I have never lived in one place for very long. Growing up, my family moved every four years on average. By the time I graduated from high school, I lived in many homes: two in Oregon, one in Mississippi, and three in Utah. One thing I have always done is projects in pretty much every home. My father had me do odd jobs at every home including; spreading sand to even out a yard, planting 16 fruit trees in a field that was solid rocks, removing the exterior boards of the house so it could be refinished, scraping out grout from tile floors and changing the color and many others. I guess I do not feel part of a home unless I do something to “make it mine.”
I have lived in my latest home for close to 10 years. It has been the longest and during my time here I have done a number of these odd jobs including the building of a 120′ long by 15′ high rock retaining wall and leveling out the yard with 35 dump trucks full of dirt. But the last project I just finished is one of my favorite to date. The Movie Theater project took almost 10 months to complete. I had the help of a few friends, a cousin, my uncle and my son. For the most part, I did all of the research, created the plans and either did or helped with every step of the build.
The house has a uniquely high ceiling in the basement due to the way the home was built into the side of the hill. The ceilings are 12′ high which gives it a very open feeling. In one corner of the basement the builder had a very large storage room. Just a single door with a room that was 15′ wide, 25′ deep and 12′ ceilings. It was originally some sort of handball/sports court or something. I wanted to turn it into a real movie theater, not just a simple home theater, but something as close to the real movie theater experience as I could do in my own home. So the project began.
Stage 1: Wiring – The room already had power to it, but only two outlets and a few lights were wired. I wanted to ensure the room had plenty of power so I added two 20 amp breakers and pulled cable down from the main box in the garage. My buddy Joseph helped me with this as he does commercial and residential electrical all the time. We ran 34 individual outlets into the room. Pulled audio cables for 7.2 Dolby Atmos sound, two HDMI cables (one short throw and one long throw distance on the ceiling), six slots for stair lighting, and a space for an 18U rackmount media cabinet.
Stage 2: Insulation/walls/sheetrock – Since I wanted this room to be very loud but not disturb others in the house, I may have gone a little overkill on the sound dampening and insulation. First we framed out all of the walls and installed R15 Fiberglass insulation in them and the ceiling. Then we covered the entire room ceilings and walls with .5″ OSB (waferboard) sheets. After all of this we finally got to the stage of sheet rock.
In the pictures you can see the front of the theater with the placement of the front and center speaker boxes. We built those out of MDF board to ensure the acoustics would sound good and focus the sound out of the wall. THe side walls show the cutouts for the theater sconce style lights and the back of the room shows the rear speakers up at the top of the room. They look really high in the pictures, but again, this was due to planning. I wanted to ensure the top seats in the theater would have a great view and in doing so I had to place the speakers really high. You will see why later.
Stage 3: First painting and prep for the risers – For the best viewing experience, you want your theater to be DARK and have little or no reflections inside. To obtain the best viewing, I decided to use flat black paint. This has some positives and negatives. The positive is AMAZING viewing of the picture. However, flat black is hard to keep clean. It shows dust, fingerprints and marks up easily. If you decide to go flat black, make sure you keep some touch up paint available because you will need it at some point.
From the pictures you can see even with very bright LED lighting, the flat black, hardly reflects light. If it had a shine to it you would see a much brighter reflection in the pictures.
Stage 4: The Risers – I am really proud of the way we built the risers. I spent quite a bit of time researching this part to ensure I could get the best viewing angles for people as well as sound/acoustics in the room. I decided to build a floating deck style flooring system with twice the recommended height in each level from anything I could find online. What this meant is I had to include a stair in between each level. We went with 9″ steps and 18″ in between levels. I am SUPER glad I made this decision as now that there are seats inside, everyone can see even with tall people sitting in the row directly in front of them.
The Way we built this decking system included a skirt along each wall with supports to the floor, pressure treated floor boards that were mounted to the concrete flooring and then we put some extra support framing in the middle of the rows. The big secret here is sound. How do you make a hollow wood floor not squeak/creak and sound hollow when people walk on it? Well we insulated the entire floor with R15 fiberglass again (sorry uncle, I know you hated that part). Also, each floor was built with two .75″ plywood sheets with a layer of roofing felt between them. The roofing felt is the real secret. It helps get rid of the squeaks and creaks. Also, make sure you offset the flooring layers as you do not want all of your joints to match up. The floor sounds awesome when you walk on it. Seriously there is not a sound. Also, it is SUPER sturdy.
