The Bay Area's Rich Film History Leads to a Revival of the Home Theater



Designed by Swatt|Miers Architects, 10718 Mora Street in Los Altos has a complete home theater setup. It’s listed with David Kelsey at Coldwell Banker.

The Bay Area is home to the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival and Frameline, among others, so it’s safe to say we’re a mecca for movie buffs. And for developers offering homes at the very high end of the market, a dedicated home theater is a distinguishing amenity. “We’ve been seeing an uptick in dedicated theater spaces,” says Robert Gilligan, senior consultant at Sausalito-based Marchand Wright & Associates, independent home technology consultancy. “There are more international clients who are buying here, and the Bay Area also has a rich film history.”

The primary differentiator for these specialized spaces is acoustic performance, in which the shape and proportions of the room itself have been designed to optimize sound. At 10718 Mora Street in Los Altos, a newly built 5-bedroom home listed for $18 million, the lower level includes not only a lounge with three TV screens and a bar, but a movie theater designed with the help of acoustic consultants at Texas-based Russ Berger Design Group as well. It features a 120-inch black screen, a 4K projector and 7.2 surround sound (and is pre-wired for Dolby Atmos 3D sound).

For developers offering homes at the very high end of the market, a dedicated home theater is a distinguishing amenity.

Another creative option is a room tailored to do double-duty. For the recent home remodel of a Northern California–based client, architects Michael Garcia and Farid Tamjidi of Garcia Tamjidi created a family room that transforms into a state-of-the-art theater and listening room as needed. The lower-level room overlooks a garden through a glass wall, and functions as a casual entertaining space, with built-in bookcases and a fireplace at one end. But in theater mode, motorized shades come down to cover the glass wall, a large projection screen drops down in front, a projector materializes from behind a bookcase panel, and speakers from French company Focal come up through the floor on lifts. “The room looks terrific when it’s in non-theater mode, which is a great way to design,” says Garcia.

The technology is moving quickly, but at this point in time, Gilligan recommends 4K projectors, in anticipation of 4K streaming content; black screens, which reflect ambient light and work in living rooms that aren’t completely dark; and Dolby Atmos speaker systems for immersive sound. However, it’s possible to achieve a certain level of quality without going all out. “Improvements in technology has simplified the requirements for a robust theater system, which used to require a lot of wiring,” says Tamjidi. “You can accomplish a lot in a small media or family room.” For this scenario, Gilligan suggests a large LED or OLED flat-screen TV, and augmenting the TV speakers with a sound bar plus subwoofer.

Then all that’s needed is a giant box of popcorn. 

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