All Work and All Play

Actor Donnie Wahlberg is not opposed to bringing his work home with him to this sleek, simple, high-performance home theater.

If it weren't for Hollywood, we wouldn't have home theater. It is not only the old movie theaters that today's homeowners find inspiration in—it is also the film community that pushes the envelope for high-tech theater at home. In fact, many early home theaters were film theaters, with directors installing full film-projection systems in their homes in order to watch the dailies. Of course, this type of theater usually required a special staff, such as a professional projectionist, to make the image look right.

Today, with the vast leaps and bounds that digital cinema has made over the last 15 years, it is a lot easier for the folks in Hollywood to get that movie-theater experience at home, and they continue to move the home theater industry.

Actor Donnie Wahlberg—whose latest endeavors include The Kill Pit, a preproduction TV series; Kings of South Beach; and the thrillers Saw II and Saw III—takes his work home with him to watch in the comfort of his own home theater. He has created a space that is simple, comfortable, and high performing—and one that his entire family can enjoy.

While Wahlberg's theater looks straightforward, it is actually a carefully choreographed dance that combines minimalist aesthetics, fine-tuned audio and video, functionality, and comfort, all made possible by the guys at AM House in Saugus, California. "The most difficult part of Donnie's home theater was getting the final product exactly as he wanted it," says Aaron James, copartner at AM House. "He didn't want extravagance but rather an understated design that performed like a champion."

Wahlberg's home in Southern California had a garage that was small but perfect for the size of the theater he wanted. It all started with the previous homeowners, who had used AM House for a media system in their living room. "We left our card for them, and they passed it on to Donnie," says Justin Brees, copartner at AM House. At the time he contacted AM House with his plans for building a theater, Wahlberg's wife, Kim, was using the garage as a work space. Wahlberg's goals were simple: He wanted the theater not only to screen his own work before the final cuts, but also to get that movie-theater feel and have a place of escape for himself, his wife, and his two sons.

Of course, with Wahlberg's hectic schedule, he wanted it done as quickly as possible, in time, in fact, for the holiday season of 2005—leaving AM House only about 20 days to get the theater up and running.

"We started on the first of December and needed to get the theater functioning for a holiday party on Christmas Eve," says Brees. "We got everything working great and later did several upgrades and additions." Over the last 12 months, AM House added the burgundy curtain with a custom top. They also framed out and enclosed the subwoofer into the side wall; the sub was sitting at the side of the room until relatively recently.

Wahlberg wanted the largest screen possible in the space he had to work with. AM House installed a 92-inch fixed screen with a JVC DLP projector pole-mounted to the ceiling. "We've used this JVC in the past, and you can mount it very close to the screen," says James. "The lens is very flexible, which is good because we didn't have a lot of depth in the room." The video system runs through a Marantz SR9600 A/V receiver.

For the audio, AM House used Sonance Cinema in-wall speakers and a Velodyne HGS-15 powered subwoofer for a 7.1-channel setup. "Sonance makes very high-quality in-walls that are already pre-enclosed," says James. "We had to reinforce the walls a bit, but the sound in that theater is definitely worth it." A separate closet houses all of the equipment. AM House used four acoustic diffusers along the sides of each wall, one on the back wall, and two on the ceiling.

To convert the small 12-by-20-foot garage, AM House ran wiring, built out the front wall a couple of inches for the Sonance speakers, framed and built garage doors, and then built a small riser in the room. Sound foam on the floor and high-grade industrial carpet help tame unruly room acoustics. The room seats only four, which provides just enough room for Wahlberg's family to enjoy a night at the movies in comfortable, black Fortress Seating leather recliners. "Donnie wanted an intimate environment; he didn't want to sit in a 20-seat theater every day. He uses the room so much, he wanted it to be cozy," says James.

The theater's minimalist style is all Wahlberg, who was very hands-on when it came to the interior design. "Every day, he had input and wanted updates," says Brees. "He picked out the colors for the curtains, paint, and even the sound panels." AM House also added a lot of decorative touches, such as the motorized curtains.

An Elan VIA! 6.5-inch in-wall touchscreen controls the entire theater. "We were going to put it in the arm of the chair, but that wasn't the best idea with young children using the system," says Brees. This is a testament to the entire system's ease of operation.

By taking the complicated and extravagant features out of his home theater, Wahlberg ensured that it would always operate optimally. "Donnie made it so that he wouldn't have to make a lot of calls to figure out how to operate his theater or troubleshoot problems," says Brees. Indeed, the theater is simple and straightforward, and that was the whole idea. "It functions perfectly, it sounds awesome, and it's exactly what I wanted," says Wahlberg. The critically acclaimed actor and his family now have a simple, high-performance space for both work and play.

AM House
(877) 258-3515