Creating An Egyptian Home Theater
The main feature of the Nile theater is its unique “curtain” — actually two sculpted, automatic sliding doors. The doors are cast out of fiberglass and veneered with actual bronze particles that give them a very realistic metallic look. The two sculptures that flank the stage are also cast out of fiberglass.
Thematic theaters are tricky. Since it’s so easy to turn the room into a big cliché, I try to avoid “thematic” design like the plague. If a client asks me for a Chinese theater, my fear is that the theater might turn out like a Chinese restaurant. If the order is for an Indian design, my mind goes to a tacky Bollywood set. And Egyptian brings to mind the Luxor in Vegas. There’s no escape from the threat of bad taste, but such requests keep coming with regular frequency.
Fantasy appeals to all of us, and sometimes it’s hard to resist its power. I’ve paid my dues to “thematic” design with a couple of decent projects but also with a number of failures that I wish I could erase from my body of work. I guess the excuse is that we live and learn from our mistakes. S&V reader Bill Desmond seems to have a similar urge to build himself an Egyptian theater. I don’t know if I can dissuade him from venturing into such an undertaking, but I can at least warn him about its pitfalls.
Dear S+V, I have a question for Theo. I’m designing my own home theater in an Egyptian theme similar to his Nile theater. Fortunately, I’m a longtime reader of Sound & Vision and have no problems picking the equipment!
But I’m having a hard time finding places that specialize in décor. For starters, where can I get columns and crown molding similar to that pictured in the Nile theater? Can Theo recommend a company? BILL DESMOND / VIA E-MAIL
Bill, I designed the theater you’re referring to, the Nile, years ago. In my opinion, the results were mixed. It’s very hard to pull off a thematic theater if you don’t have the right craftsmen to sculpt period details and a decent budget. For the Nile, we had a good budget. The client was willing to pay for the authenticity that makes an object look real rather than something out of a theme park. We also had a great craftsman who was able to turn any visual reference into something that looked like it was built or sculpted centuries ago. The craftsman worked for the owners, and he was a real artist. I showed him a photo of the type of Egyptian column that I wanted to use in the space and left him alone.
A few months later, he had sculpted and cast the most authentic-looking Egyptian columns I had ever seen. The design of the room called for an Egyptian temple surrounded by columns through which you were able to see a painted panoramic vista of the Nile. A painter from Los Angeles, Doug Bowman, was hired to do the mural, and the result was fascinating. The mural looked old — like a fresco that had survived the ravages of time, unlike these new-looking painted canvases that signal that someone is trying to cut corners. Even with a great sculptor and an equally accomplished muralist at my disposal, that theater didn’t turn out as well as I had envisioned. For instance, the ceiling left a lot to be desired, which was entirely my fault. It was simplistic and cartoonish, and it diminished the impact of all the other well-coordinated elements in the room. I wish I’d put more thought and effort into making the design of the ceiling more interesting.
This theater hasn’t been given a name yet. It’s been designed (the image is a 3-D rendering), but because the molds are so numerous and expensive to make, it hasn’t been built yet. The client has put the project on hold until the recession is over.
The lesson I learned was that if the stakes are high and if the design assignment isn’t run-of-the-mill, you need all the help you can get to pull it off. You need good sculptors and talented painters — and more than anything else, you need to be in control of your design vocabulary. If all the above doesn’t deter you and you insist on giving your theater an Egyptian look, the first thing you need is a reference book that includes Egyptian style motifs. The World of Ornament is a good one, and you can easily find it at places like Amazon.com.
Doing a Google search for images of Egyptian columns and other elements can also bring good results. After you select the designs you like, do another Google search for sculptors in your area. Chances are you will find someone who needs the work and is willing to stay within your budget. Once you’ve located a sculptor, your final Web search should be for a small company that does castings out of polymers, fiberglass, or plastics. Based on the original that a sculptor has made for you, you should be able to get a mold made for not too much money and then have copies cast for less than $2,000 each.
After your columns are fabricated, you need to start worrying about painting them to make them look aged — not an easy task. A bad painting job is like bad makeup: It can make a column look clumsy or cheesy. You need a decorative painter — not a housepainter — for that. Again, you should be able to locate the services of such an artist locally. If I haven’t scared you enough with these multiple challenges and you still want to do an Egyptian theater, go right ahead. There’s only one way to get it out of your mind, and that’s by doing it. Feel free to send me a note about the progress you’re making and let me know if you need some help.
-- Theo Kalomirakis