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Jautor's Rock Creek Theater - A post-build retrospective

post #1 of 304
Thread Starter 

After months of promising that I'd start a build thread, here, I've finally done it. This is a retrospective, the theater is complete, and no, I'm not going to change anything. I mean it, it's finished! So I'll try to point out the things I learned along the way, mistakes I made and stuff I would do differently if I did it again. There are plenty of threads here (I know, I read them!) that go into great detail about construction details, acoustic considerations, screen size, etc.- so I'm going to focus more on the functional decisions and planning. Overall, none of the mistakes I made were critical, the design changed quite a bit from my original thinking, but I'm very pleased with the final results.

So the specs in case you don't want to read any further:

  • Room: 16'x22'x10', double 5/8" drywall with Green Glue, raised coffered ceiling with rope lights
  • Screen: Carada BW 136" 2.35:1 Masquerade screen and motorized masking system
  • Projector: JVC RS50, Panamorph U480 anamorphic lens w/motorized sled
  • Speakers: Martin Logan Vantage (L/R), Stage (C), Depth/i (Sub), Definitive Tech 2x BPZ/A, 4x BP/A (surround)
  • Electronics: Integra DHC40.2, Emotiva UPA-7, Oppo BDP93, Xbox 360, Aton HDR44 providing DirecTV remotely
  • Rack: Middle Atlantic AXS-20 32U
  • Power: (2) 20A dedicated circuits, Panamax M5400 line conditioner, Middle Atlantic PDLT-815RVA light/power bar
  • Lighting: Lutron Grafik Eye QS 6-zone, seeTouch control pads, remote IR interface
  • Control: iDevices, Global Cache GC100, iTach, iRule app
  • Seating: (8) Berkline 45094 'Hollywood', (4) Pier 1 Mason Club chairs
  • Furniture: Ikea 'Stockholm' console table, site-built 12'x12" bar table, BD storage area with glass shelves
  • Acoustic Treatments: Acoustical Solutions SoundSuede 'Cordovan' 1" wall panels, 2" corner Bass Traps
  • Paint: Benjamin Moore 'Hasbrouck Brown' (Walls), Modern Masters Antique Copper (Ceiling trays), Sherwin-Williams 'Golden Maple' (stain)
  • Carpet: Shaw Tuftex 'Park Place' (style ZA972) in color 'Pecan Pie' (03776) 

 

And the "after" photos...





Index to the posts that follow:

1) Initial Design Work
2) Framing and Ceiling Design
3) Columns and Rack Area Framing
4) Media Storage Bookshelf
5) Theater Style
6) Electrical Rough-in
7) Wiring for Lighting and Planning the Grafik Eye
8) Low-volt Wiring
9) HVAC
10) Insulation and Drywall
11) Woodwork and Surround Speaker Placement
12) Color, Stain, Paint and Carpet
13) Lighting and Electrical trim-out
14) Rack Installation
15) Acoustic Panels
16) Seating
17) Projector and Screen Selection
18) Front Speaker Placement
19) Projector Installation
20) Screen and Masquerade Installation
21) Control
22) Curtains
23) Grand Opening!
24) The Bottom Line...

25) What I Would Do Different


Introduction

My home theater journey finally began in 2008, when I decided to bite the bullet and build a new home. After doing a lot of searching and pricing, it became clear that if I wanted a dedicated theater, I was going to have to build new and custom. The fact that we don't have basements in Houston is the primary reason you have to go custom (or at least, a custom addition).

The home site is in a quiet subdivision, so I knew that while I'd be doing "extra" to the space for sound isolation, it wasn't going to be critical. I also planned to put the theater over the garage bays to help isolate it from the bedrooms (which would all be on the opposite end of the house). And most importantly, I knew I would do a lot of the "work" myself, and that the actual theater construction would occur after I had moved in. The builder typically has "unfinished, bonus space" in their spec designs, so the concept was not new to them.

