Theo Kalomirakis: Many Thanks For A Job Well Done
A few more weeks, and the theater going up in my loft will be finished. There is no picture on the screen yet (the Digital Projection projector arrives next week) and no sound (the ADA preamplifier is still on order). But I don’t mind. Waiting a little while longer is a breeze compared to all the years I had to wait for this theater to be at the point it is today.
Except for the curtain (the fabric is on backorder), the lighting and most everything else—carpet, acoustic treatments, wall upholstery, seating—are all in place. I can already visualize the end-result as I’m lounging in the theater’s super-comfortable Cinematech recliners, looking at the wall-to-wall screen trying to figure out what will be the first movie I will want to watch on it. As a matter of fact, I think I know . . . It will be the restored version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which is coming out on Blu-ray from Criterion. I saw that movie as a kid on the large curved screen of the—sadly, burned out—Apollon Theater in Athens. It was the first Cinerama movie that was shot with a single camera that eliminated the distracting lines of the original three-film-strip Cinerama system. My Stewart Filmscreen isn’t that curved but the theater’s proscenium is. Its curvature is my personal mini-homage to Cinerama, whose screen enveloped the audience and sucked them into the action.
Someone tweeted the other day that they can’t wait to see what my own theater will look like. To those who expect an over-the-top design, I can only say that they will be disappointed. There are three reasons that made me go for a clean and minimal look:
—Unlike some of the theaters associated with my work, my personal taste in design runs toward the clean and the minimal. My loft is clean and minimal, and the theater in it is an extension of that aesthetic
—By any standards, the space of my theater is very small—just 13′ x 17′. Trying to fill it up with the typical decorative flourishes—columns, panels, and such—would only “choke” it and make it look even smaller. I decided that any decorative flair in it will be accomplished through color-changing lighting.
—Even modest design gestures are costly when you operate under a tight budget. And the budget for my theater was beyond tight—not just because I couldn’t afford to spend what our super-rich clients spend to build their theaters, but because I wanted to prove that you don’t need to spend a fortune for a good-looking theater. How many times have we seen over-ambitiously-designed theaters become objects of derision instead of desire?
The design of a home theater is just the wrapping paper around a gift box. It’s what inside the box that’s really important. The engine that makes a theater run is technology. Over the years, I have been blessed with the friendship of some of the most prominent manufacturers in the A/V industry. My dear friend Joaquin Rivera—to me, and to many others in the industry, the soul of Stewart Filmscreen; the new kid on the block, Jason Pang of Prima Cinema; the one-and-only Noel Lee, Monster Cable‘s head monster; Elias Cabous of S1 Digital; CAT‘s tireless crusader Brian Barr; Richard Stroeger of ADA; George Walter, Digital Projection‘s visionary leader; and last but not least, Crestron‘s Randy Klein and George Feldstein—two people whose friendship and mentorship I cherish enormously—are among those who made my theater possible. Whenever I watch a movie, I will feel that all of them are sitting next to me enjoying the results of this collaborative effort.
The making of my theater reminded me again how complex simplicity can be. To get to the point where everything works with the push of a single button, a tremendous amount of technology and engineering has to run in the background. Usually, after I design a theater, I step aside and let the acousticians, the programmers, and the A/V integrators do their job. It was different with my theater. Watching a small army of people tackle the installation of sophisticated technology was eye-opening and humbling. I am very lucky and grateful that some of the theaters I design attract attention. But equal attention should go to those who use their skills to turn a theater from eye candy to a technological marvel. As Ara Seferian of Crestron was focusing intensely on every programming detail on his laptop and Chris Wyllie and Paul Fakatselis of Seal Solutions were wiring the components on the equipment rack with the precision of a watch-maker, I couldn’t help thinking that all these years I have gotten away with murder. My colleagues are stuck with the hard work while I am having fun with the easy part—design
Those often unsung heroes in the A/V industry deserve every bit of the credit that goes into the making of the theater. I am lucky to have met so many of them and have worked with them on projects everywhere. Steve Haas of SH Acoustics did the acoustical design not only of my theater but of many other projects of ours that have won CEDIA awards and been written up in the press. Jakob Paszynin of Teknamat has traveled around the world with me to install acoustical treatments and actually build entire theaters. They deserve every bit of the praise that goes to a theater that looks good and performs even better.
My theater will be open by invitation to those who want to bring in their clients and friends to enjoy state-of-the-art technology in a space that you can visualize fitting not in a mega mansion but in a normal-size size apartment. Many think that home theater may be on its way out. If that’s the case—and I refuse to believe it is—it’s not only because of a lack of vision but mostly because of a lack of education. You need to experience the sheer impact of crisp images on a large screen and the larger-than-life sound coming out of a sophisticated sound system inside a well-designed, dedicated room to realize that watching a movie on your iPad or even on the large TV screen in your living room is a very poor substitute for the real thing. Seeing is believing—you will not want to go back to the farm once you have seen Paris . . .
(Below is a brief slideshow. I’ll have pictures of the finished theater soon!)