Media Matters

This past holiday shopping season proved one thing for certain: electronics are hot. With so many HDTVs, DVD and Blu-ray players, video game consoles and other electronics so popular, it’s no wonder the media room continues to increase in importance within the home. And, kitchen and bath designers are being called upon to tackle these other rooms more than ever.

“We often do additional rooms, and they run the gamut,” says Ken Kelly, CKD, CBD, principal of Williston Park, NY-based Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly. “We do about nine to 10 wall units/home theater units per year, and they can run from a basic set of cabinetry to an elaborate $75,000 wall system. Other rooms represent, for us, about 8% total volume these days, which equated to over $400,000 in 2008.”

That percentage of total volume is typical according to designers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News. However, some suggest that number could be much higher if more clients were aware of a firm’s ability to design such rooms.

Jolynn Johnson, CMKBD, CAPS, president of Crystal, MN-based Crystal Kitchen Center says, “With ‘kitchen’ in our name, people expect us to just do kitchens. They are surprised when they see a working entertainment center with a fireplace in our showroom. We get a lot of, ‘Oh, you do that, too?’”

Proven Profits

In 2009, due to high unemployment and a slow economy, Americans stayed home more than ever. Holiday travel was down across the country while subscription entertainment services like Netflix (for DVDs) and GameFly (for video games) reported record growth. At the same time, the recession has led to more home entertaining, as opposed to spending leisure time at restaurants or other pricey venues.

As a result, “Media centers have become an important part of the home. Whether it’s a home theater or a media unit in the living room, clients want to enjoy all of the entertainment options with their family, and this is something all of the family can enjoy,” says Heather Kahler of Boston, MA-based Dalia Kitchen Design.

“It can be a great profit center because clients come into it already expecting custom furniture pieces to cost more,” says Johnson.

“Sometimes we’re building in a radiator or heat register, or going around a pipe or column. All of these things can be disguised in our custom cabinets. Other times we’ve been asked to build in special features like an aquarium or Christmas village. Odd sizes and angles aren’t available in furniture stores, but with custom cabinetry, it can be whatever door style, wood species or finish the client desires,” she adds.

Designers agree that an easy way to get a leg up on the competition when adding media centers to a design portfolio is to partner with an audio/visual company.

“In addition to incorporating several wall units/media centers into our showroom, we’ve teamed up with a home audio and video company in the area. The synergy works well and we’re each able to promote the other’s business,” says Kelly.

Other partnerships of this kind have benefited Dalia Kitchen Design, as well. “Media rooms are great places to introduce ‘smart home’ systems. We work with a company called Savant AV out of Osterville, MA, which we consider to be a leader in this market,” says Kahler. “They can enable a client to control everything in their house – lighting, temperature, appliances, automatic blinds systems and electronics – from a touch screen that can be freestanding or built into a coffee table. These systems are becoming a popular way to make clients’ lives easier by putting everything at the touch of a button.”

Expanding Designs

While getting the word out about a firm’s expanded design capabilities might require some extra effort, the best and easiest place to start mining for these projects is with current kitchen clients, designers agree.

“The process of designing a kitchen for a client allows you to be familiar with intimate information regarding the client’s lifestyle,” says Alice Atkins McCoy, CMKBD, ASID. “Once you have the client’s confidence, it’s natural to help with areas throughout the home.”

According to Johnson, her kitchen clients often come back for other home improvements. “After we do a kitchen project for a client, oftentimes they’ll come back a year or two later for an entertainment center,” she says.

“Quite often, clients want us to provide cabinetry for the entire house – master closets, laundry rooms, etc. – and this most often translates into a media room or entertainment center,” says Kahler. “I believe our ability to meet that need allows us to keep a consistent design theme for our clients’ homes.”

The process of designing a media room includes the same kind of information-gathering required by the kitchen design process.

“We try to find out the need and most often-used components, the type of interior desired, the budget, etc.,” says Barry Cutsler, CKD, of Beaufort, SC-based Kitchen Design Center. “We ask them to bring in any pictures of what they like, the dimensions and specs of all electronic components they plan to use, as well as a contact number for the person selling and/or designing the components for their system.”

The challenges of these rooms begin with the age old problem: space. Clients are looking to pack their gadgets into compact spaces and may even want them hidden from view when not in use.

“You name it, we’ve done it: large-screen TVs, multiple TVs, cable boxes, satellite hookups, amps, tuners, DVD players and stereos, to name a few. We’ve also been asked to build in small refrigerators, microwaves, even sinks and dishwashers,” adds Kelly. “Most clients just want us to hide that large black TV screen when it’s not in use.”

Cutsler recommends a James Bond-type solution: “One way to hide a TV is behind a bookcase by using a mechanized swivel. The TV can swivel around to be revealed when the clients want to use it.” He also recommends a hydraulic lift within a cabinet as an alternative to the swivel for clients who absolutely don’t want to see the TV at rest.

Limited space often leads to innovative solutions, says Johnson. “Once, I put a flat screen above a fireplace in a family room. There was no space for other equipment there so, in the bedroom – which abuts the fireplace – we installed a cabinet to house the rest. We also included an infrared eye so a remote control in the family room could turn on the stereo or the CD player in the bedroom.”

Designers agree that the most common technical challenge for designing a unit to house an amalgam of electronics is creating solutions for wires and heat.

“We often need to come up with ways to displace the heat that the equipment generates, as well as provide easy access to the back of the equipment where all of the jacks are. On large units, this includes creating easy access for running wires from one side to another,” notes Kelly.

Since custom cabinetry is almost universally a given in these rooms, the designer has the ball in his or her court to come up with a truly fitting solution to these problems.

“Because this market is very competitive and its products are ever-changing, another challenge is to design a versatile space that will accommodate those changes,” says Kahler. “For example, if a client buys a 50" plasma screen TV, we may design the space to allow for a future TV that can measure up to 60".”

Customization is often what sets a great kitchen or bath apart from the rest, and kitchen and bath designers have proven they can apply this concept to media centers with similar – and sometimes even greater – success.