Great Spaces: Coming Attractions

With home theaters growing in poplarity, effortless enjoyment is just a room away.

Coming Attractions



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Who needs New Roc? With home-entertainment technology advancing at the speed of light and home theaters growing in popularity, effortless enjoyment is just a room away.



By Abbey Gold

Photography by Phillip Ennis

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(Above) “You feel as if you’re watching a movie in outer space,” says Dr. Lopa Y. Gupta about the home theater she had installed in her Larchmont home, designed by AcousticSmart

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Michael Stern (not his real name) has a good ear and loves his music. So it came as no surprise to those who know him that, when he hired a company to put a cinema in his 80-year-old Tudor home in Scarsdale, top-notch acoustics and full surround-sound had to be a big part of the home-theater experience. Stern also stipulated a small bar area complete with sink, icemaker, dishwasher, candy bins, and stools. Why not? He and his wife often throw parties for the kids, invite the guys to watch football games, and host the occasional theater screening.


Home theaters—dedicated rooms complete with big-screen, high-definition TVs, theater seating, projection lights, and remote-controlled curtains—are becoming a must-have space in today’s high-end homes. “I always tell people that the home theater is becoming the new custom kitchen,” says Richard Charschan, president of Merrick, Long Island-based AcousticSmart, which has designed theaters in many high-end Westchester homes. “People are looking to get away without leaving the house.”


  (Left) A South Salem theater with a pool table and bar was designed by TK Theaters, a New York City architecture and interior design firm specializing in theater design. The screen is flanked by state-of-the-art speakers by CAT (California Audio Technology) with a Ferrari finish that cost about $250,000.
(Right) The projector is hidden in a soffit above the bar. A single row provides recliners for five.  



Statistics back him up. According to the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), approximately 22 percent of U.S. residents own a home-theater system, and that number is expected to rise, thanks to continuing improvements in existing technology and audio/video systems. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 34 percent of home builders now offer structured wiring packages as standard or optional amenities.

And the sky’s the limit. Whether your style tends toward art deco, Hollywood glamour, or space-age modern, audio-visual specialists can build a theater that reflects it. Michael Demello, president of AV Design & Integration in Elmsford, says he’s helped put together everything from a quartet of theater loungers to 16-seaters, from laid-back dens to elaborate palaces with columns and murals. Bells and whistles are part and parcel of today’s home theaters, including D-box seating that moves with the movie’s sound so you can “feel” the film, fiber-optic ceilings (often with shooting stars and constellations), DVD hard drives, motorized screens, and control systems to operate all of this sophisticated gear. Then, of course, there are extras, like retractable curtains in front of the projection screen, artwork on acoustical panels, and commercial-style snack machines.


The Previews


While screening rooms are individualized to suit homeowners’ particular tastes and desires, the goal is the same: to reproduce, as accurately as possible, the experience of watching a flick in a movie-theater setting (minus the sticky floor, chatty audience, bratty kids, and $6 Twizzlers).

Ideally, a home-entertainment room would include a projector, a 100(!)-inch screen (or larger), 7.1 surround sound (a multi-channel technology that features seven channels of sound), in-wall speakers, and lighting control. It would also have a variety of high-quality video and audio sources, including a digital cable or satellite connection, a dual-layer DVD (which allows you to store significantly more data than a standard DVD writable disk), a hard-disk digital video recorder, and a source for high-definition TV signals.



(Top) This home theater in Purchase can seat 15, with seating by AcousticSmart broken down into recliners, love seats, and couches, all with the same design, for a consistent look.


Finding a dedicated space that meets your technical and design needs is critical. In general, says Demello, you’ll need a generous area, ideally 14 to 15 feet wide by 25 to 30 feet long, although l5 by 20 feet is suitable. Most people tend to use unfinished basements or extra rooms for their theaters, and sometimes, you’ll also need a separate heating/cooling system.

