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Building a Reference Grade Media Room on a Budget – Part 2

After reading part one, part two was worth the wait for the conclusion on how to build a media room or home theater on a budget. In this case, the budget was $5000 even though some of the equipment and furniture was already in hand from the old media room. This shows that if you have a good plan, you can stay within, if not go lower than your budget by sticking to your plan and wind up with a very nice home theater room.

Do you have any other ideas on planning or how to stay within your budget?

via HomeTheaterReview.com by Andrew Robinson on 12/2/10


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When we last spoke I had gone over a few key points to keep in the back of your mind to help you in the planning stages of building your reference grade media room on a budget. To recap, the five main points are: Have a plan, be realistic, take stock, budget and remember that your room is the star. For a quick refresher course, please read Building a Reference Grade Media Room on a Budget – Part 1, which was published in September on Home Theater Review.

My new media room, at the beginning of construction, was nothing more than a living room measuring 17 feet wide by 25 feet long with nine-foot ceilings. As I stated in Part One of this series, my goal was to build a media room that could serve as a true reference room for both audio and video performance but still be hospitable and inviting to guests and my wife. This meant no dark walls, unsightly room treatments or lack of creature comforts. For all intents and purposes, to an outsider, my new reference media room was to serve as a living room – but to me it was to be heaven on Earth. And I had to do it all on a budget of $5,000 all-in.

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Construction
There were a few items that came with the room that I could not change, such as a tiled floor, a large stone fireplace and an opening to the house’s only hallway located at the back of the room. There were also two 56-inch square windows present, one that sat dead center of my front wall and the other dead center on the left sidewall. I couldn’t drywall over nor remove the windows so I had to figure out a way to work with them – not a problem. As for the fireplace, because of its uneven stone construction, it wasn’t as big an issue acoustically as I thought, acting more like a natural diffuser than a harsh, reflective surface. The room itself was already framed with the drywall hung by the time I moved in. The floors were in place so cable routing would have to be done via the tight, but workable, crawlspace overhead.

Before moving any equipment or furniture in, I drew a floor plan for the room as well as a color chart so that everyone involved, be it my wife, friends or installers, had the same road map to the finish line. This tactic was something I gleamed from watching Sarah’s House on HGTV and it proved to be key in getting the project done on time and on budget.

With our floor plan and color chart in hand, which I made using Adobe’s Kuler, my wife and I ventured to Lowes. Since I use high contrast/ambient light rejecting screens in my review system, the need to paint the walls a medium or dark shade of grey wasn’t as necessary as it would be if I was using a unity gain screen. So I scored a few husband points by letting my wife choose the color of the room (it helps when you and your spouse share similar tastes), so long as the paint finish was flat and not gloss or semi-gloss, which would’ve created image issues despite my choice of high contrast screens. She ultimately decided on a subtle, earth tone color from Valspar. It took three, one-gallon containers ($24.00 each) of the Valspar paint to thoroughly coat our new media room – that and a little elbow grease.

Once painting was complete I marked the areas on the walls and ceiling where we would need to drill holes for cable routing and/or mount junction boxes for electrical outlets. I have a friend who happens to be a retired electrician, who agreed to help me with the installation of two new outlets located on the ceiling, and the wiring of a new switch plate that would control my electric drop down screens and projector. Total cost of the new wiring, including labor and materials, was less than $200.

The last item on my construction plan was the running of a 40-foot long HDMI cable from the front of the room to the back where the projector would later be mounted. Because I took stock of my existing gear, a methodology I discussed in Part One of this series, I was able to reuse my Transparent Reference HDMI cable from my old media room and simply bring it over to my new room. Remember, if it isn’t broke you don’t need to fix it – or better yet, upgrade it.

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Interior Design
Once the paint was dry and the new electrical and AV cables were routed and in place, it came time to move in furniture and begin finalizing the interior design of the space. Because the new media room had tile floors, which both my wife and I were unwilling to give up due to our three dogs, a large, plush, area rug was going to be necessary in helping define the space as well as tame some of its reflective sonic qualities. We scoured the Internet looking for “deals” on an area rug that measured at least 10 feet square. The prices were astronomical ranging anywhere from $800 to $5,000 depending on where we looked and the style of the rug itself. I wasn’t about to blow my room budget on an area rug so we made a list: a list of what we needed from our area rug and what we could do without.

We knew our new rug had to be around 10 feet square, be darker in color (to hide dirt) have a reasonable pile and cost less than $500. With those parameters in place it helped narrow our search. Low and behold we found our rug at Lowes. Besides being a hardware store, Lowes does offer a variety of home décor products and solutions, including large area rugs at very reasonable prices. We settled on a rug from Oriental Weavers of America that measured eight feet wide by 11 feet long. The rug fit our color pallet (remember Kuler), décor and only set us back $294.00.

