home theater design Tag

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.

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.

Making the Best of a Media Room

media room upgrades

having a dark area on the front wall helps keep attention focused on the screen

In “Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends,” I talked about how media rooms are a viable alternative for anyone looking for high-quality playback of movies, TV, music, etc. at home. While I acknowledged that a dedicated home theater is still the best way to go if you want the ultimate at-home entertainment experience—especially if you have the space and budget—a media room is within reach of virtually anyone.

 

Keep in mind that my comments here are directed at people who want to create a system that can provide a first-rate entertainment experience but who don’t have a proper space (or bank account) for a dedicated theater room. As the wave of interest in media rooms continues to grow, discussing ways to maximize performance in a multi-use space and the different installation options becomes increasingly important when you’re weighing the options.

 

In his post “Media Room or Home Theater?” Theo talked about the inevitable visual distractions in a media room. Of course, not every designer is as gifted or experienced as Theo is, so there are plenty of home theaters out there with their share of distractionslike over-elaborate gold ceilings and framed artwork that can reflect light from the screen when the lights go down. And twinkling fiber-optic starlight ceilingswhich many customers seem to lovecan rob the image of contrast and definitely pull attention from the screen.

 

Of course, whether it’s a media room or a dedicated theater, the room should be designed “to help keep your attention focused on the screen,” as Theo wrote. That’s where good design comes in, and an area where I think he will ultimately be able to not only place his mark but possibly reinvent the way people think about media rooms.

media room designs

my 115-inch screen and the area around it, before the lights go down

photo by Jim Raycroft

In my room from the principal viewing positions, almost all of my view during movie time is taken up by our 115-inch screen. At the extreme edges of my vision are a door and some art, which I don’t even notice anymore when the lights are out and the movie is on.

 

Finding a way to decorate a media room so the screen wall can be painted a dark color will also help to pull vision toward and focus attention on the screen (and improve perceived contrast to boot!). Perhaps a design that includes a motorized drape or curtain that darkens the front wall and helps the screen to pop would be something Theo could explore . . ?

 

He also bemoaned the all-too-common media-room fallback of placing a credenza beneath the screen to hold the room’s equipment. Fortunately, there are so many ways to conceal and incorporate gear into a modern installation, it’s merely up to the installer and designer to come up with a creative gameplan for the look of the system.

 

Instead of wondering how to make a media room as good as a dedicated theater, maybe another way to look at it is to ask, “How can we embrace new technology innovations to make a media room the very best experience it can be, while maximizing the strengths of a multi-use room?”

 

That is something I’ll explore in my next post! But at the end of the day, even the very best media rooms will always have limitations well-designed home theaters don’t.

—John Sciacca

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.

Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends

media room or home theater

In a post last week called “Media Room or Home Theater?” Theo discussed the inherent limitations of a media room/multi-use space versus a home theater/dedicated movie-watching space, and admitted to struggling with the best way to come up with designs for media rooms. Having installed dozens of media-room systems over the yearsand lived with one in my own home for nearly as longI thought I might offer my take on some of Theo’s comments.

 

I totally agree with him when he says, “A media room is fine for watching something casually on TV.” But let’s be honest: Most viewing these daysregardless of where it’s doneis casual. As I’m writing this, I’m in my media room and the TV is on. So are all the lights in the media/family room and the kitchen behind it. I’m typing on my laptop and listening to Tidal on headphones. My 11 year old is splitting time between finishing up a homework assignment and watching the screen. My wife is in and out of the room folding clothes while checking her phone. None of us are actively watching the TV.

 

Theo felt one of the inherent problems with media rooms is “visual distractions,” and said things like windows, doors, and fireplaces can take you out of the movie. But by far the biggest distraction I see has far more to do with the modern, active lifestyle, not any limitations of the room. And if you told people they could only watch TV if they stopped everything else they were doing and committed all their attention to the screen, many would pass. (One of the major reasons why 3D failed, in my opinion.)

