Nautically-Inspired Home Theater
A New Building Addition Designed Specifically For Lap-Swimming Morphs Into “Fun Central” Complete With A Nautically-Inspired Home Theater.
Publication: Home Entertainment Magazine
Text: Brooke Lange
Photography: Ron Carey
The “six degrees of separation” phenomenon is happening among Home Entertainment readers and home-theater aficionados. Some owners of the private screening rooms that have graced the magazine’s pages actually know one another. Others socialize together and congregate in one another’s elaborate media rooms to take in a flick, sporting event, or TV show. A case in point is the couple who built this contemporary movie space, nestled within a woodsy family compound in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. After the couple visited their first home theater, owned by South Florida friends Danny and Fern Toccin, they were inspired to build their own private screening room. The Toccins’ home theater was featured in another issue of Home Entertainment.
“We had never set foot in a home theater before,” says the husband. “After we experienced the Toccins’ home theater, we thought it would be great to put one in our rec center.”
The theater’s Digital Projection TITAN projector is housed in a rear ceiling beam.
The “rec” center to which the husband refers is a 5,600-square-foot contemporary addition to their historic summer home property. The freestanding structure, designed by internationally recognized New York architect Peter L. Gluck, and framed in glass and Pennsylvania blue stone, serves as Fun Central for the homeowners and their visiting family and friends. The building houses the home theater, a 75-foot-long lap pool for the husband, and a basketball court for their niece, who plays Division 1A college basketball. “We want our friends and family to come here, so we have the requisite activities,” the husband says, adding that he and his wife hosted a crowd of 28 guests on Memorial Day weekend.
The owners chose to leave the Stewart projection screen curtain-free, above.
After talking with the Toccins about how their home theater came to be, the creative process, and their theater designer Jeffrey Smith, the homeowners placed a call to Smith. He owns a North Miami theater design and fabrication company named First Impressions Theme Theatres Inc., which is a one-stop, home-theater architecture and design company that also designs and manufactures its own line of theater seating and home-theater accessories, including acoustic paneling, lighting elements and concession novelties. An avid swimmer for 24 years, the husband’s original vision for the backyard addition revolved around a simple indoor lap pool. But once he and his wife plunged into the design process—and undoubtedly became enthralled with Gluck’s ideas and sketches—the design plans grew to include a steam room, a dry sauna, a Whirlpool tub, an elaborate workout room, and a lounge area with a snack kitchen. The husband’s rooftop office, which is wrapped with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, overlooks the building’s grass-covered roof. “It was designed for a single purpose—an indoor pool,” says the retired mattress manufacturer who works several hours a day on various projects of interest. “But it ended up being much more. We hired Jeff because of the referral and the theater turned out great. It’s relaxing for me to watch [a movie] in privacy with friends and family”
Not surprisingly, Fun Central’s modernist architecture and interior touches called for a modernist theater. In keeping with the owner’s love of water, most of the building’s finishes are nautical—from the water-inspired terrazzo flooring that’s dotted with flecks of blue and slivers of mirror to the gym’s rubber floor with a similar terrazzo-like pattern.
“It’s a much more contemporary theater than Jeff normally does,” says Holmes Newman, the home’s interior designer and the owner of Miami design firm Holmes Newman & Associates. Smith worked closely with Newman on the theater’s design direction and color palette, and acted as general contractor to ensure that the room’s insulation and isolation elements were installed properly. It’s Smith’s job to ensure the room-within-a-room construction and the acoustics are orchestrated perfectly.
“The colors in the wall panels rotate from a nice cobalt blue to an ice white.”
“It’s a sleek, cool look with water-like colors—very architectural and under stated,” Smith says of the 600-square-foot theater that seats 12 and accommodates the family’s two large-breed dogs with First Impressions’ specially designed CinePetLounger (which is equipped with a built-in stainless steel “pupcorn” bowl, of course). “There’s also an interesting play on lighting,” Smith continues. “The colors in the wall panels rotate from a nice cobalt blue to an ice white.”
From above, the curvilinear beamwork of book-matched zebrawood frames First Impressions’ trademarked dusk-to-dawn ceiling, complete with shooting stars and a customized sunrise to sunset color palette that uses upward of 1,800 complementary hues. Below, the light-colored wool carpeting, imported from New Zealand, creates contrast. “You can only go so light [with furnishings and finishes], otherwise you have reflective problems,” Newman says. “We learned that through Jeff’s technical expertise.”