So the home was constructed with the unfinished space of 16x22, with 12" risers constructed as part of the room. A 3'x2' niche was put in the back of the room to allow for a rack and a small countertop (for drinks or a popcorn machine). The hallway enters on the side, coming from the gameroom/bar/poker area.



The scary moment was doing a budget. A quick spreadsheet with rough guesses for each line item (essentially the room spec categories shown above) plus construction costs, gave me serious pause. How did that $$$ happen? What could I do to bring it more in line? The answer was (1) take your time to spread out the pain, (2) do what you can yourself where it makes sense, (3) shop wisely, and (4) use eBay, Monoprice, Audiogon and Craigslist. I figured ways to cut 20-30% off my original estimate - but in the end, with smart shopping over a 15 month period and some good luck, I met my original budget almost exactly (actually a bit under) - even though I significantly underpriced a lot of construction costs, and of course, scope creep...

Next up, design...

Jeff


Edited by jautor - 8/15/13 at 10:41am
post #2 of 304
Thread Starter 

Initial Design Work

 

With the involved process of home design, construction and financing, time passed quickly. Note: builders and contractors do NOT nickel and dime you - they only work in $100 increments. The house was finished on April 1st, 2009 (my project manager called me that morning, just as I left closing, telling me my financing wasn't clearing. I still owe him for that one...). But with my previous home still on the market, with about one showing per month, I was happy at this point to just not be eating cat food for dinner. So the theater would have to wait. Plenty more time for CES and CEDIA trips, which if you're planning one of these projects with some percentage DIY - a trip to CEDIA is invaluable. (CES not so much anymore, although it is in Vegas)

The entrance to the unfinished theater space, with someone's smart-ass comment who was hopefully not invited to the Grand Opening



LESSON: At the time, Dennis' AVS-special design service wasn't available, and having shopped for other design services (which I deemed too expensive at the "basic" service level for the amount of additional expertise I would gain), I didn't use any of them. Having seen Dennis' design work here, and for the price he offers the AVS service, I *HOPE* that if I was starting from scratch today I would be smart enough to send him a check! I did get a lot of free advice from industry experts and manufacturers by visiting them at CEDIA, and of course, reading lots and lots of AVSforum threads.

With that, I planned the space using dimensions I *thought* would be "big enough". My original goal was 3 rows of 5 recliners, for a seating capacity of 15. Why 15? No idea. I decided on a room dimension of 16'x22', with two 12" riser levels, based on some seating dimensions and the belief that I didn't want or need an aisle on the 'far side' of the room.

LESSON/MISTAKE: Look at more than one chair manufacturer's dimensions. I have no idea where I got the dimensions that would have allowed for 5 recliners in a 16' room width. I can't find anything that would fit that we would consider "recliners". I should have planned for "any" recliners since it was going to be a while before the room would be complete. Also, 5 across is an odd number - most folks come as couples...

MISTAKE: Having the risers built-in as part of the structure means it's not possible to undo the theater and turn the space into something else. Not that I would ever do that, but it could be a turn-off to potential future owners. While it would be possible to fill in the front of the room, lowering the rear riser would be a huge challenge.

MISTAKE: I also made the risers 5'9" deep, also using some chair dimensions (see LESSON above). In the final theater, there's just enough space for the Berklines to recline fully.

Here's a shot of the unfinished room - the official "before" shot. And I always shook my head at folks that posted images of their rooms with piles of crap and boxes in them - well, ok, I can't go back in time to clean the room out now. So my apologies for thinking that y'all should have cleaned the room first.



The full room depth it turns out is nowhere near enough for three rows of recliners. I figured that out early in the design process, and quite frankly, looking at the prices of the 'high end' seating manufacturers, re-thought the seating arrangement. First, the quantity - 15 recliners, I could be looking at $15-20k just for seating. Um, no.

