10 Maxims of Building the Perfect Home Theater Room

  • 01 of 05

    10 Maxims of Perfect Home Theater Room Design

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    Home Theater With Blue Soffits. Getty / Dana Hoff

    Building out your home theater space is the true gravy--and end point--of home remodeling.  It would be unthinkable to lavish attention on a dedicated home cinema when your kitchen is still frozen in time in the mid-1980s (complete with teal and salmon countertops) or your bathroom is a hideous mess with a battle-scarred bathtub and leaking sink.

    So after you do all of that hard work, you get your home movie theater.

    This list of elements is weighted towards true theater aspects, like controlling...MORE outside light and the ability to cast a super-big picture.  However, you may find that these requirements better serve the flat-screen TV viewer, too.  

    1.  Dedicated Space For the Cinema

    Dedicated space means nothing else happens in that room except screening-related activities.

    It's not a real home theater unless screening is the only--or primary--activity that happens in that space.  And today, by "screening," we mean anything screen-related:  from Netflix movies to video gaming to network TV to watching old DVDs.  

    Spare bedrooms work fine, but they do need to be long enough so that viewers can maintain a proper distance from the screen.  

    This is especially important with video projectors.  At the extreme end, a projector needs roughly a 14' throw distance in order to cast a 150" diagonal picture (though short-throw projectors are available).

    2.  Control of Ambient Light

    Ambient light means light from sources outside of the theater, such as from other rooms or through windows.

    With most home remodeling, you're always trying to add more natural light.  This is one instance where you want to limit ambient light (whether natural outdoor light or light from other rooms) as much as you can.  Light-bleed kills video projection images.  You will need a projector over 3,000 lumens to cut through all that light.  But why not stop it in the first place?  Either choose a space that already has little light, such a basement, or control light by means of curtains and shades.  

    3.  Control of Ambient Sound

    Ambient sound means unwanted sound from outside of your home theater.

    Dishwasher, kids in other rooms, kitchen noises, plumbing noises, and sounds from outdoors are just a few examples of ambient sounds that can crash in and destroy that quiet, tender moment during Mad Max: Fury Road.  You shouldn't stand for that.

    Having a dedicated space is the first step to controlling outside noise.  But that won't do it all.  Soundproof your room by adding a second layer of drywall or replacing with a special wallboard called QuietRock.  Replacing your hollow-core doors with solid doors also goes a long ways toward soundproofing your home cinema.

    4.  Light-Control Within Cinema

    Cinema light control means the ability to turn lights on and off, or graduate that light, within the cinema space.

    Soffits, rope lights, dimmers, and recessed lights form the backbone of so many owner-built home theaters.  As shown in this image, soffits--those trays near the ceiling that run around the room's perimeter--are inlaid with blue rope lights.  Additionally, small recessed lights are punched into the soffit to shine downward.  This is the classic home theater look.

    But cinema light-control also pertains to light bouncing off of the screen and filling the room.  To control this, you'll want the darkest possible paint color that you can tolerate and with the flattest possible sheen.  

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Gorgeous Home Theater with Tiered Seating

    Excellent Home Theater Tiered Seating
    Excellent Home Theater Tiered Seating. Creative Commons-Licensed; Flickr User gsloan

    The homeowner of this pictured home theater presents a very real-world picture of what a well-designed, properly built home cinema actually looks like, starting with...

    5.  Proper Viewing and Seating For Everyone

    No one in the theater should have his/her view of the screen blocked or be too close or far away.

    Tiered seating is a true luxury, and one that can only be accomplished in a dedicated cinema space.  The problem of blockage is solved by raising rear seats on a platform.  As you will see in...MORE the next picture, it's just a simple 6" platform.

    Too close/too far is determined by room size in conjunction with the size of the picture you want to throw.  For flat-screen TVs, small converted bedroom spaces can (in my opinion) accommodate up to a 55" screen before the closest row of viewers begins to feel overwhelmed.  

    Seating does not need to be specialty home theater seats costing thousands.  Any comfortable seat that faces forward, without a high back to obstruct viewers behind you, will do the job.

    6.  Feeders:  Power and Internet

    Your entertainment experience is fed by wires coming in from outside of the room--chiefly, power and Internet signals.

    Think about where your wires are coming from and if you have enough power.  The days of the entirely self-contained home theater are gone (though you may still retain your DVD or BluRay player to show old disks).  Entertainment comes via hard-wired Internet connections--which I recommend over trying to send a wireless connection for fat data loads through walls or even floors.

    7.  Wire Coverage

    Wires need to be hidden as much as possible.

    A/V and Internet wires can be hidden in soffits.  Electrical wires, by code, must be sealed up in the walls.

    8.  Sound-Control Within Cinema

    Walls, ceiling, and flooring that contain sound and make it sound its best.

    Your home theater will create sound, lots of sound.  How will you make it sound better, and how will you prevent it from migrating to other spaces?

    9.  Places To Put Components

    This is the central point for your source components.

    Usually, home theaters have a central "brain," the equipment rack, where source components such as DVD player, BluRay, cable box, or network media streamers (e.g., Roku) will reside.  This should be located near an electric outlet and you should be able to bring in an Internet source wire.

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  • 03 of 05

    Another View of Tiered Seating In Home Theater

    Shown here is a reverse angle on that previous home theater to show you just how easy it is to create tiered seating.

    Older commercial theaters have sloped floors and contemporary ones have elaborate, steeply tiered seating.  

    Home cinema seat tiering is far easier to accomplish by building a framework of joists of 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 lumber set on edge.  Half-inch interior grade plywood goes atop that, and then carpeting.  

    The carpentry part is a one day job.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Creating a Cinema Style In Your Home Theater

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    Home Theater With Sconces. Getty / Andersen Ross

    The last step in designing a home theater is to give it the look of a theater.  

    This is subjective.  We all have different visions of what a "cinema" looks like.  

    This pictured theater has classic elements such as theater seating all facing one direction, sconce lights, and a very dark color scheme.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    What Not To Do:  A Poorly Designed Home Theater

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    Do Not Emulate This Home Theater. Getty / Perry Mastrovito

    The opposite of the home theater maxims listed earlier are shown here:

    • Busy array of junk and tchotchkes near the screen.  Suggestion:  remove all of it.
    • White ceiling near the screen:  Suggestion:  paint entire ceiling darker color or at least the portion near the screen.  This misstep is even worse since this is a projection screen.
    • Open doorway to rest of house.  Suggestion:  replace with solid doors or, at least, curtains.