Scot Zimmerman
Media room shows how homeowners can get the home-theater experience without the high price.

Everyone loves the movie-theater experience. The only thing that would make it better is to be able to have that experience in your own home.

In-home theaters are increasingly popular — especially now that virtually everyone covets technology's next bigger, better and flatter TV screen.

More than half of our clients talk of a home theater in the remodeling design process, but very few ever include a "true" home theater.

This idea can go as far as re-creating an actual cinema with a projector enclosed in a projection booth, theater chairs on a sloped floor, a piano or theater organ, curtains in front of the projection screen, movie posters, a popcorn machine or snack counter. A room like this could take a couple hundred square feet of floor space and cost upward of $100,000.

More commonly, realistic homeowners pursue the theater experience to a lesser degree and create a media room as opposed to a full-blown "theater."

Rapid advances in digital audio and video technologies have spurred a drop in prices. This, in turn, has brought the true digital home-theater experience to the doorsteps of the do-it-yourself people, often for less than what you would expect to pay for a low-budget economy car.

Current consumer level audio-visual equipment can meet — and often exceed — in performance what you would expect to experience at a modern commercial theater.

If you are planning a remodel or an addition that includes a home-media space, it is best to start with a room or area with no windows. Naturally, a basement will be the easiest place to find such a space. If this is not a viable option, however, other areas of the house can be modified to accommodate a media room. A true home theater, on the other hand, generally requires an addition due to the need of higher ceilings and a sloping floor.

Much of the home-cinema experience is about sound. Technologically, it involves a higher quality set of audio components than the average TV. Ideally you want the cinema feeling without blasting the rest of the house to kingdom come.

This means that when you build a separate theater room, it should include sophisticated acoustic design elements, in addition to the audio components. This means employing architectural design that will provide the proper room size and shape, construction methods that will isolate sound transmission, and interior design to select appropriate finish materials so all elements will combine to create a nearly ideal listening environment.

Even if you are just adding a media area, issues with sound attenuation will still need to be addressed.

Without going to the extreme of building a specialized room to house a home theater, consumers can now include home-theater seating of some sort in their more standard viewing room or area. A plush leather recliner is a comfort standard that still appeals to viewers. If you want more than this, you won't have to look far in any home furnishing establishment to find seating strictly designed for viewing movies in a home setting.

This type of theater seating includes cup holders built into armrests and often a shared armrest between two or more seats. Additional features, such as storage compartments, snack trays, tactile transducers or even electric motors to recline the chair are available, depending on the model.

Home cinemas have come a long way toward general inclusion in many remodeling projects. Now that we are approaching the digital revolution in television history, the home theater experience is more realistic, more affordable and more available than ever before. The only concern is putting the neighborhood theaters out of business!


Architects Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon are founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local architectural firm specializing in residential remodeling design.