And I liked the idea of using a bar for the back row seating, which solved a number of problems:
1) Bar stools are much cheaper than recliners
2) Bar with seating takes up considerably less depth (which was fixed by this point)
3) Bar seating pulls the rear row away from the back wall, allowing proper rear surround placement.

Since I intended to keep/use/add large floorstanding speakers for the fronts, was looking at a masking system to go with a CIH setup, and didn't have a lot of space up front, I didn't intend to use the false wall and screen arrangement. For the same reasons, I didn't plan on having a stage.

IF I DID IT OVER: I'd have made the room 17'x 24', adding a foot of width (6" to each aisle), with at least 1' longer to the front, and 6" more on each riser. But I would have stuck with my final seating plan. If I had the room up front, I might have put in a small stage, but I don't consider the lack of a stage as a mistake, either.

This is the final design, although there are changes here from the original plan that I haven't discussed yet.



Next up, re-framing... (yeah, it's a brand new house)

Jeff


Edited by jautor - 6/6/12 at 5:24pm
post #3 of 304
Hey Jeff,

I'm glad you decided to put a thread together. As I mentioned before, your theater turned out great and I plan to steal, I mean borrow, many of your ideas, especially the ceiling. I know you will get many compliments.

I look forward to reading through your thread and hearing about your lessons/mistakes.
post #4 of 304
That is one gorgeous looking theater - love the woodwork. Please share some more pics!!!
post #5 of 304
Excellent Jeff. You are a huge contributor to this forum and glad to see you following up your build on your own thread. Isnt in funny how we do so much research and we still find areas we wish we would have done different. I couldn't agree more with you Dennis would have been a very important resource during the design stage and well worth the money. Your seating and riser observations are right on. In my last theater I couldn't fully recline my front row. FYI I was able to use some heavy duty wire to keep the seats reclining from the 2nd reclining position to the third. I laughed out loud at your comment about people organizing their rooms before photos. This fact has kept me from taking more photos because I don't like to appear unorganized. I am glad to hear your comment on CES as we are in Vegas now and I was a little disappointed we were leaving tomorrow as it opens in the next few days. Funny we are at the Bellagio with very nice accommodations but I told my wife this morning I wished I was home today which is Saturday as I missed working on my theater.
post #6 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by IGO2XS View Post

I am glad to hear your comment on CES as we are in Vegas now and I was a little disappointed we were leaving tomorrow as it opens in the next few days.

Yeah, after going for 10 years straight, I didn't go last year, either. I kinda missed it, but realized it was more for the Vegas experience than CES.

Not to derail my own thread, but yeah, if you haven't been once, it IS a spectacle. But if you haven't been to Vegas before, don't go during CES. Pick any other time. Half the people, half the price, and you can get into a restaurant between 6-9pm...

In the last several years, we found ourselves reading blog posting (and AVS) in the hotel about stuff we didn't see or get to yet - and then deciding we didn't need to hike over to that booth! I used to take a ton of pictures to gather information - but after sitting next to a Gizmodo guy in a keynote, watching him upload play-by-play action, I realized I could just read their stuff instead of taking all my own photos and notes...

That, and because the show is so huge, a lot of A/V companies have moved away - either to private suites / meetings or skipping it altogether. It's possible to find and be invited to those off-show locations, but it's very time consuming, too...

I'll talk more about this in later posts, but going to CEDIA prior to construction is a huge advantage. Being mindful of the rep's time, and carrying around my diagrams (basically the Visio drawing posted above), got me a lot of great advice. Note that the manufacturers generally talk to resellers/installers, not "end customers". So if you're nice about it, they're generally very happy to listen and see what your doing with their products. It's fantastic feedback for them as well. (from my experience on both sides of those conversations)

Jeff
post #7 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by jautor View Post

After months of promising that I'd start a build thread, here, I've finally done it. This is a retrospective, the theater is complete, and no, I'm not going to change anything. I mean it, it's finished!