Cost is, of course, a factor and goes up or down depending on the equipment chosen, lighting, seating, and décor. The average projection home-theater system costs about $50,000, and a high-end version can run as high as $500,000. Theater interiors, which often come complete with platforms and large, comfortable chairs, range from $50,000 to $250,000.  As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Stern says his home theater, located in the basement and designed by Lyric HiFi & Video of White Plains, costs “well over $250,000” and took several months to design. The fabrics, wall paint, and carpeting were all custom-designed, as was the stadium seating “so that you can see the 110-inch projection screen from every chair, whether upright or reclining.”


Ready, Set…Action!


How do you begin? Generally, the audio-visual specialist or company you choose will interview you and, based on your feedback during the client interview, the room will be  designed to ensure proper site lines, placement of equipment, and layout of seating. You’ll need to determine the type of video display (TV or projector) that best suits your purposes, as well as how many seats you want. Just like at your local cinema, you don’t want to sit too close to the screen, which means you will need at least 12 feet from screen to seat, with 15 feet as the ideal.



(Above) South Salem Design firm Interior Consultants created this old-fashioned concession stand for a theater in a Connecticut home.


And you want something that’s comfortable. Many theater chairs on the market are motorized and come with options that let you recline and elevate your legs; others provide heat and massage. Still others, like the D-Box motion-simulation system, are designed to use motion to enhance the movie experience. “If a pilot takes off onscreen, the front of the D-Box lifts, throwing you to the back of the seat as if you’re really on a plane. If there’s an onscreen explosion, the seat jumps up,” says Ray Benza, CEO of Entertainment Technology in Bedford Hills, the only place in Westchester where you can “test-drive” a D-Box. “D-Box seats are becoming very popular; the last four home theaters we’ve done have included them.”


You also need to think about the acoustical properties of the room so you’re not blaring the neighbors with the latest action thriller or disturbing little Junior asleep upstairs. An audio-visual specialist can help you figure out if in-wall or stand-alone speakers would be most effective, especially when supplemented by the low bass from a separate subwoofer, a speaker designed to reproduce very low bass frequencies. Wiring, too, is critical in order to accommodate a variety of applications that demand the continuous flow of high-speed data (another reason you need a pro). Plus, you’ll want to make sure your wiring is hidden in some sort of cabinet or wall unit—with such a financial commitment, who needs to trip over unsightly electrical equipment? You may also want to think about a separate projector room, as video projectors, if run in a closed room for several hours, can produce a huge amount of heat.


Lighting is another consideration. “You want to avoid light on the screen but also want to have lighting above the chairs so you can read your TV Guide,” says Neil Greenberg, president of Hauppauge, Long Island-based Audio Interiors, who has designed home theaters in numerous Westchester homes. He recently installed a dome ceiling with a New York City skyline, along with pale blue lights, to simulate night. Charschan says he often designs theaters in which the ceiling is as spectacular as the room, complete with shooting stars and images of the Big and Little Dippers. “It’s almost like going to Disney World,” he says.


Then, of course, there’s the ambiance. Curtains in front of the screen, movie posters, and stadium seating re-create the movie-theater experience we’ve all come to know. And stages are becoming more and more popular. You can design your room to be anything you want—certainly better than what you’re used to at the local multi-plex, with nicer cup holders and comfortable leather upholstery that swivels and tilts for easy viewing. A properly designed home theater can far surpass the acoustics and design of a public movie theater (and you get to watch your favorite flick in your PJs).


“I fell in love with the Raj Mandir, an ornate theater in India. It’s very palatial,” says Dr. Lopa Y. Gupta. When designing her own theater in her Larchmont home, she used faux paint and crown molding to re-create the look. A fiber-optic ceiling adds to the aura. “You feel as if you’re watching a movie in outer space.”


Academy Awards


For the members of your family who love technology, there are the gadgets—those state-of-the-art products that make the cinema experience truly cutting edge. Remote-controlled systems, in which you can manage everything with the push of a button, are the most common. “The remote-controlled system is the aspect people tend to forget about when they’re putting together a home theater,” Greenberg says. “But if you can’t operate it, you won’t enjoy it.” Frequently, universal remotes are also set up so the kids can play video games on the screens.


A properly designed home theater can far surpass the acoustics and design of a public movie theater.


