Silence is Golden
Stay-at-home dad’s self-built, sound-proof family home theater hosts movie nights
Jim Wilson’s love of speakers is massive.
A pair of 5’4”, 165-pound Polk Audio stereo speakers anchors Wilson’s sound-proof family home theater in Dublin. He purchased the SDA SRS stereo speakers – Polk’s flagship ones at the time – soon after graduating from Kent State University in 1987.
Some college graduates have car loans. Wilson had a two-year speaker loan. “I can almost be buried in them,” he jokes.
Jim, who worked in transportation sales, always wanted a home theater, so he did what any other stay-at-home dad would do in his spare time: build one, of course.
The 450-square-foot home theater, located on the lower level, is a room within a room. The floor sits on 2-inch by 2-inch by 1-inch high compressed fiberglass pads with two ¾-inch sheets of plywood so it’s 2 ½ inches off the ground. The theater walls are about an inch or more from any neighboring walls. There is a 2 ½ inch step-up into the room.
Two cream-colored, six-panel exterior doors, one in front of the other, lead into the theater. These “communicating doors” prevent “flanking noise,” noise that reaches a room by an indirect path.
As in a true movie theater, a 9-inch riser was built with rope lights around the front to illuminate the step. Lights run on the left side in front of the rear seats, too, and there are also rope lights along the ceiling on both the left and right sides.
Two rows of four black leather chairs with cup holders, all motorized, face a 114-inch Carada projection screen. A Panasonic PT-AE4000 1080p home theater projector, lag bolted into plywood instead of drywall over this ceiling area, is positioned on a universal mount so it can be used again when a projector upgrade is necessary.
“I think it’s a big deal in a home theater to have electric seats so you can position yourself any way you want to be comfortable,” Wilson says. “You’re going to sit in here for a couple of hours or more.”
Try 17 hours. That’s about how long it took Jim’s 15-year-old son, Alec, and his friends to complete a recent The Lord of the Rings movie marathon.
“I would never be able to stay up as late as I do in here when I have people over without the sound-proofing,” Alec says.
To build a sound-proof home theater, Jim used a three-step installation system that targets the floor, walls and ceiling. The room, including the ceiling, has two sheets of drywall (5/8 inches) with noise-proofing compound in the middle of the sheets. This allows the two layers of drywall to move independently, so the sound waves die more quickly.
The 7.2 surround system features seven speakers and two subwoofers. All speakers, except the two rear wall ones, are concealed behind walls made of black fabric, which is acoustically transparent and fire retardant. The amp is visible in the middle, and on either side are sliding doors that hide any other equipment. A PlayStation 3 is used to play Blu-ray discs.
“We watch movies almost every weekend and often watch TV shows down here,” Jim says. “It’s certainly a super fun place to hang out.”
The Carada projection screen is 2 feet off the wall so the speakers and the screen are in the same plane. This allows for 2 inches of sound absorption on the back wall. The black fabric on the back walls is non-reflective so the screen appears to be floating when the lights are off.
It took roughly three years on and off for Jim, a self-described “anal retentive” type, to finish it.
“I tend to over-build, in case you didn’t get that,” he says with a laugh. “I’m willing to spend a lot of time to think it all through.”
He read everything he could find on sound-proofing and acoustical treatments within a room. The system isn’t designed for do-it-yourselfers, but Jim couldn’t afford to have it done professionally, so he planned, designed and built the theater himself. He did everything except lay the black and gold California Berber carpet and build the two 33-inch-wide by 37-inch-tall glass doors. After having the doors professionally constructed, he weather-stripped around the openings to seal out light and sound.
Through the years, Jim has become handy, learning first from his father who finished each basement before moving the family every five years or so. Jim’s father was a salesman for the Hoover Company. And prior to HGTV and the DIY Network, Jim gained knowledge watching Bob Vila, Hometime and This Old House. He’s finished a basement and bedroom, put in a bathroom, and built a deck in previous homes.
The master bedroom coincidentally sits directly above the theater room. One of the first films Jim and his wife, Ulka – who works as a team manager in procurement at Honda of America Mfg. Inc. in Marysville – watched with friends was Green Zone, a war thriller. Their 14-year-old daughter, Tara, who was 11 at the time, slept on the floor of the bedroom that night and wasn’t awoken by the movie.
Through the years, the Wilsons have hosted Academy Awards parties and movie nights with extended family. Jim is the oldest of five children.
“That’s the fun part of having this,” Ulka says, “because all the families come over and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, what movie are we going to watch tonight?’”
It took Jim three months to build the cherry wood built-in shelving that holds Blu-ray discs and CDs. He also built a matching cherry wood countertop for the mini-bar. There are eyeball recessed lights, and all the way against the wall are puck lights over the mini-bar.
Jim recently began his next project: building a full bar with a pool table and a bedroom in the Wilsons’ 1,500-square-foot basement. He’s shown no signs of slowing down since the family moved in eight years ago, having had the home built while they were living in Utsunomiya, Japan.
“I’m proud of Jim for building this theater,” Ulka says.
Mike Price is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.