Design

Theo’s Corner: If We Build It, They Will Come

In a typical home theater—at least the way most people understand the term—a TV is surrounded by speakers placed in strategic locations around it. In such a setup, people usually don’t care all that much how the speaker boxes look or how thin the bezel of the TV is—they care about the performance.

 

High-end home theaters—especially those in dedicated rooms—are a different animal. Performance and design play—or should play—an equally important role. Of course, the balance isn’t always even. Depending on the person, sometimes design is the primary concern and sometimes it’s the performance.

 

The irony is that it’s not too hard to have your cake and eat it too. It just requires a tighter collaboration between a designer and an AV integrator. But the mutual distrust between the two trades has resulted in an unfortunate erosion of the popularity of dedicated home theaters. This isn’t just a loss for the trades but also for people who may never know what they miss when they watch TV in the family room instead of—when they have money and the space to get the best—inside a dedicated space.

 

My friend Vin Bruno of AllTecPro told me a couple of years ago something that still rings true: It’s a matter of education—people must witness firsthand what a true home theater is. Once they sit on a reclining seat with their peripheral vision occupied by the images on the large screen and their ears surrounded by good sound, they will know right away how exciting the experience can be. To borrow the line from Field of Dreams and apply it to what all of us home theater professionals do: “If we build it, they will come.”

 

While George Walter, the president of Rayva, and his team of technical advisors—Steve Haas, John Bishop, Joel Silver, and Peter Aylet—work on technical performance standards and specifications for Rayva theaters, I’ve been focusing on curating designs from sculptors, painters, photographers, and mixed-media artists from around the world for the next generation of Rayva design themes. The experience has been richly rewarding. The perspectives on the world and art of the talented artists I’m working with has expanded my understanding of art. It has also brought a breath of fresh air to home theater design, which, for the most part, is still dominated by the repetition of design clichés.

While we are working to finalize at least six new designs for Rayva, I would like to share with you two design themes by Marina Vernicos, based on her award-winning photographs. Marina introduces us to her exciting world of marine life and leisurely summer activities around drone-photographed swimming pools. You can “smell” vacation in these images, and you can relax by just looking at them. Marina’s photos become the bridge between the concerns of life outside the theater and the excitement that is about to spill out of the screen once the lights go down.

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.

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.

One Size Fits All . . . Almost

home theater design solutions

Strange as it may sound, the most exciting challenge in theater design isn’t the design of the room per seit’s fitting whatever the design concept is into a particularly hard-to-tame space. Low ceilings can make the theater look oppressively compressed, very narrow spaces can make it look like a New York City railroad flat, and columns in the wrong places can block the view of the screen. Properly addressed, seeming handicaps like these can actually become opportunities to enhance the design.

 

A standardized design, like the ones I’ve created for Rayva, can be as difficult as a custom design to adapt to a difficult room—unless you embrace the challenge. That’s exactly what happened twice this month when I had to customize the design of two theaters to fit them into challenging spaces.

 

Both projects use the “Origami” design theme (shown above) and have Wisdom Audio speaker systems. But each provides a different design challenge: Theater 1 (a project near Phoenix, Arizona) has an unusually high ceiling while Theater 2 (in Westchester County, New York) has windows all around.

 

Since the design templates for these rooms are inherently flexible, I was able to come up with solutions that both respect the existing room conditions and maintain the look and feel of the design. For Theater 1, adding additional Origami “triangles” to the grid of acoustical panels comfortably filled the room’s 12-foot-high walls.

home theater design solutions

The windows in Theater 2 will eventually be covered by blackout shades, but their outlines could be distracting, even when covered. The generous width of the room, though, allowed me to add wall segments that define the seating area while blocking the windows, creating a room-within-a-room effect. (See the artist’s rendering above.) This actually enhanced the design by creating a better sense of three-dimensionality in the theater.

 

I’ve found that being able to rely on a set of standardized, pre-engineered designs that can be customized when needed allows me to be creative in ways I never could when I had to design each new theater from scratch.

—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, Pt. 2: Antonis Kastrinakis

Nikos Vernicos is one of my favorite clients. He and I go back many years. In 1996, Nikos saw an article about me in Architectural Digest and invited me to design a home theater for his house in Athens. I accepted gladly, and we became friends. That theater—the Sifnos—was the first of many projects I did in Greece. In 1997, it won CEDIA’s Best Home Theater award.