Stage 5: Carpet – For the carpeting I went with the softest and best composite pad I could find. I wanted to make sure people had a nice soft floor to walk on when not wearing shoes since this is in the house. Also, I wanted something that would wear well and hold up to spills, stains, food and other things that are inevitable with a movie theater. I chose some commercial grade black carpet with white fleck in it to help hide small crumbs and popcorn kernels. This stuff is Scotchguard stain resistant and tough stuff, yet still soft to the touch for bare feet and laying down on it if you feel inclined.
Stage 6: Wall sound treatments, lighting and speakers – This part is something I am really glad I did. The room sounded fine before I installed sound treatments, but with them in there, you hear really pure sound. Basically these are framed boxes with a special later of insulation in them and fabric covering them. My son and I installed them on 3/4 of the theater walls and ceiling just leaving the front of the theater where the screen would go open. For lights, we actually went down to a local movie theater that was closing and purchased the black sconce lights off the walls there. I am glad I did because it was almost impossible to find lights of that size and quality when I checked afterwards. For speakers we went with Klipsch Reference Premier speakers. They sound fantastic and have a ton of power available.
Stage 7: Seating – For the seating I wanted a commercial grade seating system that was modular, would last a long time, and had reclining capabilities, tray tables, cup holders and everything you would expect in a high-end theater experience. I decided on First Class Seating’s Bliss Zero chair. It had everything I wanted, and they are EXTREMELY comfortable chairs. They actually have these at one of the local theaters in town for their premium seating (Many thanks to Jason and Kevin from GT Throne who make the most amazing gaming chairs for helping me on this part).
Building modular seating that has to fit specifically into a space is no easy task. Even with super careful measurements we ran into a few issues here and I initially had planned for tray tables on every seat but due wanting loveseats I had to compromise and only put trays on the outsides of the front and middle row, the back row has trays for all five seats. The main reason for this is the dual armrests between loveseats put me over by about 3” on the steps and it would be too hard for folks to walk up and down with such a little space between the chairs and the walls. Its crazy but 3″ really does make that much of a difference. The other thing was ensuring the chairs would fully recline and leave enough room between each row so you can still stand up and get out when watching a show.
My son was a champion and we spent multiple days building out the chairs and then changing up the way we did two rows to remove the extra armrest and make things fit better. He may never admit he enjoyed the project, but I saw him take a selfie and post it to the internet somewhere with a big smile and saying something to the effect of “I built this.”
Step 8: Screen, Equipment and other finishing touches – For the screen initially I was going to try and paint the wall, however, I decided to go with an actual screen as reviews and research suggested it was just the best for viewing. I went with the Silver Ticket screen and I am glad I did. It looks AMAZING and the picture is better than most movie theaters. The screen size is 175″ in diameter and fills the 15′ wall completely. For the receiver I decided to go with the Onkyo TX-NR656 because I really wanted a system with Dolby Atmos and at the time it had the most HDMI ports available. Throw in a nice Blu-ray player, a projector and some popcorn and away we go.
Another little feature is the installation of a room-to-room air ventilation system up near the back of the room. This allows me to turn on some airflow for when you have a large number of folks in the room. One complaint I hear from many theater owners is the room gets stuffy/hot when watching shows. The room-to-room system helps alleviate that greatly.
Conclusion: The theater is done and I couldn’t be happier with it. Seriously, I do not regret any of the decisions we made. I learned a ton about sound, cabling, power distribution, lighting and other things along the way. Taking the time to build it right makes a ton of difference. I hope you enjoy the pictures and feel free to message me with any questions. This is a project I will be proud of for quite some time. Thank you so much to all those who physically helped me, answered my questions, advised me on equipment and materials, and for everyone who told me how cool it was along the way so I could keep up my excitement and see it through. If you are ever in the area, I hope you can come watch a show with us!
Most importantly, I want to thank my son. I really enjoyed the experience of building something with my boy. It reminded me so much of all the lessons I learned working side by side with my father at his age. He helped me clean the room, pull cables, connect power outlets, build/mount the screen, hang all of the sound panels, test sound/video equipment, install all of the chairs and many other parts of this project. In the end, its not so much about the things we do in life, but the experiences and lessons we learn and the people we learn them with. I am proud of the hard work and effort we put into this project together.