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Ed Driscoll

The Home Theaters Of Our Primitive Forefathers

October 10th, 2005 - 11:36 pm

Back in January, I wrote a newsletter for Electronic House on home theater cabinetry that begin with the supposition that my dad may have had one the first predecessors to today’s high tech media rooms. (Its Google cache is still online, if you can get the interminably long URL to load in your browser):

Who owned the first media room? History may never know for certain, but I’d like to put in a vote for my father. In 1969, while Neil and Buzz were exploring the moon, and Jimi, Janis, and The Who were exploring the mud at Woodstock, my father looked around his sealed, finished basement, and decided, “Why yes, a custom-built cabinet to house my hi-fi gear would look wonderful down here”. He hired a carpenter to design and build beautifully finished cabinetry to run the entire length of one of the narrow walls in the rectangular basement. The space was divided between housing several hundred of his thousands of LPs (and 78s!), and his multiple reel-to-reel and cassette decks, turntables, receiver, etc. A pair of hinged doors in the corners hid the speakers behind speaker cloth. The royalty of jazz (the Duke of Ellington, the Count of Basie, and Nat “King” Cole) played there nightly—or at least their recordings did.

Prefab Cabinetry Increasingly An Option

Of course, in 1969, as today, hiring someone to design and build-in such cabinetry is expensive. As you may very well know firsthand, people relocate far more often these days than back then. And apartment dwellers may want something far more portable.

While plenty of people still have units custom-made, there is an increasing amount of prefab cabinets available to house the myriad of equipment that makes up a home theater. My own A/V gear lives in my den inside a pair of black towers with beautiful aesthetics from Canada’s Laurier Furniture, Ltd.

Diamond Case Designs is a California based family-owned business, which also makes a variety of prefab home theater furniture. They even make speakers pre-designed to go behind the speaker grills of a home theater cabinet.

A cabinet with a truly unique design is made by Raxxess Metalsmiths in New Jersey: it pivots on its own axis, and its ability to rotate makes reaching the business end of A/V gear much easier.

Plan Ahead—And Carefully

Perhaps the most important design element in choosing cabinetry is the TV. Is the cabinetry going to be built around a large, thick rear projection unit? Will there be a drop-down screen and front projection system in the room? Do you have a thin, sleek wall-mounted plasma or LCD set and want your ancillary equipment in a low-slung cabinet underneath?

Check to see that the system can be expanded—in some instances literally: my Laurier cabinetry has a bridge that connects the two towers that surround my rear projection set and provides a shelf for my center channel speaker. Its length can be adjusted, should I ever buy a larger TV.

Also, how much of a tinkerer are you with your gear? If you’re a set-it-and-forget-it kind of guy, then access to your equipment may not be as critical as it would be for those who are constantly upgrading equipment and trying new wiring schemes.

Whether it’s custom made or prefabricated, the right cabinet can be the perfect finishing touch to a media room. Just be sure to plan ahead and ask lost of questions, before opening the checkbook. Almost forty years later, my dad’s still pretty happy with his “wall of sound”; make sure your components’ home can go the distance as well.

Resource Links

Laurier Furniture, Ltd. (http://www.laurierfurniture.com/eng/cine.html)

Homepage for home theater furniture from the Great White North.

Diamond Case Designs (http://www.diamondcase.com)

Another maker of high-end home theater cabinetry.

Raxxess Metalsmiths (http://www.raxxess.com)

Builders of equipment racks that rotate for easy access.

Sori Cabinets (http://www.sorice.com)

Makers of handsome equipment and media storage cabinets.

Incidentally, I was way off on my father building the first media room: James Lileks’ wonderful Institute of Official Cheer looks at what might be the first home theater, from 1955, 14 years prior.

Revel in its advanced technology and a design so sleek, Raymond Loewy himself would have put down his conté crayon permanently in humble astonishment if he had gotten wind of it.

This was advanced technology and aesthetics, By God!