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Home Design Issue

The 'oh my god!' effect

The impact of today's home theaters is the same as that first magical glimpse of color TV. Unfortunately, it'll cost a bit more.

September 26, 2004|David Lansing | David Lansing last wrote for the magazine about wines by the glass.

Other than the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of JFK, the biggest event in my childhood was the day we got a color television. It was a Friday evening, late 1962. I can still see my dad pulling into the driveway in his pickup with the big walnut console RCA in the back. I was playing catch in the street and ran so hard to get home that I tripped going through some ivy in our front yard and ended up chipping my front tooth. But I didn't care. All I cared about was that we had the first color TV in the neighborhood.

The way my dad told the story, he bought that TV as a birthday present for my mom. In a way, I suppose that's true. But I'll tell you the real reason he bought it: "The Flintstones." That modern Stone Age family. That fall "The Flintstones" was airing in living color. My dad could live without watching "Bonanza" or "The Ed Sullivan Show" in color, but not "The Flintstones."So he raided his savings account and bought a new RCA, and that changed everything. We became instantly popular in the neighborhood. A neighbor who had always refused to lend my dad his tools came over that evening to help us "set things up." His wife, carrying a plate of just-baked cookies, arrived with her three kids a short time later to "see how things were going." Then another family came by, just to say hi, bringing the fixings for root beer floats. By the time everything was hooked up, just before "The Flintstones" came on, you had to step over a dozen neighborhood kids sprawled on their stomachs on the floor to get to the cookies and ice cream on the coffee table, and there wasn't an inch of free space on our living room sofa. It felt like being in church. All cozy and familiar. Only better.

My mother, unfortunately, was sulking in the kitchen. She knew we couldn't afford a color TV; knew that the "birthday present" was a ruse to get her to go along with things. But I also remember the show starting and everyone in the room clapping, like we were at a play, and wishing my mom were there, and then, before the familiar theme song had finished, hearing her enter the living room and gasp, "Oh my god."

I looked at my dad and he looked at me and we both smiled. She was hooked.

Cheri Shankar knows that feeling. Her husband, Naren, a tv executive producer for "CSI," had been dying to build a home theater in their Sherman Oaks home for several years, but Cheri wasn't persuaded.

"I really didn't want one," she says. "To be honest with you, I was dragged into this project kicking and screaming. I was against it." And now? "It's my favorite room in the house," she says, laughing. "I spend more time in there than he does. And the best part is when we have people over and they walk in the room and go, 'Oh my god!' I love that!"

Naren Shankar compares it to the early 1950s, when families got together to watch shows such as "I Love Lucy" or "The Honeymooners." "Having this room in your house where everyone can get together and enjoy a little entertainment, it's very communal. Know what I mean?"

Sing hallelujah, brothers and sisters.

The father of home theaters is Theo Kalomirakis, a former magazine art director from New York City who, in the late '80s, built a home theater for himself in his Brooklyn apartment that included mementos of his favorite old New York movie palace, the Roxy. Word got around, and others began asking him to do something similar in their homes. Soon he had a modest little business going.

"The first year, 1989, I had two orders and thought that was pretty good. The next year, I got eight orders. Now we do 50 to 60 projects a year, and I've got about 80 in the pipeline."

The Consumer Electronics Assn. says nearly one in three households now has a home theater, but its criteria (a 27-inch or larger television, VCR or DVD player, and four or more speakers), isn't exactly what Kalomirakis has in mind. His company, Theo Kalomirakis Theaters (, specializes in high-end projects--sometimes costing well over a million dollars--though he has created a number of home theaters in Southern California for substantially less, including the one he designed for the Shankars.

"It took us a year just to get the courage to call him," says Cheri. "We assumed that since he has all these big clients and works on so many million-dollar projects that it wouldn't be worth his time. But he said he enjoyed working on smaller projects."

Says Kalomirakis, "There's no challenge in doing a home theater for $100,000 or more. Anyone can do that. I take pride in bringing in a project like this at their price. So when I talked to them and they told me that their budget was $30,000, I said, 'Consider it done.' In fact, I said, 'I'll bring it in under $29,000.' "

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