Big Time Screening Room Mania

Better sound and bigger screens have changed our viewing habits and what we expect in media rooms. It's why home theater design is trying on a new style.

Photo by: Scott Frances via Architectural Digest Interior designer Mario Buatta made this cushy, lounge-y screening room for Mariah Carey's Manhattan triplex. It's a contrast to the singer's glittery, ornate interior. Here, you want to sink into a pillow in a room described as a "movie theater under the sea."

When prices on flat screens dropped and the dank basement or wood-paneled family room were appropriately nuked and re-styled as media rooms, this first wave of home tech tried to emulate a mini-movie experience found at the AMC. Raked, immobile seating looked cool back then. Except, just like at the big movie house, you were chained down to the spot and the snack bar was way over there. What's wrong with this picture?

"We went away from theater-style seating," says Randy Fifield, of Fifield Co., a smarthouse trendsetter who designed the theater room for the K2 apartment building in Chicago. "You might want to lay down with a pillow or cuddle," or recline on a chaise with a bowl of buttery popped. All the design experts we spoke with had the same story: The trend is toward swively, modular furniture.  Fixed-seating is quickly becoming as much a relic as shag carpeting.

Upgrading the food experience was second on the list of trends, for both the shared media centers found in high-end apartment complexes and the custom, intimate home theater rig. "The opportunity to have food in the room and to prep food," was requested as a must-have from scores of tenants, said Ann Thompson, Sr. VP architecture and design at Related Midwest who put together the team for The Grant and the 500-square-foot event space "The Feature" at its Lake Shore Drive building. "The screens become the backdrop to other things that are happening there," such as people walking around with an appetizer plate or chatting up in different pockets.

During home theater invasion version 1.0, people couldn't wait to show off their gear. But now, hidden tech and seamless, integrated systems are envied. "They want a clubby, lounge-like feeling with a rocking sound system," says Elissa Morgante, co-owner of Morgante-Wilson Architects. Putting it together at home could run upwards of $30,000, depending on how tricked-out you want it to be. But that's why you call in the pros.

Take a look at these booming home theater trends:

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Family Rooms
Home Theaters

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