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.

Theo’s Corner: How to Keep a Client Happy

keeping clients happy

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


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

keeping clients happy

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

keeping clients happy

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


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

—Theo Kalomirakis

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

Theo’s Corner: Media Room or Home Theater?

media room designs

The answer to the question “Which is bettera media room or a dedicated home theater?” is simple: Both, if you have the space. A media room is fine for watching something casually on TV. Visual distractionswindows, doors, fireplaces, etc.become part of the experience. But for being immersed in a movie, there is no substitute for a dedicated home theater.


All of my Rayva designs so far have been for dedicated theaters. To showcase these design themes in the best possible way, the rooms must have four walls with no window “perforations.” But such a room is a luxury in most homes, particularly ones without basements.


So, what can we do to make having a media room as good as having a home theater? Not much, really, except understand the limitations of a media room and do what we can to minimize them. You can’t do much with windows except cover them with shades to block the light. You can’t do much with the walls except install acoustic treatments in the spaces between openings. And avoiding bright, light colors will minimize reflections from the screen.


There are two other areas where we can help compensate for the inherent limitations of a media room: The seating arrangement and the wall where the projection screen (or TV) is displayed. One approach is to treat the room as if it were a stage set where the spotlights hit just the sofa and the screen wall. You can do this with soft recessed lighting from the ceiling and with table lamps placed in key locations around the room. Diverting attention from other objects in the space helps viewers focus on where the action ison the screen wall.


My colleagues at Rayva have asked me to come up with a media-room concept. That’s a tremendous challenge for me. I wish I could have the same design control in a media room that I have in a dedicated theater room, but I can’t.


I’ve been pondering this problem a lot lately. I keep closing my eyes and trying to visualize the screen wall. The surface around the screen has to help keep your attention focused on the screen. And let’s not have a credenza under the screen, please. Credenzas are the predictable companion of a TV set, and they become a visual cliché no matter how useful they are for hiding the electronics. But what if you could place something there that is slicker, slimmer, less obtrusive? I’m working on it.


Rayva deserves itand those without the room for a dedicated theater deserve it too. I’ll solve the problem one of these days, and will write about it when I do. But for now, it’s just a concept in my mind.

—Theo Kalomirakis

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

Theo’s Corner: Working With Vincenzo, Pt. 2

Call it the Movie Palace influence. In my career as a theater designer, I have focused predominantly on traditional-style theaters. But, for some reason, I couldn’t come up with anything for the Rayva design library that would read “traditional.” Maybe it was a mental block, or maybe an inability to stylize traditional design elements and make them work inside the minimalist environment of a Rayva theater. At some point, I stopped trying and started talking to other designers who weren’t as close to the subject matter as I was.


The evening I met Vincenzo Avanzato for dinner to discuss traditional designs for Rayva, I knew we were on to something. As soon as Vin was engaged in the conversation, he started sketching ideas on the paper napkin at the restaurant, and I was hooked. You know the feelinga gut reaction that you’re on the right track.


That was a month ago. Hurricane Irma made it difficult to talk to Vin again until last week. He emailed to tell me he had some concepts to share with me, and we discussed them via Skype yesterday.


As I’d expected, they were bold and original. They were all based on pen and ink sketches of architectural details he had done in the ‘90s. Twenty years later, they were still fresh and exciting. The fact that the concept was different from the collage of images typical of the Rayva design themes didn’t bother me. I loved the boldness of the sketches, which fill a whole wall in the room with one monolithic concept.


One of the concepts has the primary image at the back of the room, as opposed to the front of the room, which is what I expected. The design elements at the front of the room usually act as a proscenium frame around the screenbut not in Vin’s design. The area around the screen in some of his concepts is totally empty. This ends up emphasizing the screen area, the focal point of the theater, just as much as the most ornate proscenium. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.


I will continue to keep you updated as I work with Vincenzo to thoroughly flesh out these ideas.

—Theo Kalomirakis

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

Theo’s Corner: Working with Vincenzo Avanzato

architect Vincenzo Avanzato

In my last post, I talked about my recent meetings with well-known interior designer Hernan Arriaga, and how much I’m looking forward to collaborating with him on new designs for Rayva’s theater rooms. During that same trip to Florida, I also met with another design professional I have long admired, the Italian-born architect Vincenzo Avanzato of Avanzato Design.


I was introduced to Vincenzo by our mutual friend, Aaron Flint of Acoustic Architects in Miami. Vina supreme practitioner of traditional architecture–is working on a project that has space for a very traditional theater.


I knew from the beginning that this wasn’t a project for Rayva, which uses a minimalist approach to design. Home theaters are still dominated by elaborate traditional designscolumns with ornate grilles, wall panels with rich brocade fabrics, and lots of gold and red. I thought that, given the opportunity, Vin could help break that mold by coming up with concepts that incorporate stylized traditional elements in a contemporary setting.

During our meeting, I shared with him lots of visual samples of what have in mind for Rayva. He reciprocated by sharing with me his own ideas, which struck me as original and, to a certain extent, iconoclastic for someone who has such a deep respect for and understanding of traditional architecture.


We finished the meeting with a promise to meet again soon. He called early last week to let me know he is working towards finishing a presentation to me. I count the days until I receive his concepts. And I look forward to working with even more professionals of Vin’s stature as designers see that Rayva offers a chance to explore innovative new ground.

—Theo Kalomirakis

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

Theo’s Corner: Working with Hernan Arriaga

designer Hernan Arriaga

My search for fresh ideas and the pursuit of new design collaborators for Rayva recently brought me to Florida, where I met with two well-known professionals: Miami-based interior designer Hernan Arriaga and Italian-born architect Vincenzo Avanzato. (I will be writing about Vincenzo in a future post.) Having seen and admired their work, I knew they would be excellent candidates to create new design themes for Rayva.


Hernan’s business partner Fabio Lopes told me the process of dealing with home theaters has become so cumbersome that they’ve almost stopped proposing them to their clients. Having to fight what they see as insensitive placement of electronics by others into their supremely coordinated interiors wasn’t worth the trouble for them anymore. In a strange way, this legitimate argument resonates with a similar argument from the opposite side: A/V integrators also chronically complain that designers don’t respect the needs of a complex technology.


I’m very familiar with the issue, and I respect the viewpoints of both the designers and the integrators. The very reason Rayva exists is to bridge this seemingly irreconcilable divide between technology and design. The company’s goal is to blend superb design with sophisticated technology in an end-to-end solution that doesn’t keep just designers and integrators happy but, most importantly, the end-user, who is often caught in the crossfire. These problems can only be resolved with a good understanding of both perspectives.

I had already met Hernan through Rayva’s sales associate in Florida, Esteban Tettamante. I was a big fan of Hernan’s sharp, eclectic, sleek, contemporary style. Could this style translate into interiors for Rayva? I didn’t know, and it wasn’t important to know yet. Design talent is one thing, but I also believe in personal chemistry. If my design goals resonated with Hernan, great things could happen from this collaboration.


I explained Rayva’s basic design philosophy to him: Dimensional design elements or artwork presented against large, plain wall-mounted panels that conceal speakers and acoustic treatments. The designs in front of the panels are illuminated, gallery-like, by light sources positioned on the ceiling or incorporated into the artwork itself.


Hernan seemed to appreciate the challenge and we agreed to meet again in the next few weeks to review his initial concepts. I can’t wait for that meeting.


I will keep you posted as our design collaboration develops. And I look forward to working with more designers of Hernan’s caliber.

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.