Home Theater Hideaway

You wouldn't know it to look at the "mine's bigger than yours" installations featured in some home theater magazines, but having a decent amount of money to spend on a whole-house audio/video system doesn't necessarily translate into gaudy opulence. Or, to put it another way, modesty isn't always dictated by a limited budget. Some of the best custom installations aren't the ones with a home theater centerpiece featuring a Roxy-sized screen and plush velvet overstuffed chairs. A good installer really shows his stuff when he can create a rig that's only on display when music or movies are wanted, fading back into the woodwork when not in use. And the best installers don't force their favorite kind of system on you but design one that suits your taste and situation.

Nestled into a five-acre wetlands preserve on the shores of a small harbor off Long Island Sound, the main house and detached garage of this modest property (or at least modest for this legendarily affluent Connecticut town) both wear unassuming tan shells. And, while the waterfront location, private docks, and pricey acreage all indicate status, this is one suburban fiefdom that's clearly not trying to draw attention to itself. The owners - he a chief operating officer, she a former school teacher - could have easily gone with an installation that was flashy, big, and brassy. Instead, they asked Jim Young and Wayne Tomblin of Audio Video Interiors in Shelton, Connecticut, to come up with a easy-to-use but complete multiroom system that would be as unassuming as their lifestyle.

The installation in the house has pretty much everything you'd expect to find in an upscale system. There's a big rear-projection TV and A/V components in the family room off the kitchen, a plasma TV mounted over the fireplace in the master bedroom, ceiling speakers throughout the house, and outdoor speakers disguised as rocks arrayed around the pool. It's in the large space above the garage (recently built to house the husband's collection of vintage sports cars) that Young and Tomblin's work reveals some surprising twists. This multipurpose area serves as a gym, playroom, spa, guest house, and - athough you'd never know it when you first walk in - deluxe home theater.

Go to the far side of the room, kick back in the black leather recliner, tap the touchscreen remote's System On icon, and the lights dim, the blinds close, and a divider wall descends from the ceiling. Then the compact video projector comes alive, the electronics and subwoofer snap out of standby mode, and an 80 x 60-inch screen and three front motorized speakers roll down from the ceiling. In less than 30 seconds, the space is transformed into a dedicated theater, sealed off from the rest of the room.