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Home Design Issue

First-run house

Producer-director Jon Avnet brings his work home to a room that breaks ground, from the digital system to the custom seating

September 26, 2004|Barbara Thornburg

Four years ago, producer-director Jon Avnet called Los Angeles audiovisual consultant Brad Wells to his Culver City production studio and pointed to his 20-foot-long office wall.

" 'I want a picture for my home as big as the wall, with the theatrical impact of a movie theater,' " Wells recalls Avnet saying. "At that time, the best you could do in a home theater was an 8- or 10-foot-wide screen."

Wells took up Avnet's request with Digital Projection Inc., a company specializing in digital cinema for Hollywood post-production and movie theater work. Their collaboration resulted in a groundbreaking home theater. "This was the first time, as far as we know, that starting from the DVD player, it was digital video all the way to the screen," Wells says. "What we achieved approached the quality of watching real film."

Today Avnet, a producer of such films as "Risky Business," "Up Close & Personal" and the upcoming "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," watches dailies in his tricked-out home theater/screening room. A DLP projector illuminates the 15-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen. Avnet is quick to point out that it's also a room his entire family enjoys. "The kids ask permission to use the theater, of course," he says. "But then they have a very generous dad."

Avnet located the theater in his former 24-by-30-foot office, a partial sub-basement area below the dining room. Three tiers of custom seating--a random mix of Ultrasuede-upholstered sofas, love seats and armchairs--comfortably accommodate up to 22 people. Architect Tom Rael of Pleskow + Rael in Venice, who designed the room with Wells, says, "Avnet didn't want the usual soldier columns of Barcalounger-type theater chairs."

Red egg-shaped ottomans, used for overflow seating, accent the room's cool palette of blue, gray, black and green. Avnet designed the front row of low-slung, wool-covered chaises usually occupied by his three children. "They allow you to sit in a reclining position close to the screen without craning your neck," he says.

To ensure optimal acoustics, the concrete walls are lined with acoustic foam, then covered in gray felt. The ceiling is similarly lined, then finished in deep navy blue felt to absorb any light that reflects off the screen. The wood-framed seating tiers are filled with acoustical insulation, "essentially becoming base traps," Wells says. "With about 5 kilowatts of sound energy in the room, some of it needs to be absorbed. If done properly, low-frequency sound is transmitted through the floor to the seats. It's really great, especially when you have an explosion on film."

A 7.1 professional THX sound system is built into the walls and behind the screen, which is flanked by black velour curtains. Avnet sits in the room's "sweet spot"--the place where the perfect sight line and sound converge--in the center of the room. At his fingertips is a custom-made, adjustable cocobolo wood console. The top drawer features a Crestron touch panel that sits up like a notebook steno pad for easy access and allows Avnet to control every aspect of the room, from lighting to screen size.

Instead of being mounted in the middle of the room's ceiling, the DLP projector, with its powerful Xenon lamp, is placed behind the theater in a separate room. Projection through a glass portal eliminates whirring fan noises and other extraneous sounds. "When the door to the theater closes, the room is so quiet you can hear yourself breathe," Wells says.

Most important, the designer wanted to create a "suspension of disbelief." "Forget all the electronics and technical stuff," Wells says. "My goal is to deliver a room that allows you to experience the picture and sound the director intended. I want you to look at a two-dimensional image and feel like it's real."


Consultant: Brad Wells, Bradford Wells + Associates

Room size: 19 feet, 10 inches by 27 feet, 6 inches

Screen: Stewart Filmscreen with custom masking (180 inches wide, 88 inches high)

Video projector: Digital Projection Lightning 5 SX

Speakers: Miller & Kreisel MPS-2510P Professional THX

Touch-screen controller: Crestron


Resource Guide

FIRST-RUN HOUSE: Pages 30-33: Brad Wells, Bradford Wells + Associates, Los Angeles, (310) 575-4895. Tom Rael, Pleskow + Rael, Venice, (310) 577-9300. Stewart Filmscreen, Torrance. Digital Projection video projector, Miller & Kreisel Sound speakers,

OTHER RESOURCES: Trade associations include Custom Electronic Design & Installation Assn.,; National Systems Contractors Assn., Reviews: Motorized drapery/window treatments: Solar Shading Systems, (800) 432-7526, Custom lift and mechanical elevator systems: J & R Engineering, (818) 842-3393.

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