For those who would rather spend Super Bowl Sunday watching dream homes than dream teams, thank goodness HGTV has scheduled alternative programming.
Late Sunday afternoon and evening, the cable TV station is offering special shows, including the glam "Homes That Made Hollywood: the '50s" featuring Carrie Fisher visiting the former homes of Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn.
While everyone else is noshing on nachos watching the Patriots and the Panthers go at it, non-combatants can move on to "Debbie Travis' Facelift" or "Date With Design." For more info, check www.hgtv.com.
If home theaters had a national holiday, Super Bowl Sunday surely would be it.
Throughout the land this weekend, proud owners of the biggest screens, the cushiest seating and most sophisticated sound systems will be hosting pigskin parties. These domestic impresarios are behind one of the hottest trends in residential interiors: the marriage between increasingly sophisticated audio-video technology and the furniture designed to go with it.
In Potomac, Md., a sign heralding the "Smith Family Theatre" will be lit to welcome 30 friends and neighbors to the screening room of diversity consultants Gary and Janet Smith and their three sons. Sunday's Panthers-Patriots showdown will be their own theatrical Super Bowl III, complete with tiered seating and a screen measuring five feet high by nearly seven feet wide.
Last year, U.S. retailers ordered $12 billion worth of home theater electronics, including television sets and screens, speakers, receivers, sub-woofers and DVD players, says Brad Jones, communications manager of the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va. That was nearly double the 2002 total of $6.5 billion for hardware alone; it does not count the first recliner, curtain or popcorn machine.
"With the declining cost of quality audio components, home theater has been made affordable to the masses, and consumers are spending twice as much time viewing DVDs and videos at home as they do at theaters," says Paula Hoyas, director of upholstery merchandising for Michigan-based La-Z-Boy, which commissioned a survey of domestic viewing habits in 2002.
Last April, La-Z-Boy, the nation's largest producer of upholstered furniture, launched its premiere Matinee collection by adapting its signature recliners for home theaters. "People will come in and say I'll take 12 or I'll take four," says Hoyas, adding that they look equally good in a living room or family room grouped around a standard-issue large-screen television. They run about $580 per seat in micro-suede and $1,280 in leather.
For social cachet, an evening at the White House theater is probably the hottest ticket in town. President and Mrs. Bush, who shy away from formal entertaining, do invite close pals to the relatively plain 47-seat East Wing screening room.
But for over-the-top entertainment fantasy, there is probably no better-known home theater designer than Greek-born Brooklynite Theo Kalomirakis, a onetime filmmaker whose commissions evoke art-deco chic, post-modern sleek, even ancient Egyptian mythology.
Suspense writer Dean Koontz spent about $1.2 million on hardware and furnishings for a 20-seat family cinema in his home near Los Angeles, says Kalomirakis, who is currently overseeing a "sky's the limit" project on Antigua in the Caribbean. "It has fantastic millwork, cast-bronze railings, foyers, balconies. The equipment alone costs $1 million." By contrast, his own theater in a converted printing plant will total about $30,000, including a balcony. "The biggest thrill is to make it for less," says Kalomirakis.
According to industry experts, the average home theater runs about $15,000 to $25,000.
And what would it take to equip and furnish a Chevy-level theater? About $12,000 to $15,000 just for the electronics, says Jeff Hudkins, general sales manager of Gramophone in Timonium, Md., one of three Maryland branches of a shop specializing in high-end custom audio-video systems and furnishings. Add $1,000 to $1,500 per motorized recliner. That puts a starter cinema for a family of four in the $16,000 to $22,000 range, unless the kids are forced to make do with chairs, sofas or floor cushions. Then factor in the cost of lighting, carpeting and acoustical fabric for the walls.
The Consumer Electronics Association says the home theater "experience" can be delivered by a TV screen 27 inches or larger, surround-sound processor, four or more speakers and a hi-fi VCR or DVD player.
But like trophy kitchens and spa-size bathrooms, personal screening rooms can easily top $100,000 or $200,000.
Home theater purists -- some might say snobs -- are emphatic about what separates a private cinema from a garden-variety media center: enormous screens, an automatic curtain or artwork to hide said screen when not in use; overhead projectors and killer acoustics. "Plasma TVs are measured in inches, screens are in feet. If you are measuring in inches, you don't have a home theater," says Hudkins.
The chair of choice for these spaces is a recliner, preferably covered in leather or designer fabric, electric-powered and equipped with cup holders and even drink coolers. Other chair options include massage, heated seats and an attachable sub-woofer such as the "Butt Kicker," which produces jolts of bass-line vibrato. Tiered rows are a nice touch, providing everyone with a clear view; on-site popcorn machines, candy counters, wet bars or espresso-makers provide instant refreshment.
Today's boom has been fueled by advances in technology, says Hudkins. "Surround-sound came along in the late 1980s. By placing speakers all around a room, you could be watching a jet plane on the screen and the sound would go from front to back, as if it's flying overhead. That was part of the music system."
By the late '90s, digital video disc or DVD technology took off, he says. In the past several years, change has come quickly, with advances in high-definition, flat-screen and plasma television. "For our purposes," he says, "theaters are ultra-high-quality, closed-circuit movies with digital surround sound, digital-quality video and the ability to project them up on a screen that's 10 to 12 feet wide so you can have a movie theater experience where people are bigger than life in your own home."
There are no figures on how much cine-philes spend on seating for their home theaters, says Jaclyn Hirschhaut, American Furniture Manufacturers Association spokeswoman. "But I can tell you there has been a real boom in the amount of product that's being introduced in the category by manufacturers with familiar names in the recliner industry: La-Z-Boy, Berkline, Flexsteel, Action Lane. What they have essentially done is to streamline an otherwise bulky reclining chair in a more sophisticated modern chair."
There are many possibilities for "cluster ganging" or grouping these seats, she says: Putting freestanding recliners next to one another, with or without interior arms; attaching them in a straight line of twos, threes or fours at the factory or achieving the curve of a sectional sofa by adding wedges -- topped by a snack tray to augment that cup holder and cooler. Some chairs lean back manually, others electronically. "The more expensive ones are narrower and more sophisticated."
Wall units are also gaining popularity, from inexpensive, assembly-required kits to fine cabinetry from mainstream furniture makers.
But for the Smiths of Potomac, Md., the $100,000 theater in what once was a cinderblock basement, is more about family than furniture or electronics.
"We have teen-age boys, 13, 14 and 16, and there is a lot of benefit having something that draws in kids. You are kind of the go-to house," says Janet Smith. Two weekends ago, while her husband was away on business, the 16-seat space was packed with young NFL playoff fans. "The 16 year old had 10 kids over. The 13 year old planned to have 10 more. You make it a place where it's fun for them."
It's also quite stylish. The walls and ceiling are deep purple, the carpeting a lighter tweed. The front row contains three immense leather recliners, behind which rise graduated tiers of second-hand, flip-down movie house seats Smith snagged on the Internet. "I bought them for $200 each from a dealer, and that included the new purple upholstery."
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