Jeff, can't imagine why you would want to change anything. Fabulous job! I was actually reading various other threads with coffered ceilings for ideas for my living room...
post #8 of 304
What fabric and paint color did you use?

I've been planning on using Ralph Lauren Suede "Arrowwood", which is extremely close to your theater color rendition. My problem has been matching acoustic fabric to the paint..........I have 50+ samples of GOM and can't seem to find a match.

I've lost hope and for the time being, planning to use GOM Meander in Boulder......which is a gray with slight green hue.

I'd appreciate your color/fabric info!!
post #9 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by doublewing11 View Post

What fabric and paint color did you use?

I've been planning on using Ralph Lauren Suede "Arrowwood", which is extremely close to your theater color rendition. My problem has been matching acoustic fabric to the paint..........I have 50+ samples of GOM and can't seem to find a match.

You're jumping ahead to chapter 14 or so!!!

I've added the info to the 'specs' list, too, as I'm sure that's going to be an FAQ...

Walls are Benjamin Moore 'Hasbrouck Brown'. Stain is Sherwin-Williams 'Golden Maple'. Acoustic panels are Acoustical Solutions SoundSuede 'Cordovan'.

Jeff
post #10 of 304
Wow, what a beautiful finished product. Incredible work. What part of H-town are you in? I went to school there for eight years.
post #11 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by rs691919 View Post

Wow, what a beautiful finished product. Incredible work. What part of H-town are you in? I went to school there for eight years.

NW part of town, officially Cypress. Rock Creek subdivision between 290 and 249. Hence the thread name, I don't really use any name for the theater. If I did, it would probably be the "River Otter Theater and Casino".

Jeff
post #12 of 304
Great looking room - can we see the screen wall please?
post #13 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elill View Post

Great looking room - can we see the screen wall please?

You want to jump to the end, too, eh? Yeah, ok, I've updated the first post with a screen wall photo.

Jeff
post #14 of 304
LOL - you cant tease us with the completed shot of the rear like that!
post #15 of 304
Thread Starter 

Framing and Ceiling Design

 

Fast forward to 2010. After 11 months on the market, my previous house, which had been vacant for 6 months, finally sold, which freed up the capital necessary to begin theater construction. Since I had a great builder (for those in Houston, it's Frontier Custom Builders) who was actively building new homes in the neighborhood, I used them for the the construction/trade aspects of the build. All of the electrical, low volt, A/V, design/furnishings would be on me to do. I also had a great interior designer from the home construction, so she helped a ton in color/fabrics selection and lots of little design details.

One of the things I really wanted to do in the theater design was 'something' for the ceiling. Many folks don't realize how much impact the ceiling can have on room aesthetics. My builder suggested that we do something dramatic in framing, because framing is inexpensive. I looked a lot of pictures, especially from the annual CEDIA "Electronic Lifestyles Awards" books, to get ideas. I thought a lot about a star ceiling. The builder suggested a barrel vault ceiling. I liked the look of a multi-tray, too. The acoustic considerations scared me away from the barrel vault. Looking at the construction of the room, I started drawing a plan that would carve out trays in the ceiling without requring movement / re-engineering of what I considered 'major' structure. I thought this meant that a double joist dividing the room lengthwise in half would need to remain, so I drew up a two-tray design. I didn't like that - how about 4 trays? Better. Could I do a 4-tray star ceiling? Sure, but I was afraid of two things: (1) my skills at creating a DIY star ceiling were likely to produce a horribly amatuer result and (2) the ratio of starfield to soffit made me think even a well-done job may not produce a realistic effect.

So all that in consideration, and the cost/labor involved in a star ceiling steered me to a tray design with concealed uplighting. Once I made that choice, dividing the trays in half again (now 8 total) balanced the room better, with enough 'lines' that it doesn't matter that the trays don't align with the risers (front to back). The finished ceiling has 8 trays, each one is approximately 3'6" x 5'4" x 1'.



