8 Steps To Designing A Successful Home Theater
Experienced Home Theater Designer
Having worked on hundreds of Home Theater Designs over the last 24 years, we've isolated the 8 necessary steps required to create an amazing Home Theater.
Obviously each project is unique and your theater may not require all 8 steps. If you have a limited budget, then you can skip Step 5 (Formal Documentation).
If you are converting an existing room into a Home Theater, then Step 2 will not apply to your situation.
It should also be noted that it may seem that most of these steps are directed at mid to high-end Home Theaters. However, you can still design a beautiful theater having just a series of Decorative Acoustic Panels and beautiful sconces.
8 Steps To Create A Successful Home Theater
Step 1 – Create A Budget For Your Theater Design
Create a realistic budget. Once you have a comfortable range to work with you then need to determine how you want to allocate your budget. Break this down into the following 3 categories: A/V, Interior Design/Acoustic Treatments and Theater Seating.
You then need to determine how you want to prioritize your budget. If sound is the most important part of your theater, you may invest more money in your speakers and Sound Control products. Other people may be more interested in having the best and largest screen possible and will invest heavily in a projector and screen. Furthermore, some people want to create a really elegant design for their theater and will prioritize these element in their budget.
At the end of this step you should have a good idea of how much you want to spend on your equipment, décor/acoustic panels, and chairs.
Step 2 – Home Theater Dimensions
Many clients first question is often “What size should my theater be?”. If you are building a new home or adding on a room, you may have the freedom to determine the precise size of your theater. In this scenario, determine the number of chairs that you want and how much space you need behind the chairs for a counter top, bar, storage etc. If you want two rows of 4 chairs without anything else in the rear part of the theater, then you really don’t need a theater much larger than 14′ x 21′. For each additional row of chairs and/or bar counter, you should add 6′-7′. But remember, the longer you make the room, the wider the room and screen needs to be. The width of the theater doesn’t necessarily need to be more than 36″ – 72″ wider than the width of your seat configuration.
If you want to be extremely precise with your dimensions, there are several “Golden Ratio’s” rules you can use as a guide to your theater dimensions. The rule that we like is to use the height of your room as the base figure. In this scenario the ideal width would be 1.6 x height; Length = 2.6 x height. So for a 9′ ceiling your width would be about 173″ and your length would be about 250″.
If possible, try to avoid a square shaped room, this is acoustically the worst shape to have. This is one of the reasons to use Acoustic Panels. In most cases it's unrealistic to think that you can be that precise with your dimension and that’s OK. The acoustic panels will cover up the imperfections in your theater’s shape and size.
You can design an amazing Home Theater from just about any size and shaped room. You just need to work with an experienced and creative Home Theater Designer to maximize the potential of your room.
Step 3 – A/V Equipment
Now that you have a general budget and room dimensions, you should consider the equipment for your theater. The screen size is very important to your overall theater experience. The optimal viewing distance is about 1.5 x the diagonal length of the screen. So a larger room will require a wider screen. If the room isn’t too long, don’t purchase the widest screen available because you will be seated too close to the screen.
You should consider purchasing in-wall or ceiling speakers for your surround sound. These can easily be hidden behind acoustic panels or placed in columns. Speakers that are mounted on the walls are an eyesore and usually interfere with the design concept of the theater.
As previously stated you need to determine what is most important to you. A true audiophile will focus on the Audio and Sound Control products of the Home Theater and allocate a larger percentage of their A/V budget to these elements. Other people may place more emphasis on their viewing experience which will be reflected in a better projector and screen and not spend as much on their Audio system.
Take a moment to reflect on where you want to prioritize your A/V budget. Hopefully, you have an experienced Audio Video company in your town who can guide you through this phase. They should be able to recommend quality equipment that fits into your budget. If you don’t, we may be able to recommend one since we have worked with many A/V companies throughout the country.
Step 4 – Theater Design Concepts
At this point your focus should be on the interior design of your theater. Your choices are limitless, so start by considering if you want a Traditional, Modern or Thematic Home Theater. Then determine your preferred color scheme. A little research can go a long way. Search the dozens of theater images contained on our site or other sites if you prefer. Hopefully, there will be at least one design that really “pops” for you.
Many people believe their theater decor should be consistent with the rest of their home. That’s fine, but your theater is the one room where you can express your true personality and passion. You can have a great deal of fun with this room so think beyond the box and consider all the possibilities that are available to you. For example, we have worked on theaters that contain the following themes: James Bond, New Orleans, Wine Cellar, Chicago Sports, Movie Stars, Grand Canyon, Stars, Fish and many more. We even worked with one of the top Mercedes Benz mechanics in the country to create artistic images featuring his favorite car.