While we were picking up the rug at Lowes, my wife and I went ahead and perused their selection of drapes and curtain rods. We found exactly what we were looking for in Lowes’ Allen+Roth collection. We purchased four 52 inch wide by 84 inch tall Milton curtain panels retailing for $29.97 each and two Allen+Roth Meridian Bronze curtain rods at $29.97 each.

Throw in a couple of simple Lutron dimmers at $7.47 each and my wife and I walked out of Lowes having spent $496.23.

We saved our Room & Board Metro sofa from our previous house along with our leather ottoman and love seat. We picked up a pair of side tables from Urban Home for a little over a hundred dollars for the pair as well as two ladder style bookcases from Target for $119.99 apiece.

With my wife happy to have a comfortable and inviting living space again (remember, my previous media room was fabric walled and ultra modern) I set out to find an entertainment credenza to house my electronics. In my previous media room I used Middle Atlantic racks, which were tucked away in a custom closet. I did like my old Middle Atlantic setup; however our new home didn’t have any closets nearby so I had to find another solution. I happened upon OmniMount’s website and began to look over their vast product line before discovering Omni+, OmniMount’s designer label, if you will.

I settled on Omni+’s Vent cabinet for its mid-century flare and teak finish, which complimented our newly purchased rug, drapes and décor beautifully, not to mention it was large enough to accommodate all my necessary two-channel and home theater gear. You can read more about the Omni+ Vent cabinet on Home Theater Review’s AV Racks and Furniture page. The Vent cost me just under a thousand dollars, $999.95 to be exact, which may seem like a lot, given you can purchase racks for a few hundred dollars at most big box stores. Since I wasn’t buying a lot of gear for my new media room I knew I had some wiggle room in my budget to get something that was a bit more lifestyle and décor friendly, which the Vent was.

All in all, we spent a total of $1,836.16 on décor and interior design for our new media room. If you include paint and electrical the total cost of the renovation, thus far, totals $2,100.00.

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Installation
With the walls painted, wires run, drapes hung and furniture in place, it was time to do the final installation on all of the various components beginning with my two motorized, drop-down projection screens from SI and Elite Screens. I offered a buddy of mine a case of beer and dinner if he agreed to help me mount my projection screens and Anthem D-ILA projector, to which he happily agreed. Since everything from the furniture to the AV equipment was already diagramed and roughed out in advance (it helps to have a plan), we knew where everything had to go, turning what could’ve been an all-day affair into a single evening install.

With the screens and projector in place I began moving my various components into the room piece-by-piece, wiring as I went, leaving the speakers for last. I roughed in my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers, based on my conversation I had in the planning stages with GIK Acoustics’ Bryan Pape, but didn’t spike them down. Instead I opted to tape out an outline of their footprint so that I could hang my GIK Acoustic treatments along my front wall without having to navigate around a pair of costly speakers.

I began with the corners of the room, staking two pairs of GIK Tri-Traps in each corner of my front wall. Then I hung two GIK 242 acoustic panels behind where my left and right main speakers rest, which turned out to be precisely halfway between the inner edges of the Tri-Traps and the now covered window located dead center of the wall. Lastly, I mounted two GIK bass panels on my back wall between my two Target bookcases. While I’m sure some of you may be saying to yourself, what’s the point of interior design if you’re going to hang acoustic panels all over your walls? Well, because I had a plan and a color pallet in place prior to ordering my GIK acoustic panels, I was able to ensure that their finish complimented the décor – more importantly, blend in with my wife’s chosen wall color in order to minimize their appearance in the room. To date, every guest to our home has yet to comment on the acoustic treatments; in fact, few actually notice them despite being mounted in plain view.

With the GIK panels in place, I positioned my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds, connected them to my amp using my already acquired Transparent Reference speaker cables and presto – my new reference media room was complete. Total cost: $2,743.13, plus a case a beer and dinner for four.

Why so low? I was able to reign in costs by doing a lot of the work myself, having a plan and by simply understanding what my needs were and recycling equipment and furniture from previous systems and homes. The result? I’ve never had a better sounding or better-looking room, both in terms of décor as well as in video performance.

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Conclusion
While it may be easy to dismiss a lot of what I’ve based on the knowledge of type and/or quality of the gear described above and in my previous article, I would urge you not to, for all the high-end gear won’t amount to a thing if you’re trying to enjoy it in a room that isn’t comfortable for you and doesn’t account for acoustic anomalies that plague every system. Since I already had a lot of the gear I use as my reference in my possession I was able to save a lot of money; however you can still follow my lead and build a very respectable system and room for around the same budget I set for myself initially. As a matter of fact, as I write this, I’m listening to a $499 Onkyo receiver mated to a pair of affordable Aperion Audio loudspeakers and am amazed at how good and decidedly high-end the system still sounds, thanks in part to the effort put forth by me and my associates during the planning stages of my reference media room.

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