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A Bel-Air couple's home theater feels like an intimate library and doubles as a conference room for business

September 26, 2004|Barbara Thornburg

The owners of this modern Bel-Air residence didn't just want a home theater, they wanted "a cozy room." Architect Charles Gwathmey of Gwathmey Siegel in New York City, who designed the 15,000-square-foot home, obliged. Honey-colored maple walls create a warm, womb-like environment. Nubby chenille-upholstered sofas and leather chairs that tilt and swivel invite you to curl up, grab a throw and lose yourself at the movies. "The room resembles an intimate library as much as a home theater," Gwathmey says.

In addition to being cozy, the couple needed the theater to function on several levels. She is a business executive with offices in London, Tel Aviv and New York. A top priority was video-conferencing to allow her to attend overseas board meetings while at home. "It saves me so much travel time," she says. "I can see everyone on the screen--it's as if we're in the same room together." For her husband, a surgeon, it's often a place to have students over to review PowerPoint presentations for upcoming medical lectures. Their four children, ranging in age from 14 to 28, use it as a place to hang out with friends, watch movies and play video games.

Located directly below the first floor's circular, glass-enclosed living room pavilion, the theater has a bookcase wall that mirrors the curve of the room above. Just outside, a billiards room and wine cellar offer other entertainment options. Project architect Gerald Gendreau describes the home theater as "a floating room."

"We built a room-within-a-room so that acoustically the sound doesn't travel. There's a gap between the framing of the room independent of the framing of the structure above it. The sound is totally contained, so if the kids are cranking up the sound in the theater, they don't hear it upstairs when they're having a dinner party."

A sophisticated B&W 7.1 Nautilus 803 speaker system, hidden behind gray acoustical panels at the side and rear, as well as behind the Stewart MicroPerf screen, "ensures sound equal to any commercial theater experience," says Barry Cayton, president of Audio Command Systems in Los Angeles, whose company installed the system. "The main difference is that here you can sit in the comfort of your home and have a cocktail."

And the seats are light-years away from multiplex fare. Divided into three groups, two tiers of sofas step down to a living room-like area where chairs and ottomans surround a large cherrywood coffee table. A wedge-shaped ledge attached to the back of the second tier of sofas offers a place to dine buffet-style. Tables at each end offer task lighting and storage.

Additional storage for CDs and DVDs is built into a tall cabinet to the left of the screen, with several drawers below. At the rear of the room, near the entrance, a closet is outfitted with the source components: a Mitsubishi hi-fi VCR, a Sony DVD player, a TiVo recorder. A narrow L-shaped room adjacent to the space, accessed through a secret panel opposite the entry, holds a Middle Atlantic Rack system, which stores the Krell processor and amplifiers and Faroudja digital video scaler. "The rack gives the clients flexibility," Cayton says. "If they decide to change or upgrade the technology, they pop it out rather than redo the millwork."

But the indispensable, high-tech gadget the family uses most is the AMX audio-video-lighting control touch panel. "It's a central command box that controls everything from the Lutron HomeWorks' lighting system to music and video selections," Cayton says. Illustrated with icons and phrases, pressing "Showtime" lowers the lights, raises the screen cover and turns on the projector. It also automatically regulates the aspect ratio for viewing different source material, eliminating bothersome light borders when the format doesn't fit the screen.

"We try and set up the most intuitive, user-friendly way for a client to operate a panel," Cayton says. "If it's news, we put the network's logo--say, ABC; instead of [spelling out] 'lights,' we use a lightbulb icon. The client doesn't need to know [channel] 501 is HBO. It makes the technology less intimidating."

The homeowners couldn't agree more. "All our favorite programs, as well as the room's functions, are seamlessly integrated into the panel," she says. "It's absolutely idiot-proof."


Consultant: Barry Cayton, Audio Command Systems

Room size: 24 by 26 1/2 feet

Ceiling height: 10 feet, 6 inches

Screen: Stewart Filmscreen/ScreenWall ElectriMask (118 inches wide, 66 inches high)

Video projector: JVC DLA-G20 D-ILA

Speakers: B&W 7.1 Nautilus 803

Touch-screen controller: AMX 10.4 inches


Resource Guide

Barry Cayton, Audio Command Systems, Los Angeles, (310) 444-3882; Charles Gwathmey, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, New York, (212) 947-1240. Stewart Filmscreen, Torrance. JVC video projector, (800) 252-5722, B&W Nautilus speakers, AMX touch-screen contoller,

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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