Most dependable Home Theater Designers should be able to provide you with photo realistic renderings of your potential theater design. This is a great tool that helps communicate your final design concept before you have to financially commit to it.
Depending upon your budget, you may want to consider having a Proscenium in your theater. This refers to a build out off the front wall. The Proscenium includes a stage, walls (false) surround the screen that can either hide your front speakers or contain acoustic panels, decorative moldings surrounding the screen opening, ambient lighting and perhaps a decorative medallion.
As for the stage, this one element can transform a simple room into a Home Theater. We associate a stage with a theatrical performance. Therefore a stage is an important part of creating an immersive Home Theater experience. If you have a taller room, the stage lets you elevate your screen while balancing off the the rest of the front wall.
If you are working with a smaller budget, you can create a really sharp theater with just a series of decorative acoustic panels. Add a few nice sconces, and you’ve created a wonderful theater environment.
Step 5 – Theater Design Documents
It is now time to start making your Theater a reality. For mid to high-end theaters, you should consider budgeting for a formal set of architectural drawing that your vendors can work from. This is the most important Step for theaters with a larger budget. In this step your Theater Designer should evaluate and integrate your A/V, HVAC, lighting and building materials into your final theater design. Careful analysis of these items before installation is the key to achieving an efficient and successful Home Theater experience.
The formal drawings should include the following:
Electrical Drawings – show the wiring for speakers, lights and equipment.
Construction Drawings – Show the physical build outs for chair risers, stages, columns and prosceniums.
Design Elevations – Reflect the size, quantity and location of the acoustic panels, columns and any other architectural elements of your theater.
Floor Plan – Reflects the chair layout as well as all other elements that will be located on the floor of the theater.
Ceiling Plan – Reflects lighting, moldings, beams and any other element that may be located on the ceiling of the theater.
Sight Line Study – Shows a side view of the theater to ensure that all seats have a proper viewing angle of the screen.
For an existing room, you may not need such a formalized package. However, you will still need to precisely integrate your lighting, acoustic panels, chairs and other elements (columns) of your theater.
Step 6 – If You Build It, They Will Come!
All of the essential elements of your theater should now be fully analyzed and documented. You can now begin planning the installation for the first part of your theater, which includes: Internal wiring for the speakers, lights, projector, equipment (rack) etc. If you are using in-wall speakers you can install the speakers as well.
Construction of the riser, stage, soffit and other architectural elements, should be completed by a local contractor.
Installation of the carpet is usually recommended before acoustic treatments and other design elements are installed.
Some theater designs may require the installation of sophisticated sound control products in the internal wall. These products can be used to enhance the sound in the theater or to keep the sound from leaking into other rooms of the house. These products should be considered if you have a larger budget and if you are concerned that the sound may leak into other rooms surrounding your theater.
Step 7 – Home Theater Installation
Once the initial phase of wiring and construction is completed, you can now start installing the interior design and A/V products that will be visible in the theater. If your design includes wall to wall acoustic panels make sure your installers have the knowledge and experience to make on-site modifications to the acoustic panels, moldings and other decorative items being installed.
Sorry to say, but most walls are not perfectly square. Therefore, adjustments will have to be made to these items to accommodate the imperfect walls.
Acoustic Panel, Columns, Wood Trim, Sconces, Proscenium, Stages, Curtains, Carpet, Chairs, Fiber-optic Ceiling and any other custom architectural products for your theater.
Speakers, Audio Equipment, Lighting Control, Projector, Screen, Step lights, other lights in the room.
Step 8 – Lights, Camera, Home Theater
Now your theater seems to be complete. However, the acoustic panels, chairs, moldings and columns affect the way the sound moves throughout the room. Your A/V dealer needs to tweak your equipment to account for all these physical elements in your theater.
Once you are happy with the results, it’s time to dim the lights, sit back and enjoy your wonderful new Home Theater.
If you followed the previous 7 Steps you should be proud of the room you helped design. You will be amazed at how great the room sounds and looks. Your theater will become a room where your family and friends can spend hundreds of hours enjoying home entertainment.
Home Theater Process
Below are some before/after images from one of our projects. As you can see, a great deal of planning is required in order to create your ultimate Home Theater.
As with any home improvement or new construction project, advanced analysis and planning will allow for a more efficient process. This will save you time, money and many headaches.
An experienced Home Theater Designer, will account for HVAC integration, Sound Isolation, Sound Enhancement via sound absorption, reflection and diffusion. These are just a few items that many designers neglect to address when designing a Home Theater.