November 15, 2019

Working Closer Together

One of the greatest missed opportunities of home theater design is the potential for collaboration. Private theaters are joint efforts. Architecturally, a private theater is a room that has potential to impact the other living spaces within the structure of the home. Aesthetically the theater setting is part of a larger environment designed for a desired look and feel. Structurally, theater rooms embody all the subsystems (hopefully with the exception of plumbing) found in any residential construction project. Operationally the system must be equipped to suit the room. Functionally the environment has to be engineered to deliver performance. Most importantly, experientially, the result must thrill the client and prove to be worth the effort.


Successful collaboration starts with a clear demarcation of scope. This can be a delicate subject, because many professionals have strong egos. We have found it best to engage very early in the process and educate our colleagues on specific concerns. Professionals who are secure in their capabilities are more likely to cooperate when informed of our purpose.  As an example, the architect on a recent project had provided a ‘footprint’ for the theater that called out a niche for equipment storage with a double door entry and less than ideal location.  Additionally, the original drawings called for poured concrete seating platforms.  We spoke with the architect and presented our case for remote, air-conditioned equipment storage, a single acoustically rated door at a more optimum location and our reasoning for a framed seating platform with decoupled construction.  Once the reasons for our suggestions were understood, the architect became a willing and vital partner in the design process, ultimately offering suggestions of his own which resulted in an award-winning theater.


Demarcation of scope is not always black and white.  It is not accurate to say that the theater designer provides all the functional engineering and the interior designer provides all the decor.  In some cases, functional preferences of a theater designer may not fit well with the aesthetic goals.  For instance the requirement of acoustical substrate generally indicates fabric on most, if not all, wall surfaces.

The interior designer may have a different vision for the room.  The fact  that the interior designer generally has a good grasp of the client’s decor preferences.  We recently worked with the design team on a project to substitute engineered acoustical millwork surfaces combined with fabric sections. which resulted in a non-compromising compromise. Both objectives of the design team were met.

Fabric, too, can be confusing.  Typical acoustical fabric selections disappoint the interior designer and typical decorator fabrics will not function acoustically.  If either member of the team is inflexible, an impasse may result in both the performance and the client suffering.  If both design team members are willing to bend and work together, the collaborative outcome can be better than any one team member working alone.


It is our collective responsibility to work effectively as a team to exceed our client’s expectations  and deliver excellence.  This does not mean we should lay our professional knowledge aside. If our client is asking for something that cannot work, or is not aware of the negative impact of a suggestion they may have, we must be willing to advise them accordingly.

One example that happens somewhat frequently is a client eschewing the construction of a quiet room using sound isolation techniques stating something like, “It’s just the two of us and we always watch movies together”, or “It won’t bother me if I can hear the plumbing or air conditioning in my theater, I can hear it in other parts of the house”.  As professional experts we must educate our clients that their private theater will be a special room, unlike any other in the house. If the client misses the subtle details the director has interwoven into the film or cannot use the theater to avoid waking their spouse from a peaceful sleep, then we must take the blame for not advising our clients appropriately and earning our professional fee.