Antonis Kastrinakis

theater photos by Phillip Ennis

Nikos is an avid collector of modern art. A year ago, I visited him at his house in the suburb of Glyfada to see if anything in his collection could be adapted for Rayva. There were many exceptional art pieces everywhere the house. But what drew my attention was a piece of sculpture by Antonis Kastrinakis. It was a stylized boat—a simple cutout in primary colors that I saw right away as something that could be developed into a design for a Rayva theater.

Antonis Kastrinakis

A few words about the artist: Antonis was born in Athens in 1958. In 1976, he started participating in painting workshops and in 1978 he entered the Vakalo School of the Arts, from which he graduated in 1981. Since 1988, he has had sixteen solo exhibitions and has participated in many group shows in Greece and abroad.

 

I finally met Antonis during my recent trip to Greece. His studio is in the Keramikos neighborhood of Athens, and his work fills to the brim the entire space. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I had a hard time figuring out what to choose and what to leave out.

Antonis Kastrinakis

I now need to select one or more of Antonis’ pieces and develop 3D renderings of a theater featuring the artwork. The renderings will help me adjust their scale to the size of a typical Rayva interior.

 

Following this introduction, I will describe the process of developing specific Rayva design themes featuring the work of this exciting artist.

—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, Pt. 1: 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 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.

Getting Up To Speed On Games

As research for what I need to know to create gaming room designs for commercial use (such as inside a sports bar), I brought together a group of people who consider themselves serious gamers.

 

The first thing I found out is that nobody would go out to play video games by themselves. My new friend Brendan wrote to me the day after we got together:

 

There are two main forks in the target audience of gamers: casual vs. serious gamers and individual
vs. group gamers. Casual gamers might want to play a “wii bowling” type of game while more serious
gamers might play competitively/watch others play competitively. Groups will want to play on one
screen together, but individuals might want a high-performance computer to play on without
distraction. Individual gamers tend to prefer playing on a PC, while groups generally prefer a console
(Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Wii/Switch).

 

The idea of designing a gaming pod for a single player stopped exciting me after that comment. You can see why, knowing that my main goal is to design something for a sports bar.

 

Brendan continued my “education.” He wrote:

 

I think the ideal situation would be to have both a way for groups to play and an individual seating
area to attract the widest swath of people possible. But the best thing I think is to create a space
where people can come out and watch “professional gamers” together, similar to how people watch
sports now. There are groups that watch these games together now, but they don’t have a dedicated
home in NY at least.

Brendan told me to check Twitch, the most popular online streaming platform for watching esports (professional gaming). Twitch is a billion-dollar subsidiary of Amazon with hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers at any given point.

 

If you scroll down on the site, you’ll see featured games like League of Legends and Dota 2. Brendan said these are the most popular games to watch if, as a starting point, I want to understand what’s going on. That means more research on my end.

 

In my next post, I’ll discuss the other ideas we talked about that evening.

—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.

Let The Games Begin

video game spaces

Everybody plays video gamesexcept me. I never got into the habit because I didn’t even have a TV growing up, much less a game console. It may be too late to start practicing nowbut nothing can stop me from figuring out how to make video game spaces exciting. So I’m on a mission to create a video-game “pod” for Rayva that, one, gives the player privacy and isolation and, two, has a visual design that’s as exciting as what’s going on in the game.

 

This will be the first in a series of short entries where I’ll describe my quest to create the perfect gaming space.

 

I started my research by asking seasoned gamers about the dos and don’ts of gameplay. My friend Dennis Burger—our resident gaming expert at the Roundtable—gave me some of his requirements:

 

• “No front projector. When I play a game like Rock Band or ARMS, I want to be able to stand
in front of the screen without blocking the image on it.”

 

• “I need to be immersed in the picture. Distractions can make the difference between
winning and losing.”

 

• “I love bass. A great, high-performance surround sound system adds a lot to the gaming
experience, but deep, hard-hitting bass really draws you into the game like nothing else.”

 

• “I need as many USB ports as possible to charge my game controller, peripherals, headphones,
etc., and I don’t want all of the charging cables out in the open.”

 

Because I’m exploring ideas for making a gaming pod visually exciting, last night I watched the 3-D Blu-ray of Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph. The moviean affectionate homage to video games of yesteryearis so much fun that I got carried away with the plot and forgot that I was supposed to be doing research. Ah well . . . I will have to see it again!

 

The next stop in my quest for the perfect gaming environment isn’t what it should bemastering my gaming skillsbut to get together with a group of avid gamers and find out what’s important to them. I’ll report my findings soon.

—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.