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Home Theater Design—A Critical Part of the Home Entertainment Experience

Monday, January 27, 2020

There’s a saying in the home theater business: You can have the best AV equipment in the world, but if the room environment isn’t right, the AV will never perform to its full potential. Creating a space where the audience becomes fully immersed in the movie action requires more than just a collection of great AV gear. It also takes a room comprised of expertly executed architectural and design elements, according to Lisa Slayman, owner of Laguna Beach, Calif-based Slayman Cinema. An AV integrator is the best person to install and configure the home theater equipment; a professional home theater designer is the expert at molding the room interior. When these two professionals work together, the line between form and function blurs, resulting in a seamless integration of beauty and brawn in a special space that evokes excitement, emotion and an escape from the rigors of everyday life. 

New Technologies, New Designs

“The state of the home cinema is changing as technology is allowing for bigger screens, better picture quality, and lifelike, three-dimensional sound,” remarks Slayman. “What has not changed is homeowners’ desires for a room that makes a great impression when you walk in. The interior of a home theater is still very important to people. We meet with clients before plans for the theater are underway to get a feel for how they envision their home theater to look and feel, their priorities, and their budget.” Room dimensions, seating layout, screen and projector locations, walkways, wall thickness, and architectural and decorative features are all fully explored and discussed. Slayman’s initial meetings with clients may begin with conversations about design, but they always end with an explanation of the importance of the AV integrator to the project. “There is a lot of technical information clients need to be educated about, so they understand their options, and I always encourage them to speak with the AV integrator early on in the planning phase,” Slayman says.

Meeting of the Minds

After individually gathering information from the client, Slayman’s design team, the AV integrator, and the acoustician meet to draft a plan that satisfies both the design and performance goals of the project. Undoubtedly, some adjustments and compromises will be made.  Based on the number of speakers, wall thickness, size and style of screen, and other technological recommendations, the interior begins to take shape—creating more space where necessary and modifying the room configuration based on sightlines, screen size, and speaker locations. “Although the interior is important, most of the collaboration between the designer, the AV integrator, and the acoustician focuses on the shell of the room,” Slayman says. “Collectively, we determine the best solutions for making speakers fit into wall cavities, acoustical elements fuse with the space, projectors conceal above ceilings, and when there’s a challenge, we solve it together. There’s always some give and take and no two projects are ever the same.” For example, on one recent project a low ceiling prohibited a typical ceiling-mount installation of a video projector. By putting their heads together, Slayman and the AV integrator devised a clever remedy that would enable the projector to be stowed above the ceiling, using a slim mirror assembly to project images onto the screen. A “general” interior designer might have steered clear of these structural modifications, but Slayman recognizes the importance of teamwork between tech and design experts to the overall home theater experience. “Defining problems early on means more options for the right solution; it’s my job as a home theater designer to collaborate with all the experts on the project to accommodate the AV systems, acoustics, and equipment as needed with minimal impact on the room design.” 

Bridging the Tech/Design Gap

A home theater is the culmination of many individual parts and pieces. The room construction, the interior design, and the AV gear each plays a critical role. Engaging everyone involved in a project to focus on these elements collectively rather than individually is Slayman’s mission on each and every job. “We consider each and every one of these important components as we design a theater,” she says. “If I didn’t work closely with the AV integrator and the acoustician to understand the technology they planned for the space, the design would ultimately suffer and so would the outcome of the project.”  As home theater technology continues to evolve, so must the room design, and Slayman is helping bridge that gap.