Building a Home Theater – Part 1

This summer we bought a house, which meant goodbye to the days of renting. With the housing market here being crazy, we were often forced to move to a new house as the owner would decide to cash in on the market and sell. I had gotten lucky with the past two houses we rented as both offered me large 12’x25’ basement rooms for a home theater. Despite the rather large headaches of getting gear into a basement, where narrow staircases can prevent large TVs from easily making the trip, they worked well for my work and personal enjoyment.

With our new house I couldn’t get quite so lucky on the room. My new space is half the size of the old room, measuring 11’x13’ with 8’ ceilings. It also has a rather large closet with sliding doors that is almost 30” deep and 8’ wide. With the rest of the house, including the location, being ideal, I was set to make this work. What i’m going to break down in this series of articles is how I go about converting this room from a basic bedroom into a dedicated home theater room. As I write this in October 2016 how it will all end up is still in the air, as some pieces of the room aren’t even here yet! But hopefully what I learn along the way can help someone else figure out how to update their room or to create a theater in a small space.

The Challenges

I face different challenges than some others when it comes to a home theater room. Since I constantly am reviewing components, I need the ability to easily swap them in and out, and to store gear temporarily. I also need to have both a TV and a projector in the same space since I review both of them. Speakers present another issue, as they’re both large when I review them and need to be positioned inside of the room more than some other components.

I also have a large media library for testing purposes, and need to store a computer in the same room to use for doing calibrations and measurements of review components. This one room would have to serve as my office, testing lab, and local storage space. Being used to having a 12’x25’ space and having a large garage for storage, this was going to be a challenge but one I was up to. Since I owned the house, it meant I could modify the room as I’d like and that opened up many options that were not available to me before.

Our Starting Point

As you can see in the lead photo from when we toured the house originally, this wasn’t a theater room. It was a kids room with a piano, games, and a futon for guests. It was painted a pink color that felt warm, but probably isn’t ideal for a home theater. It also has a large window to outside which offers a nice view and good sunlight, but isn’t great for a projector or calibrating a TV. The exposed beams on the ceiling are nice, and something we will take advantage of, but they also mean we actually have no ceiling as directly above them is the upstairs floor. One good change from my prior spaces is that this room is on the main floor. When UPS and FedEx are often dropping off large, heavy packages, being able to put them on a furniture dolly and wheel them into the office is a huge benefit!

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The first thing I did before we even moved into the house was repaint it. Since this was going to be a theater room for critical viewing, I wanted to have it be as neutral, but still inviting, as possible. While a pure black room might be more theater-like, it also isn’t inviting to the rest of my family to come in and watch a movie in here. Instead I settled on a neutral gray for the walls and a nearly black shade of gray for the ceiling. This would hopefully create a room free of a color shift while watching movies and also be welcoming to people. I went with a matte finish which might be harder to clean up if kids are leaving hand prints but will reduce reflections and glare for when I’m watching the projector.

Next I had to figure out where to position the screens. Ideally you want the screens on the shorter walls, giving you a longer throw distance for the projector and better speaker layout options. The easiest wall would have been the one with the door to outside, but that would limit me to around a 9’ throw distance and make testing many projectors impossible. The wall opposite it was the closet, so a screen there was out. I considered the wall opposite the large window, but that has the doorway into the room. Using that for the screens would mean speakers would have to go directly in front of the door, creating a disaster waiting to happen. In the end, I have to use the wall with the large window which means I’m going to need to select a drop down projection screen.

With that determined I can start to make decisions about the rest of the room. Storing equipment in the closet makes lots of sense. It lets me keep the room itself more open and hides it away. I already had a Salamander Synergy rack on wheels, which would let me pull the rack out when I needed to swap components in and out of the system. I considered going with a rack mount system here, and still might in the future, but for now the Synergy rack will work just fine. A large shelf in the closet adds space for storing boxes of cables and adapters that I often need when new components arrive.

This leaves me with needing to find a way to store my media somewhere, and the large wall to the left of the screens seems like an ideal place to put it. I want to remain flexible in my storage solutions and take up as little room as possible, so a larger bookcase is out. As much as I’ve liked using Expedit racks from IKEA in the past, they aren’t as flexible as I’d like them to be. Instead I decide to go with an on-wall storage system with adjustable shelves. This is the kind of unit I couldn’t install when I was renting a house, but now that I own it I am free to do what I want. While systems from The Container Store look great and offer more flexibility, they also cost 3-4x as much as the Algot system from IKEA. After measuring the wall and locating the studs, I decide that this is the approach I will take for both media storage and my office desk.

All the gear, boxed up, and no open space

All the gear, boxed up, and no open space

Ready to Build

With the layout of the room determined we are ready to start building it out. In our next piece we will go over our component selection for the room and what equipment we decide to use. We’ll also cover building the wall shelving unit and how we dealt with that large window that sits right where we want the projection screen and TV to go.

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