Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Avoiding Oversights in Private Theater Lighting Designs

We often hear comments like, “What’s the big deal, it is supposed to be a dark room anyway” or “The lighting design has already been done by the interior designer.”

Health & Safety

First and foremost, we must assure that minimum code requirements are met. In addition to this we must take care to provide adequate path lighting. Guidelines for minimum lighting requirements in living spaces can be obtained from local building codes. Your electrical contractor, the project architect, or lighting designer will have this information available, as well, however a good reference is that a typical living room lighting specification would provide a minimum of 1430 lumens.


Performance, in relation to private theater lighting design, represents a specific set of considerations. Our objective is to distribute the overall illumination effectively within the room with no degradation of video performance. It must also support various room uses and health and safety requirements while also augmenting the aesthetics of the space. This is where the theater designer will earn his or her keep. The process of creating a lighting design that supports all of the above means we have to consider numerous criterion, such as the light temperature and distribution characteristics of each fixture, the functional layout of the room (in particular the location of the screen and viewers), aesthetic elements that must be accented, multiple room applications (i.e. movie, gaming, broadcast, social, cleaning), and, of course, health and safety requirements.

The resulting design often requires many more and varied fixtures than would typically be used in a similarly sized room. This design, in turn, leads to more channels of control to achieve the desired performance criteria.


On a recent theater design with 20 separate loads of lighting, five buttons provided all the scenes required for daily use. The primary objective aesthetically is to create a lighting design that accentuates the room’s décor. But what about when a desired fixture is part of the room décor but is problematic functionally? For instance, sconces, pendants, and chandeliers are decorative elements that may have physical characteristics that are detrimental to theater performance. Supporting a chandelier can be problematic for quiet room construction, placement of chandeliers can be distracting or even in conflict with projection placement. It is important to refer back to the primary objective of the lighting design and select (or deselect) fixtures accordingly.


Today’s control technologies make possible many of the performance and aesthetic objectives previously mentioned. It would be inconvenient if not impossible to have the multiple channels of lighting without the ability to simplify the control with an integrated solution. Ironically one of the objections often voiced when a multi-load lighting design is initially presented is the desire for a more simple approach, meaning fewer loads of lighting. It is important to explain the benefit and accuracy of a multi-load lighting design to your client and then demonstrate how the integrated lighting control simplifies its use.

Electrical and Mechanical Considerations

An effective private theater lighting design that addresses all these requirements needs to be professionally engineered and documented. Various lighting loads require specific control devices and interfaces. Different fixture types have specific mounting and ventilation requirements. Impact on acoustical isolation as well as AV performance must be considered. The electrical loads and power consumption must be calculated as well. In short, just a notebook of fixture brochures is not a lighting design. We generally provide a dimensioned, enumerated, notated lighting plan accompanied with a lighting schedule that includes data on all of these criteria and more.