 

But when it comes time for active viewingsay, when we want to watch a movieit’s a completely different story. The lights all go off, the small screens go away, and the big screen rolls down. With the lights off and the projector on, all attention is focused on the screen. Doors, windows, and fireplaces all disappear into the periphery. And I can promise your our media room has no shortage when it comes to delivering screams, cheers, frights, or tears.

media room or home theater

If I was ever lucky enough to have Theo design a dedicated home theater room for me,
his famous Paramount Theatre would be a great place to start.

I couldn’t agree more that “there is no substitute for a dedicated home theater.” And if I had the limitless budget of many of Theo’s clients, and a home design that could support it, there is no question I would have a dedicated room as the ultimate sanctuary for indulging in movie watching. I’d have Theo design me the sickest of spaces, worthy of any A-list Hollywood director’s screening room.

 

But honestly, knowing our family’s lifestyle, I’m sure an isolated roomno matter how amazingwould see far less use than our centrally located media/gathering room.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how home theaters and media rooms have some “flaws” in common, and how Theo’s talent could help make media rooms more palatable for discerning movie lovers with active families.

—John Sciacca

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.

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.

Media Rooms: Fad or Future?

media rooms

Look at practically any website that concerns itself with home theater and you’ll likely see example after example of dedicated home theaters. These are often beautiful spaces, luxuriously appointed, with fabric-covered walls, intricate woodwork and moldings, and rows of fabulous seats arrayed in tiers facing a giant screenfrankly, the kinds of things that made Theo Kalomirakis the legend he is and earned him the moniker, “The father of home theater.”

 

And as a custom installer, I can tell you these are almost always wonderful projects to work on. This is generally “our room” to maximize performance for one goal: Creating the ultimate movie-watching experience. Speaker locations are optimized, acoustics can be perfected, sound treatments can isolate external distractions, and lighting can be controlled for an ideal presentation.

 

But, despite all that, dedicated high-end rooms seem to be waning in popularity, giving way to something that could clumsily be called a multi-use space, but which we’ll call a media room.

 

Unlike a dedicated roomwhich is usually a separate, totally closed-off space, typically with a single door and no windowsa media room can be located in virtually any room of the house. In fact, media rooms are often in large communal areas like living rooms or family rooms, which actually gives them two advantages. First, every home can have one. Second, in my experience, media rooms get used far more often than dedicated rooms, which require viewers to actively get up and relocate themselves to a different location.

 

And, unlike dedicated home theaters, media rooms aren’t mainly for watching movies. They can be the best way to watch TV, listen to music, play videogames, view digital images, and stream content in a relaxed and comfortable environment. And couches, love seats, and comfy chairsfurniture already located in the roomall provide perfect seating options for your family or a group of friends.

 

At its most basic, a media room consists of a relatively large-screen TVlet’s say at least 55 inchesalong with some kind of improved audio experience, like a soundbar and subwoofer.

But for the true movie or music loveror anyone who takes their entertainment seriouslythis minimal approach won’t suffice, and their media rooms share many components similar to those found in a dedicated space. These include:

 

a much larger 4K Ultra HD display

 

a minimum of 5.1-channel surround audio system, but more likely with the channel count
expanded to allow for immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X

 

a device that can stream 4K content from Netflix, Amazon, or Vudu

 

and ideally a Kaleidescape Strato player for viewing the highest-quality UHD HDR movie
downloads.

 

And don’t think that having a media room in the middle of the house has to mean having stacks of gear out in the open, or having to live with monolithic speakers, or even having to have your room dominated by a giant screen on the wall. There are a ton of technology options available that can deliver phenomenal experiences with minimal impact on your décor.

 

How do I know? Because I’ve had my own media room for nearly 10 years, and installed dozens for clients.

 

In my next post, I’ll tell you about my no-compromise media room, and the installation decisions I made to make the most out of my space and entertainment system.

—John Sciacca

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.