Of special note in the technology department is Kaleidoscape, “an elegant, high-end DVD-and-music server system,” explains Barry Reiner, co-owner of InnerSpace of Electronics, Inc. “Client-owned DVDs are burned to the server’s hard drive and are available for viewing on television sets house wide. It’s also capable of managing your music library and playing music anywhere in your home when interconnected to a multi-room house audio system.” According to Reiner, an entry-level Kaleidoscape system runs about $15,000, while a multi-room configuration with high-capacity DVD storage usually costs between $40,000 and $60,000.


“The fun part is how the system allows you to sort your collection,” says Nick Lehotzky of Electronics Design Group in Piscataway, New Jersey, who caters to the Westchester market. “Movie art is downloaded, along with details about actors, directors, movie length, and genre. Your entire movie collection can be sorted on screen using any of these criteria.”


Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players are capable of outputting high-def pictures at up to 1080p (this relates to how many pixels, or dots, on the screen make up the picture, emphasizing its sharpness), a must-have, according to experts. Just as with VCRs in the ’80s and ’90s and DVD players over the past few years, the home-theater market is still shaking out, with everything from HDTV monitors to power cords and home-automation systems at the forefront. New sophistication is on the horizon. Samsung, JVC, Pioneer, and other familiar names are showing their latest high-definition TVs. And Bang & Olufsen, a Danish provider of high-end home theaters and multi-purpose room music systems, recently unveiled a flagship plasma/home-entertainment center that can rotate toward its viewers and features built-in loudspeakers and digital media components.


Of course, if you want a home theater, it’s best to purchase a home with a system in place or perhaps, advises Charschan with a laugh, renovate your kitchen first. Says this wise man who has catered to many a power couple: “The husband will never get his home theater unless he does the kitchen first.”


Abbey Gold is a Westchester-based writer whose work has appeared in a variety of national magazines.




Here, some questions to ask a contractor or audio/visual specialist, courtesy of The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA).


1. Will the space chosen for the home theater need any structural construction?

Basement home theaters may need to be waterproofed to protect components, a process that can require removal of old dry wall and reframing. It’s important to find out the extent of the work and how much it will cost.


2. What home theater equipment is best for the chosen area?

Room layouts affect the selection and placement of equipment. You need to think about the room’s proportions and viewing angle, as well as its acoustics. The type and number of speakers chosen can be determined by many factors, including whether the carpet absorbs sounds.


3. How will it look?

You don’t want your equipment interfering with your viewing experience. Speakers, for example, can be paneled into drywall and hydraulic lifts can lower projectors through the ceiling. On a simpler level, racks can be built into existing cabinetry.


4. What kind of control system will work best?

Today, all aspects of your home theater—including temperature, lighting systems, and even the curtains—can be controlled via a touch-panel control system. Important features to look for include non-volatile memory (computer memory that can retain stored information even when not powered), expandability, and intuitive-button layout (in which frequently used buttons are located close together for easy operation).


5. What about a power-management system?

This protects all of your expensive equipment from damaging voltage spikes. It will also filter out AC noises.




Merrick, Long Island
(516) 623-5711


Audio Interiors Inc.
Hauppauge, Long Island
(631) 434-4770


Audio Video Excellence


(914) 747-1411


AV Design & Integration


(914) 345-2977


Beyond Sight & Sound


(914) 345-8346


Electronics Design Group, Inc.
Piscataway, New Jersey
(732) 650-9800


Entertainment Technology

Bedford Hills

(914) 242-8881


InnerSpace Electronics, Inc.

Port Chester

(914) 937-9700


Integrated Electronic Solutions


(914) 966-1200


Interior Consultants

South Salem

(914) 533-2275


Lyric HiFi & Video

White Plains

(914) 949-7500


The Media Room Inc.

Bedford Hills

(914) 244-3570


Reference Cinema & Sound

Mount Kisco

(914) 666-0577


Sound Ideas, Inc.


(914) 273-2510


TK Theaters

New York City

(212) 244-2404


The Westchester Audio Video Design Center


(914) 921-0099








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