The custom-crafted theater chairs, a blend of First Impressions’ CineRodeo Lounger and the CineClassicPillowback chair, feature taller backs to accommodate taller guests. While the contemporary theater seating makes a bold statement, the Wedgwood blue, full-hide European leather lends a comforting softness to the space. Each theater chair is loaded with must-have accessories: heating and massage mechanisms, electric reclining options, zebrawood snack trays and stainless steel illuminated cup holders. “If you put bar ware in the cup holder, the cut crystal really refracts the lighting,” Smith says. “It’s quite stunning.”
While Smith’s team has installed theaters in upstate New York before, the weather still posed a challenge. “I’ve had to get through mud to reach the building,” he says. Also difficult was finding lodging for his crew (the nearby town shuts down during off-season). Nevertheless, Smith met his deadline: After the 150-day design and manufacturing process was complete, the crew loaded the company’s custom semi and arrived three days later. The theater was installed in two weeks.
The book-matched zebrawood on the ceiling beams above, and on the snack trays below, also finds its way into the back of the theater. Here, the custom bank of cabinetry becomes one with the wall and provides a convenient home for the projector—which is insulated in a custom hushbox with built-in heat-extraction fans—and for the kids’ gaming equipment, including a karaoke machine, an Apple iPod mini player and a Nintendo Wii. Layers of antique-brown granite alternate with quarter-inch slices of stainless steel to form an interesting pattern in the countertops. Anchored within the cabinetry are all the necessary accoutrements for movie-watching: bar ware storage, a sink, a microwave oven, an under-counter refrigerator and an ice machine—all of which are insulated and isolated. “You don’t hear the refrigerator or any compressors,” Smith says. “If concession equipment must be in the theater, we muffle it down to zero noise.”
What you do hear in this home theater is stellar sound, pure and simple. “We got a glowing review from audio designer Mike Chaffey,” Smith says of the recently tuned and calibrated system. “He said ‘it sounded phenomenal—really, really big.’ The owners were ecstatic.”
More importantly, the devoted swimmer who used to pull on his swimming trunks and commute each morning to the crowded public pool can now walk out his back door and pad across the grass to do some laps in his private oasis. The same is true with the theater: He and his family and friends don’t have to drive 40 miles roundtrip to the town theater, which is often crowded. “In our lifetime, we’ve missed more good movies than we’ve gone to,” he says, adding that he and his wife will soon host their theater-inspiring friends, the Toccins, in their new screening room. “With the theater, we’ll be entertained for the next 10 years.”
Tech Talk: Blue Beauty
For many audiovisual experts, nearly every piece of gear in this home theater could be described as “the Rolls Royce of Cadillacs.” And when it comes to A/V processors, they don’t come much better than the Lexicon MC-12 HD Music & Cinema Processor, which is at the heart of this system.
Ditto the Genelec 1038B Tri-amplified Monitoring System speakers and 1038BC Tri-amplified Monitoring System center channel speaker, which is concealed behind the room’s massive 174-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen Luxus Screenwall, as well as the quartet of Genelec A1W26 Active In-Wall Loudspeakers that serve as the theater’s surround channels. The Richard Gray’s Power Company PowerHouse—3,000 pounds and $9,000 worth of heavy metal thunder—is designed to take 240-volt AC and transform it into 6,200 watts of clean, safe and continuous 120-volt power for as many as 21 devices.
Topping off this stellar set-up is the Digital Projection TlTAN 1080p-250 Pro Series Projector. This high-performance three-chip DLP projector, however, sells for more than most new Cadillacs.
But the performance of this amazing installation isn’t determined entirely by the equipment: The room itself is also a key component—most notably, the scalloped elements along the side walls. “We wanted to play the lighting up,” says Smith. “We wanted to be able to wash some interesting architectural lighting across the wall panels.”
So how did the room’s shape affect the acoustics? “Well, you have the Golden Rule of sizing, first of all: Nothing should divide into itself equally. So we changed the dimensions [of the room] a bit with our shaping. The shaping [also eliminated] standing sound waves because we no longer have parallel surfaces in the room.” (Standing waves are sound waves that combine to create uneven frequency response—unnatural peaks and dips in volume—most notably in the bass frequencies.)
The elements in the wall also gave Smith and his team more control over the first reflection point. (That is, the point on the side wall between the listener and the front soundstage, at which sound from the front speakers would reflect if not absorbed or diffused, resulting in a noticeable and detrimental echo.) “We just spoke with the Genelec tech who EQ’d the system,” Smith says, “and his comment was that the room was large, and it was challenging for him, but he made it rock.”—Dennis Burger