Media Alert

Settling into a cushy stadium chair, popcorn in hand, the lights dim and the giant screen comes alive with today’s latest movie stars. While this sounds like an evening at the local movie theater, this event is actually playing out in media rooms in homes across the country.

As media electronics become more sophisticated, high-end homeowners are becoming increasingly interested in creating rooms to house all of their new gadgets – rooms where comfort and function and just plain fun take center stage. For kitchen and bath designers, these rooms are a natural extension of what they currently design, and can be a tremendous source of additional jobs and income.

Cabinet Customization is Key

When making the transition to media rooms, the item that kitchen and bath designers are probably most familiar with is cabinetry. Understanding the different styles of cabinetry, the various wood species available and the intricacies of customization serves designers well in this room, as built-in cabinets are often the focus of the entertainment space. They are also among the most profitable pieces.

“Built-in cabinets separate the higher-end rooms from the mid-range spaces, which usually feature quality stand-alone pieces,” explains Dana Ayler, owner, Cabinets Etc., of Tahoe in Incline Village, NV.

“Cabinetry is a one of my favorite elements to incorporate into virtually any space,” stresses Jill Betts, IDSA, owner, Accent On Homes in Windsor, CT. “Not only does it give a room a completely customized look, but it provides additional storage,” which is essential to a well-planned media room, she states.

“Today’s media rooms need lots of custom storage for equipment, games and DVDs and CDs,” adds Debbie Nassetta, CKD, CBD of Roomscapes in Laguna Niguel, CA.

“And, all of that custom storage increases the bottom line – not only for the design professional, but for the homeowner as well,” Betts continues.

“We did an upstairs media room for a repeat client that featured a large-screen television surrounded by cabinetry that included equipment storage and speakers. A tall pull-out column holds CDs and DVDs,” remarks Nassetta.

Making Connections

Many kitchen and bath designers are reluctant to expand into the design of media rooms because they are intimidated by the electronics involved, and their lack of expertise in designing around them. Those who have designed these rooms insist that all it takes is a little education, and teaming up with the right experts. The results can be unexpectedly lucrative.

“When I design a media room, I work all of the geometry out with a sound expert,” reports Ayler. “That way I know it is done correctly.”

One of the things that the sound expert does is design things at ear level, for optimum performance. “Then, I work with that and design the visuals at eye level,” Ayler continues.

“Speakers are usually built right into the surroundings, and speaker cloth can be purchased in numerous colors to help them blend into their surroundings,” adds Sarah Michalowski, CKD, designer, Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design in Minneapolis, MN. “These days, people are not displaying their equipment, but rather trying to conceal it.”

Nassetta concurs: “Speakers should not be visible, but need to give the client their required level of sound.”

Proper design with regard to the electronics also means paying close attention to the placement of equipment and the necessary ventilation.

The changes in the shapes and sizes of televisions have meant a shift in the design of entertainment centers and the rooms around them, notes Michalowski. “Televisions are now hung like artwork on the wall, and most clients want all of the peripherals and cords hidden away. The challenge is accommodating for the heat that the peripherals give off, and the air flow they require,” she states.

“In today’s media rooms, it is essential that equipment storage is kept out of site and well ventilated, yet easy to access when needed,” remarks Nassetta.

“We design these rooms in such a way that we don’t put hot equipment by the equipment that has to stay cool,” explains Ayler. He adds that proper ventilation within the cabinets housing the equipment is key. “We look at each situation and figure out a way to create ventilation – often by putting in a little fan to thermostatically keep all of this expensive equipment from going into meltdown.”

Ayler incorporates custom-designed turntables into his media centers that house all of the cords and electronic peripherals.

“You simple pull this out lightly, rotate it, and work on what you need to,” he explains. “When you’re done, you can turn it around and push it back into place.”

Technology Gets Smart

Being “fully wired” is also a major request for today’s clients requesting media centers. That means that the high-tech electronics featured in the media rooms are easily controlled with the touch of a few buttons, and often emanate into the rest of the home.

“There is new equipment out there that ties all of the electronics together at a master control,” reports Ayler. “All you have to do is hit one button and it turns on all of the appropriate products, no matter how stray they are.”

High-tech clientele often request that their entertainment centers are wired into their built-in speakers in all areas of their home, according to Michalowski. “Some like to play their music through the television satellite system. That way, they can have the same music playing throughout the house while entertaining.

“More and more, clients have all of their home electronics linked together and controlled through a central computer,” she continues. “This results in a growing trend for a media closet to hold not only all of the electronic equipment homes require, but the ‘media’ computer as well.”

