At their worst, media rooms are crowded with cables, overwhelmed by large-scale TVs and speakers, and hidden in basements or far-off rooms — but at their best, media spaces bring comfort and create rich, shared experiences for families, couples, and groups of friends. Here, we talk with Dering Hall professionals who understand the challenges associated with designing beautiful media rooms, and know how to meet them head-on. Read on for their advice.
MAKE IT COMFORTABLE
A comfortable viewing experience is key for a media room, where clients want to sit back and immerse themselves in their favorite films, TV shows, and music. "The seating should be quite deep and covered with lots of throw pillows and blankets," says Patricia Bonis, a designer based in New York City. "My most important design consideration for a media room is comfortable seating, a place to put your feet up and sink into the cushions."
Comfort can also be achieved through creative technology-driven additions, like dimmable lighting and remote-control curtains, the latter of which "always thrill people," Bonis says. Likewise, placed against a dark wall dimmable sconces "lend a theatrical twist, which gives the feeling of a high-end design." For those on a budget, the designer suggests dark colors to decorate the walls and floors paired with oversized seating.
In the 1920s, the first "talkies" were produced in the United States, kicking off the Golden Age of Hollywood, which would last until 1960. As Paul Wiseman of The Wiseman Group notes, the beginning of the Golden Age coincided with the reign of Art Deco, a period in design that emphasized modern, decadent, and visually saturated interiors. Attending a film was a novel, luxurious experience that bordered on camp — a celebration of theatrical excess — and that emotion can be recreated through the design of a home theater.
"Movie theaters were in their heyday during the Deco period," says Wiseman. "Our collective memory seems to be best served when there is some reference to this period, no matter what the technology is in the room. I’m not saying that every theater should be Deco, but having an abstract reference to the Deco movement legitimizes the media space as a real theater. A cramped, Victorian train car is not a theater."
For a home theater in Hawaii, The Wiseman Group used Art Deco-inspired shapes and vibrant shades of pink to craft a lavish, sensual space.
BIGGER DOESN'T MEAN BETTER
The easiest way to create a media room that isn't crowded with loose cords is to build cabinetry. "In environments where the opportunity to have an adjacent space to house the technology does not exist, I build into the space by about 24 inches to house the technology guts," says Nancy Leffler-Mikulich of Oasis Home by NLM Design Interiors. "What I design on that surface is panel moldings that then carry forth throughout the rest of the space for a seamless, architecturally interesting design."
However, Leffler-Mikulich notes that when working with clients, they often select a larger-than-life TV screen that overwhelms the space, as well as the clients' senses. "I always start with advising client on proper screen size," she says. "There is math and science to this." Once she, the client, and the audio-visual designer decide on the size of the screen, she determines the height the screen should be, as well as the height of the seating arrangement and its distance from the TV.
For multi-purpose rooms that function both for entertaining and entertainment, it may be best to hide the TV. "We often hide the TV behind art or wall panels so that it’s not on display," says Audrey Carden, co-founder of Carden Cunietti. "If the room is solely for TV watching, then we make the seating as comfortable as possible with foot stools or ottomans for extra relaxation." When the TV can't be hidden in an entertaining space, make it look as beautiful as possible. "In this room we didn’t have a wall that lent itself to built-in joinery, so we decided to make a feature of the TV and mount it on an easel." Technology becomes art.
To keep the visual presence of technology to a minimum without totally forgoing it, Kristine Irving of Koo de Kir Architectural Interiors recommends hiding the TV behind millwork or paneling. In the above image, Irving creatively hid the screen behind a sliding chalkboard and white panel; the white panel can be used to screen films from a projector, and both panels roll aside to reveal the TV. "Why look at it if you aren't watching it?" Irving says. The designer also recommends opting for a projector. "A projection system is a great way to keep visible equipment to a minimum," she says. "It also allows you to elevate scale and create a more movie-theater like experience. The screen can drop down to cover shallow shelves, which makes for an elegant transition from media room to library. Rich fabrics and paneled walls add to the high-end luxury feel."
Unique details that are carefully fitted to the space can take a design from average to outstanding. "The design and architecture of the room is purposeful and custom or customized to it’s function," says Roger Owen of BGD&C Custom Homes. "Whether that’s a built-in cabinet that houses a TV, or a custom-designed movie theater, the custom factor will elevate the space and take it to that next level." Customized technology is just as important as built-ins. "Automation components — like black-out window shades and screens that drop down from the ceiling or rise up from the floor or a piece of furniture — help create a space that puts the design of the room front and center, instead of the tech," says Owen.