West of Eden: Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s Dream Theater

Photographs By Jennifer Koskinen

They call it “To Hell You Ride,” but Telluride, Colorado, with its Wild West charm and remote location, in a box canyon surrounded by cliffs and mountains, is well worth the journey. It has a colorful past—Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here—and it counts a handful of Hollywood folks and high-wattage personalities among its residents. It’s also where producer/director Barry Sonnenfeld lives and recharges when he’s not on the road fulfilling his professional duties. Home Theater was recently invited to visit Sonnenfeld in Telluride to check out his screening room, admire the views, and talk shop.

Situated in the privacy of the mountains yet still close to town, Sonnenfeld’s home, purchased in 1998, started out at 4,000 square feet with three bedrooms and a great room. Within a year, he and Sweetie (the wife) hired the original architect, Michael Fuller, to design a 7,000-square-foot addition with four more bedrooms, an office, an indoor hot tub, a large great room with a bar, and, of course, the screening room. “The challenge was to design an addition that wouldn’t interfere with the 360-degree view of the Wilsons, the San Juan, and Palmyra mountain ranges,” says Sonnenfeld.

The new 11,000-square-foot structure has multiple decks with breath-taking views. For that reason, Sonnenfeld asserts, the screening room had to be particularly compelling to motivate him to come downstairs and away from all the natural beauty right outside his windows.

The spacious theater, about 600 square feet, looks noticeably like a sauna and was constructed that way at Sonnenfeld’s request. He enlisted interior design consultants Jeff Lynch and his wife, Stephanie Reinboth, from Long Island’s East End to help with the design and details. Sonnenfeld worked with both previously at his home in East Hampton. In fact, all the walnut and the materials for the screening room (and the bar in the main upstairs great room) were trucked out from Long Island.

But that wasn’t the most challenging part, Lynch says. “It was the short time frame we allotted to get this project done once on site—which was 11 days, start to finish. My wife and I simply tried to accomplish what they wanted in a screening room, which was a room that would make them smile and one they could enjoy having guests use with them.”

The room is not just for watching movies, but also a place where Sonnenfeld can enjoy a cigar inside, which is why there’s a separate ventilation system to remove the smoke and smell from the house. “The space is both warm and masculine at the same time,” Lynch says. “We picked materials that didn’t reflect light or sound. There’s soundproof material behind all the fabric on the walls, and the side speakers are inside the columns with fabric access panels. The rear speakers are behind the fabric sections of the walls. All the equipment is behind a sliding panel in the wall for easy access.”

Sonnenfeld has been a fan of Sony projectors and has had a long run of them in his theater spaces through the years. The most recent upgrade in Telluride brought in the VPL-VW1000ES, the world’s first consumer discrete 4K projector. It’s also Sonnenfeld’s first 3D-capable projector, a fitting touch since he just made his own first foray into 3D filmmaking with Men in Black 3. Sony’s latest flagship also features automatic lens memory and processing for widescreen anamorphic material that allows the image to fill the giant Stewart screen without letterboxing, whether he’s watching widescreen movies or 16:9 HD content. The 2.35:1 scope screen measures 14 feet wide by 6 feet tall, is microperfed to allow the front speakers to reside behind the screen, and features a drop-down masking system to close up the side panels for 16:9 programming.

Custom electronics integrator Artistic Systems, with offices in Telluride and Scottsdale, Flagstaff, and Sedona, Arizona, handled the task. “We relocated the projector because this new model had different parameters and didn’t work in exactly the same spot as the previous one,” says president Charlie Colwell. “So we situated the new one under the ceiling via a pole mount.”

Added simultaneously was Sony’s latest top-of-the-line Blu-ray player, the BDP-S790, with 2D-to-3D conversion and 4K upscaling of 1080p discs, theoretically allowing the option of performing this task in the player or in the projec- tor itself, which has similar capabilities. “Even though he has a 4K projector and 4K Blu-ray player, there is still no 4K consumer content, so we wanted to make sure we had the highest bandwidth in place now,” Colwell says. “That way, when 4K content becomes available, we should be able to project without changing any of the wiring already in place.” Colwell has a conduit to the projector location with HDMI wiring—all brand new—that is certified to accommodate the higher speed and throughput requirements for 4K.

The system design has all video sources going to a Key Digital 4-in/1-out HDMI switcher that sends video signals directly to the projector. Audio signals pass through a McIntosh MX-135 A/V surround processor that outputs to the McIntosh seven-channel amplifier powering all of the NHT speakers. The NHT subs—of which there are six located behind a scrim below the screen—use three external NHT amps that are mounted on the racks, one amp for each pair.

Sonnenfeld operates the gear with a Control4 HC-800 system updated with a new processor for faster response and a better user interface. “We updated the handheld remotes with ones that are backlit,” Colwell says, and Control4’s iPad app was also pressed into play. “We replaced the entire wholehouse music system with a new Sonos, but we can access it through Control4 if needed.”

Above all, with movies or music, Sonnenfeld likes things to be consistent. “There was a learning curve with a new Control4 remote and the ability to control the system on his iPad. The user challenges were getting the aspect ratios and projector settings, as well as the subs, the way he wanted all of it,” Colwell says. “He also wanted buttons that most clients don’t want to have. Because of his cinematography background, he wanted to be able to adjust red, green, and blue balance and color on the fly while watching something. It’s done with an iPad app using the Control4 system. We put a bunch of custom buttons on there to allow him to adjust various detailed color settings.”

The theater has three levels of seating with chairs purchased at Restoration Hardware, along with other assorted chairs and sofas acquired over the years—and also brought out from East Hampton by Lynch.

Meanwhile, the rest of the home is filled with unique spaces that are decorated creatively, right down to pictures in the hallways and a Wu’s Chinese menu in the bathroom—a funny reference to the restaurant scene in MIB3. Beyond the screening room, another impressive element in the home is the great room upstairs that looks out into the mountains all around. An existing bar constructed of metal, which was cold and didn’t function well, was replaced with a built-into-the-wall bar made of glass shelving that keeps it from feeling like a heavy intrusion into the space, and a wood top that provides a rustic aesthetic. “The main room needed a great bar since they entertain often, and it needed to serve as a place for storage as well as to serve drinks from,” Lynch says. It’s now the perfect place for a cocktail before heading downstairs to watch a film.

Theater Equipment
McIntosh MX-135 Surround Processor
McIntosh MC207 7-Channel Amplifier
Sony VPL-VW1000ES SXRD Projector
Stewart Filmscreen 2.35:1 Screen
Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player
Sony BDP-CX7000EX Blu-ray Megachanger
DirecTV HR24 Satellite Receiver
Apple TV Media Streamer
Key Digital KD-HDSW4X1 HDMI Switcher
Control4 HC-800 Control System
Litetouch Lighting Control System
NHT Speakers, Subwoofers, and Sub Amps

Duster's picture

The AV rack is great