Linking the electronics throughout the house also means controlling them from different rooms. “You can hide little ‘eyeballs’ in other rooms, and with your master controller turn down the television or turn up the stereo from a different room,” reports Ayler.

While this sounds complicated, kitchen and bath designers insist that systems and controllers must be user-friendly in order to be a hit with clients. “People are definitely looking for control panels that are easy to operate, typically integrated with not only the television and music, but other elements such as window blinds and lighting, as well,” offers Nassetta.

She reports that many of these rooms incorporate automated blinds with black-out shades, as well as task and general lighting with lighting controls, for proper viewing of entertainment systems.

“Lighting in entertainment areas is very important,” stresses Michalowski. “Many times, lighting systems that have buttons designated for each activity are incorporated, so that when the person hits “watch movie,” the central lighting dims to off and the wall washers that wash artwork remain at a low level.”

Indeed, lighting plays an integral part in the design of the media room, and in setting the mood for the space overall.

“Clients don’t often think about the correct mood lighting,” observes Ayler, but it’s an area where kitchen and bath designers can add a great deal to the bottom line, because so many different types of lighting can be incorporated into the design.

“You need lighting so people can get up and get out,” remarks Ayler, “but you need to make sure it doesn’t reflect.”

“We’ve put little lights on the floor because you sometimes have steps, and that gives it more of that theater feel,” Ayler continues. He reports that his firm has designed ramps instead of steps, and lit them with fiber optics or LEDs. “We often use LEDs on tracks, just like they do in the theater,” he states.

To set the mood, Ayler has also used wall sconces that push upward, just like those found in old movie theaters.

Beyond Popcorn

Also playing to the theater concept, many clients request distinctive nosh amenities.

“A lot of people love putting in those little old fashioned popcorn machines,” comments Ayler, “as well as fountain soda machines. They love the idea, and don’t want another refrigerator with all of those cans and bottles.”

Michalowski confirms the popularity of popcorn machines in media rooms, but adds that she also commonly meets requests for wet bars, wine coolers and kegerators. “I also like to include uniquely shaped entertainment sinks, such as the martini sink from Elkay,” she offers. “Built-in wet bars with small dishwashers, refrigerators, sinks and custom stools are very lucrative.”

“We’ve included Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers so drinks would be convenient,” reports Nassetta. “We’ve also built custom humidors as part of the design.”

Once the food and drinks have been selected, settling in to enjoy the entertainment is all about comfort.

Ayler notes that he likes to include recliner chairs in the design of the media room. “Sometimes, clients buy the chairs that go into theaters – the good ones,” he points out.

Michalowski reports that she has incorporated swivel chairs into the spaces, so clients could view multiple televisions on different sides of the room.

To complete the theater experience, kitchen and bath designers need to pay special attention to the acoustics. There are a number of ways to enhance the overall audio effect, and all are relatively easy yet lucrative.

“We like doing upholstered walls for sound and texture,” reports Nassetta. “We’ve also done wainscot paneled walls with fabric upholstered inserts.”

“Paneled walls give entertainment rooms warmth and a luxurious feel, especially when done in exotic veneers,” adds Michalowski. “Sometimes these veneers are layered.

Ayler emphasizes that these rooms sometimes incorporate drapes on each side – “to give it that theater feel.”

One thing that kitchen and bath designers should keep in mind when designing media rooms is that these rooms, even more so than kitchens and baths, often reflect the tastes and personalities of the clients who will use them. Incorporating distinctive items and listening and suggesting a more personalized space will definitely add dollars to the sale.

“I’ve incorporated player pianos, pinball machines, televisions that are hidden behind decorative mirrors, bar countertops that were lit from within,” comments Michalowski. Ayler has added gaming and card-playing tables, as well as trophy rooms, to the back side of some of his designs.

“All clients have different collections and tastes, so all of them are unique,” stresses Michalowski. “One client had a very large basement transformed for entertaining, and it included a hot tub for 20 people with a window surround – among other things.”

In the end, amenities included in media rooms all depend on the needs and desires of the client and what the space allows, reports Michalowski. While comfortable seating, dimmable lighting, great surround sound and traffic flow outside of the viewing area are always incorporated, because technology changes so rapidly, she stresses the importance of creating an entertainment center that is flexible.

“That way, a client can go from having a specific size plasma screen television to having a pull down projection television screen if they so desire,” she states. “The rooms we design are made to last, and when you are changing your television every five years, the space needs to accommodate for that."