May 12, 2011
by Lisa Montgomery
It’s not often that you see a 120-inch inch screen dangling from the ceiling in a family room, not to mention seven speakers, two subwoofers and a top-of-the-line video projector. Yet you can’t see any of the gear in this award-winning space. On the surface, it looks like another nice family room. It’s appointed with comfortable furniture, and it presents a warm and inviting floorplan that integrates the kitchen and dining areas.
The custom electronics (CE) pros at Starr Systems Design in Baltimore honored the request of the homeowners and their interior designer by hiding every piece of A/V equipment. Admittedly, a superwide CinemaScope screen and a 3,000-ANSI lumen video projector weren’t the homeowners’ first choice of video system. “They had originally intended on hanging a big flat-panel TV on the wall,” says Starr Systems Design president Sean Weiner. Neither Weiner nor the interior designer cared much for that idea. “We both thought the room would look and function better if the gear were invisible.” A trip to Starr Systems’ design center, where screens and projectors lower from hiding spots in the ceiling, changed the homeowners’ minds.
They immediately erased the big-screen TV from their plans and replaced it with a powerful video duo comprised of a Stewart Filmscreen Firehawk G3 2.39:1 aspect ratio screen and a Runco three-chip 1080p DLP video projector. Construction plans changed as well. Together Weiner and Alexander Baer of Jenkins Baer Associates in Baltimore designed a decorative trim for the ceiling to serve as a hiding spot for the long and narrow screen enclosure.
For the projector, they converted the top portion of a kitchen pantry into a specially ventilated equipment closet. The only visual indication of a projector is the small hole that Weiner and Baer cut into the back wall of the family room so the lens could peek through. A Rotel home theater processor and amplifiers, Kaleidescape media server and AMX automation controller would all need a cool, comfortable place, too. Instead of the pantry, Weiner picked a mechanical room in the basement, where there’s plenty of room for expansion should the family decide to add new components.
Walls are precious commodities in family rooms—they’re the exclusive domain of large windows, cherished pieces of artwork and interesting faux finishes. It’s not where the owners of this family-style theater wanted speakers mounted. And based on the impressive size of the room and the massive video display, this area was going to need a lot of them—seven B&W speakers and two Velodyne subwoofers, to be exact.
The speakers could have been stationed on the floor, but that would have defeated the purpose of keeping the technology hidden, says Weiner. The best placement option was the ceiling. B&W CCM818 models are designed perfectly for this application, says Weiner, as their drivers are fitted at a 12-degree angle toward the listening area—in this case, comfy couches positioned 15 feet from the screen.
The two Velodyne subwoofers did end up in the walls, but down low by the baseboards, making them a cinch to hide behind open-legged cabinetry.
Weiner’s job wasn’t done yet. In addition to fusing components normally reserved for dedicated theaters into the design of the family room, he had to get that equipment to perform as well as it would in a specially designed theater room.
One of the biggest differences between this family room and a dedicated theater were its windows. Home theaters typically have none; this space had a lot. When the family is hanging out, relaxing with a book or playing board games, the windows let in plenty of natural light. But when it comes to watching movies—especially movies on a 120-inch screen—it’s best to keep a room dark. It wouldn’t be enough to simply cover the windows with draperies.
The family and designers wanted a more elegant solution, so each window was fitted with a motorized shade from Lutron Electronics. The motorized assemblies, as well as the room’s light fixtures, were tied to the same AMX control system that operates the home theater gear. All the family needs to do is touch a button labeled movie to transform the room into a theater. The lights fade to black, the shades close over the windows, the projector revs up and the screen descends from the ceiling. EH
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.