LESSON: When the sub-contractor came to look at the project, after all my careful consideration to work the design around the existing joists and structure, he took a quick look, and said, "how about if I just re-frame the ceiling. It'll be cheaper and easier, and I can just box in the trays." Well, um, sure... Dang. Should have asked him first.

It's easy to remember when construction started. May 6, 2010. I took the day off while work was going on (the first of many days off for construction). So I sat in my home office watching the "Flash Crash" unfold on Wall Street, and thinking, "Gee, so much for being able to afford this build!"

This is a shot of the ceiling after being re-framed.



Next up, framing columns and the rack...

Jeff


Edited by jautor - 6/6/12 at 5:25pm
post #16 of 304
Real nice room, I am very impressed. I'll wait for the rest of the write up.
post #17 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by jautor View Post

You're jumping ahead to chapter 14 or so!!!

I've added the info to the 'specs' list, too, as I'm sure that's going to be an FAQ...

Walls are Benjamin Moore 'Hasbrouck Brown'. Stain is Sherwin-Williams 'Golden Maple'. Acoustic panels are Acoustical Solutions SoundSuede 'Cordovan'.

Jeff

Well thanks...............

Another thank you for subtle comment regarding info............

I could have completely read your original post..........


By the way, did you use clips and channels on the coffered ceiling? That would be one interesting task................would think to build the shell first, then construct coffered ceiling......
post #18 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by doublewing11 View Post

By the way, did you use clips and channels on the coffered ceiling? That would be one interesting task................would think to build the shell first, then construct coffered ceiling......

No, I didn't use clips or channels on any of the room. The tray areas of the ceiling got the DD/GG treatment, but not on the verticals or the soffit. I decided not to those parts as (1) they're all heavily buried in insulation, (2) nothing above the ceiling except isolated attic/roof, (3) the DD would have made the can lights a challenge, and (4) there's so much wood structure that I didn't think the added mass was significant in those areas.

I had not considered building the tray ceiling after drywall (the soffit inside the room). For my room/location, I don't think it would have made a difference (certainly not for the added cost/trouble) - but your mileage will definitely vary...

One of my struggles with all the soundproofing 'issues' was how much is enough, and more importantly, how do you know if it did any good? Since my room was an unfinished space, I have no before/after comparison. Did the DD/GG do anything???

I was very happy when someone recently (have to find the link) posted a short video demo here with a "knock test" showing the difference between single drywall with/without insulation and double with/without Green Glue. I saw that, and immediately ran upstairs to do the same test on three walls. It was extremely satisfying to really hear the difference - and that's also now a very simple way to explain to visitors what's going on in the theater.

Jeff
post #19 of 304
Jeff, I hope at some point you plan on posting pictures of your game room and home. I know I like to see some of the ideas of others. Especially when they have a beautifully designed theater you know the rest has to be cool too. After all, this is a construction thread and those of us who have theater building skills do well in other areas of design and build.
Thanks, Mark "the thread derailer".
post #20 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by IGO2XS View Post

Jeff, I hope at some point you plan on posting pictures of your game room and home. I know I like to see some of the ideas of others. Especially when they have a beautifully designed theater you know the rest has to be cool too. After all, this is a construction thread and those of us who have theater building skills do well in other areas of design and build.
Thanks, Mark "the thread derailer".

Fine. Here's the "before":





Yeah, I figured the game room question was going to come up, as yeah, the bar/game/poker/billiard areas usually coincide with a good theater...

I do have at least have an album of the game room area. Which a friend commented was essentially a "Las Vegas suite". That wasn't exactly the intent, but yeah, I suppose the 2nd floor of the house has most of the elements (bedrooms, poker table, bar, theater). I'm only missing the stripper.

http://s773.photobucket.com/albums/y...r/Game%20Room/

But your comment did remind me of my very early thoughts (at least a decade before I built the new home) on what I wanted. A great layout (basement) was in an early issue of "Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater" mag, which was a non-dedicated theater space with pool table behind the seating, a game table off to one side, and a bar completing the square. I thought that was awesome! The basement part is obviously a non-starter for me in Houston, but I loved the concept.

