With a wholehouse Crestron automation system that controls everything from security to the dedicated theater, this home takes control to another level.
Jay Basen and Lance David—programming manager and director of custom sales and installation, respectively, of Gramophone in Timonium, Maryland—see several new trends developing in the home theater market. The first is that more and more homeowners are not only putting dedicated home theaters into their homes, but they're putting in more advanced home theaters. "Many more options are available or are coming out. We now have access to new high-definition content, and price points are coming down. These factors, combined with the sophistication of customers, are driving high performance," says Basen. According to David, homeowners are now recognizing the value of systems integration with a centralized control system, and they're paying more attention to acoustics, as well as the less sexy but still very important aspects of proper ventilation and energy management. This gorgeous theater and wholehouse system in a 16,000-square-foot home in Highland, Maryland, embodies all of these growing trends.
The home is very traditional in appearance, with a mixed stone and stucco exterior. The home theater resides in the basement, where it was designed into the architectural floor plans from the beginning stages. After the construction team poured the foundation and began work on the basement theater, however, they realized that the room needed to be bigger from top to bottom. Because the basement was the lowest point in the home, an excavation was necessary in order to provide proper drainage and accommodate the risers that the homeowners wanted in the theater. With the help of builder Neil Garner of Pinecrest Builders, the excavation went off without a hitch.
The homeowners have three young children, and they wanted a place where the family could get together to enjoy not only movies in a dedicated, high-performance atmosphere, but their kids' performances, as well. Thus, the theater has a built-in stage, complete with theatrical lighting—red, blue, green, and yellow—that can be accessed through the Lutron lighting-control system. There are even two stage balconies where the children can act out plays such as Romeo and Juliet or Rapunzel. Eventually, the homeowners want to add a karaoke machine. This room is a true theater, not just a place to watch movies.
The creative inspiration that guided the homeowners and helped them get a top-notch space was a blessing, but it was also one of the biggest challenges for Gramophone. "The creativity of the homeowner was a challenge," says Basen. "He is very sophisticated. As he learned more about what could be done, his mind began to work, and he realized the sky was basically the limit." This is reflected primarily in the home's award-winning lighting and control system. When you are sitting in the theater, the Crestron TPS-3000 touchscreen will come to life when a car comes into the driveway. A front-door camera will display on the touchscreen when the doorbell rings, and the wholehouse intercom allows you to communicate with the person at the front door from the basement—so, even in the lower reaches of the home, you don't feel disconnected. If you want to let the person in, the door locks are all electrically controlled, so you can unlock the door from where you sit.
The house has a backup generator, and the homeowners had some issues with it. When they realized that it was possible to do amazing things with the control system, the homeowners asked if it was possible to monitor the generator through the automation system. Now, the generator automatically performs a weekly load test, and, if there is a problem, the system sends an e-mail to the homeowner's cell phone. "As they were struck with great ideas along the journey, if we could do it, we did, although it did add to the length of the project" says Basen.
The tricked-out control system has a tricked-out theater to go with it. The video system includes a Runco VX-2c three-chip DLP projector and a Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk electric four-way-masking screen. The screen lowers from above the stage and behind the proscenium. A Kaleidescape movie server stores 2 terabytes of movies, and, when a movie comes on, the screen automatically masks to create the correct aspect ratio. "What a great impact this makes on the audience; what a finish it gives to the performance," says David. "When the image on the screen fits the screen with no gray bars, it makes all the difference." The projector resides in the hallway behind the theater. It is built into the ceiling behind a theater-grade aperture with full access and conduit for future upgrades and a heating and ventilation system. "My advice to those building a theater," says David, "is to get an idea of how long certain things take. For example, theater chairs can have a 12-week time line, carpeting needs to be ordered in advance, and so on. As long as this particular client got value for the money, he considered it worth the wait."
The audio is equally as stunning as the video, with B&W speakers in a seven-channel array hidden behind acoustic panels in the room. A Lexicon MC-8 pre/pro and LX-7 seven-channel amp handle surround processing and amplification duties. There are no less than six other surround sound systems in the home, some with B&Ws, others with in-ceiling or in-wall SpeakerCraft models.
"Ventilation is a huge part of keeping an advanced system running smoothly," says David. "This system automatically runs diagnostics on a periodic basis to make sure that all components are running optimally. Preventive maintenance diagnostics are very important." It becomes even more important when you have five component racks dedicated to wholehouse equipment and a dedicated equipment room for the theater. Likewise, the dedicated theater has a discrete air-conditioning system and full humidity control because it is below ground, which can be a high-humidity environment.
The 25-by-40-foot room presented a few acoustic challenges that Acoustic Innovations corrected. "Clients are paying more attention to the benefits of proper acoustics in the room, including proper sound and proper isolation," says David. "They experience theaters in other homes where care was not taken and can hear the difference." Gramophone now offers acoustical-design services.
The homeowners are so happy with the way their wholehouse A/V system and dedicated theater perform that they are incorporating similar systems into their beach house and business offices—and rightly so. By any standards, this is a stellar system, winning a Bronze Electronic Lifestyle Award from CEDIA for Best Integrated Home, not to mention awards from both Crestron and Lutron.
Advice From the Pros
Gramophone's Lance David provides some helpful tips for working on your own theater.
"Interior designers don't generally make good theater designers," says Lance David. "Likewise, theater designers might not be well equipped to design your entire house. There are specialized theater-interior designers whose resources and talents are specific to theaters. Seek one out if you are considering outside help for your theater." The one in this story was designed by Gramophone's creative designer, Louis DiCrescenzo.
"Planning is important," says David. "The budget can be staggering at first. However, homeowners are comforted upon the realization that they can talk to the builder, the electrician, the A/V contractor, etc., to rough-in the general plan with necessary audio/video wiring in place. So, even if the theater doesn't get finished, the entire infrastructure is there to do it in the future. Planning ahead—committing resources to allow your dream theater to happen years down the road—is cost effective."
P<> "We always recommend motorized recliners in a theater," says David. "We put non-motorized recliners in this theater in the beginning, but they were hard for smaller children to use because they required a bit of strength to operate." In this theater, there are 16 motorized Acoustic Innovations Deco theater chairs that the kids can use with ease.