully crafted cabinetry that matches the rest of the woodwork. And cabling? Even speakers can be rendered virtually invisible by recessing them into the ceiling

(or anywhere else for that matter) and coating them with a shade of paint to match the mounting surface.

 

Some of the super-cool setups that happen when an interior designer and tech specialist come together for the common good of your home:

 

Elegant light switches: Faceplates in every color of the rainbow, even gold- and silver-plated, can complement the decorating scheme of a room and consolidate multiple switches under a single housing.

Seura’s TV Mirror 

Artsy TV screens: When the TV is on, you see video; when it’s off, the screen transforms into a work of art or even a mirror.

 

Hidden assets: Motorized lifts can tuck a video projector and screen into the ceiling when they’re not being used. In an instant, a home theater is able to convert back into a traditional family room. 

 

Bottom line: If you’re in the market for either a cosmetic or tech upgrade for your home, be sure to get both contractors on board from the get-go. They’ll be able to come up with a game plan that suits your needs for great-sounding music, jaw-dropping video, elegant lighting, and other smart-home amenities . . . as well as a beautiful, comfortable interior.

 

Lisa Montgomery

With more than 20 years under her belt covering all things electronic for the home, Lisa
Montgomery 
has developed a knack for knowing what types of products and systems
make sense for homeowners looking to update their abodes. When she’s not exploring
innovative ways to introduce technology into homes, Lisa breaks away from the electronics
world on a bike, kayak, or a towel on the beach.