In my previous house, I would have folks over for movies on "the big screen", which was in the family room of an open plan. Upstairs (also open to the rest of the house) was a small game room where I had my poker table, darts and a pinball machine. Kids would often head upstairs to play the pinball machine while we watched a movie downstairs. That really doesn't work. Noise from the pinball is way too distracting. Same is true for any billiard games. For movie watching (not the case for sports), you have to close off the area(s) if you intend multiple, simultaneous uses. So that's when I realized that the future was going to be a game room "area", with a closeby dedicated theater.

As the house design process progressed, I made a poker room out of what could be converted back into a bedroom. It has a closet and a door to the bathroom - you'd just have to remove the decorative railings and fill in the wall. But I don't believe anyone in the future who would buy my home would be likely to do that - that whole area should be the selling/non-interested pivot point!

EDIT: I've attached some of the better game room photos here...

Jeff
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL


Edited by jautor - 6/24/13 at 7:47pm
post #21 of 304
Beautiful warm room! Thanks for sharing and we will wait for pics of house. However, I am a little drunk right now after seeing all that booze in your wet bar. We just flew out of Vegas and I am 30,000 feet in the air. If I get kicked off this plane it will be on your shoulders!
post #22 of 304
Stunning layout! Love the HT of course but the poker room....what's the limits, I'll be there?
post #23 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tbraden32 View Post

Stunning layout! Love the HT of course but the poker room....what's the limits, I'll be there?

Thanks. Unfortunately I have mostly computer engineers for friends - so it's a $.50/$1 cash game or a $20 tourney. When I suggest a "high stakes" $50 tourney, they get all puckered.
post #24 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by jautor View Post


Thanks. Unfortunately I have mostly computer engineers for friends - so it's a $.50/$1 cash game or a $20 tourney. When I suggest a "high stakes" $50 tourney, they get all puckered.

Poker with friends and watching sports; priceless no matter what the limits are, and of course the bar is there too.
post #25 of 304
Love the warm brown color. Nice job.
post #26 of 304
Jeff, that's a fantastic looking theater and poker/billiards/bar room. I'm very jealous - my house only has the one game room that I turned into the theater. Really do need another room for the poker and billiards.
post #27 of 304
That's a swell looking theater. Now I just need to get into the technologist field so I can go buy one

How does that media room look like in proportion to the rest of the house from the exterior, is it hanging off the back of the lot, or to the side? I am kind of curious how you avoided the theater look on the exterior...as I would assume this is not desirable in a residential property.

Great work Jeff.
post #28 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by korygrandy View Post

How does that media room look like in proportion to the rest of the house from the exterior, is it hanging off the back of the lot, or to the side? I am kind of curious how you avoided the theater look on the exterior...as I would assume this is not desirable in a residential property.

Yeah, it's not really visible from the front of the house, and it's really just a 2nd story on top of one of the garage bays, so it blends in fairly well. From the side yard, the rear of the theater is a big blank wall, but as it's angled off, it's not really visible from the back yard, either.

Not a lot of call for shots of the garage door - the only one I have handy was from late in construction. We put some slate-covered accents/false windows up there to avoid the "blank chunk of stucco". That's the screen wall.



But as the garages are entered from the side of the property, none of it even shows up in most pictures:



Jeff
post #29 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by jautor View Post

"blank chunk of stucco"

BCOS...I nominate that for YACA (yet another construction acronym).
post #30 of 304
Now that's a beautiful home.........and your theater isn't too shabby either. Are those small "lap" tables built into the recliners? Haven't seen those mentioned before. Great color choices.....
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