High End on the High Seas

Themed theaters allow the homeowner to retreat into a sanctuary of sorts. This month's Nautilus Theater even transports you to another time, when hearty sea farthing men (and a woman on occasion) spent months on the ocean in small wooden ships. However, they were never as technologically decked out as this.

"The homeowner wanted to be swept to another place, with a theater resembling the interior of a ship. We had to strike a delicate balance between the wow factor, and maintaining world-class audio and video in this theater," said Lee Lareau, owner of Custom Home Theater Systems & Automation.

Originally, the homeowner requested a rounded ceiling but Lareau knew that could be an acoustical nightmare. Instead, they used mahogany siding and curved beams along the side of the room to create the look of the ship's interior.

Working closely with the contractor – Eric Smith of Oceanside Builder – it was necessary to use detailed CAD drawings for designing the theater, which required very close tolerances. For example, the room was relatively small – 23' x 13' – and it took exact measurements to fit a large Stewart Firehawk Reference 110" (diagonal) screen and Bowers and Wilkins 802D floor standing speakers into the front of the room.

The project took over a year to complete, in part because the room had to be acoustically isolated from the rest of the house. Mass loaded vinyl was used to seal off the room because it is more effective than lead. Moreover, the theater had 4 doors, which is hardly ideal, so each door is nearly a foot thick to prevent sound leakage. Another big challenge was a furnace that was literally a few feet from the seating area and had to be isolated with double mass loaded vinyl walls.

Lareau was concerned about all the sound isolation, because a sealed room can build up energy and could cause headaches from too much sound pressure. To deal with this, he drilled hundreds of holes in the 2nd row riser and stuffed it with cotton batting, turning it into a bass trap. To combat the acoustic reflections, mahogany pieces with a center bead were used to help break up the flat surfaces. The three-hatched vents not only make the interior look like a ship, it broke up the higher frequencies very well. The heavy curtains and motorized drapes in the front of the room also helped tame reflections.

The AV equipment was all top-of-the-line including studio reference B & W monitors for the front speakers, powered by 500 watt monoblock McIntosh MC501 amplifiers. B&W DS-7s are used in the rear and sides of the room with McIntosh 252s.

There are 4 LCD TVs in the brass portholes on the left side of the theater with an aquarium video feed, providing the "at sea" ambiance. The entire room is pre-programmed and automated using the Remote Technologies (RTI) T3 controller. There are several other unique elements to the theater including fiber optic lighting in the ceiling and an auxiliary plug in the rear of the theater for the homeowner's grandchildren to connect their video games when visiting.

The Nautical Theater is actually famous in the world of custom installation, having won the 2008 Mark of Excellence Award for Best Retrofit Project from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

Lee Lareau, 207 373 1147, www.customhometheater.biz