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Home Theater Week: The Free-Rein Theater

A valuable client gives Cactus Sight & Sound the creative freedom to build a designer-pleasing home cinema.

Home Theater Week 2023 Logo -ADI

It was the kind of project Chase Goodman and his team at Cactus Sight & Sound in Tempe, Ariz., had dreamed of — a blank-space dedicated home theater that they could design and build as they saw fit.

Cactus Sight & Sound had done plenty of home theaters in its history, but none lately. The company started in houseboats and car audio in the early ’00s before working its way to its goal — the luxury residential market. Then a few years back it merged with a commercial integration company run by a friend of Goodman’s, and before long the calendar was filled with offices, conference rooms, and bars and restaurants.

But then a long-time residential client reached out to him for an upgrade — and what an upgrade it was…

“This was the first dedicated home theater that we’ve done in about four or five years because everything’s basically been multi-purpose rooms,” says Goodman. “He’s been a client of ours for six or seven years, and we did his remodel and other projects since. He was building an addition onto his house, and he wanted to do a proper theater, and he basically let us have free rein over what we thought he should do. It was a lot of fun.

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Projector View
A head-on view of the Fortress Seating and the JVC projector.

Although he gave Cactus Sight & Sound carte blanche, that is not to say that the client didn’t have goals for the space. For one thing, he knew he wanted a big screen, and if he had to push out a wall to do it, so be it.

“From the planning stage, he wanted to have a bigger screen, but the room was a converted garage,” says Goodman. “He took a three-car garage and converted it into the theater and then added on an office and a gym, and then a four-car garage onto that.

“We went into his living room and taped up what a 135-inch screen would look like, and he wasn’t satisfied — he wanted to go bigger. It was decided to add five more feet to the addition, which cut into his back patio that wasn’t being used anyway. The room could not be made wider because that was the footprint of what he had permits for, so it couldn’t be expanded that way.”

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Screen View
The 145-inch, acoustically transparent Screen Innovations Zero Edge series screen.

Cactus Sight & Sound went with a 145-inch, acoustically transparent Screen Innovations Zero Edge Series screen along with a JVC 8K projector. The Dolby Atmos sound is handled through AudioControl amps and James Loudspeaker in-wall and in-ceiling models, along with two James 12-inch subwoofers in opposite corners of the room. The theater has been added to the house’s existing Savant and Lutron control systems.

Getting the Look Right

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Artnovian Walls
The look on the walls comes from the Artnovion Acoustics panels.

Even though the client has an interior designer that he regularly works with, he did not use him for the home theater. “We designed everything except for the back cabinets and the carpet,” says Goodman. “Everything else — down to the paint color and furniture —was picked by us.

“He has a world-class designer, which is flattering because that designer saw the vision of what we were doing, and he liked it and said he would not chime in too much. It’s nice to have a professional like that take a back seat and give his blessing. That was a first for him, too, because usually he is the one picking out everything.”

The look on the walls comes from the Artnovion Acoustics panels. “I went on their website and told them that we liked these colors and this treatment and gave them the room dimensions and speaker placements, and they came back with a detailed plan,” says Goodman. “They let us know where we needed diffusers or absorbers, which are tucked behind the blue panels. The panels they sent even had cutouts for the speakers. The only thing you see are the grilles for the Atmos speakers that we cut into the fiber-optic ceiling and the grilles for the subwoofers. That’s it. Everything else is hidden.”

The starry ceiling is from an Australian company named LightEFX, which has a local rep that Goodman met while Cactus was exhibiting at a home and garden show a few years back.

“It came in as 2×2 tiles that snap into a metallic ceiling grid,” explains Goodman. “You don’t see the grid once it is set up because the tiles are flush with one another. Each tile has cords of fiber optics running through it to create the star effect.

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Starry Ceiling
The starry ceiling is from an Australian company named LightEFX and came as 2×2 tiles that snap into a metallic ceiling grid.

“To add the ceiling speakers, we just cut a hole in the star ceiling tile because it’s a foam/fiberglass combo and then pulled the LEDs out of that section. We ordered square grilles from James Loudspeaker to make it a little easier to cut in, and we painted those flat black. Then we stuck the leftover LEDs through the grille of the speaker so, if the lights are not on, you don’t see that there’s a speaker there — It looks like it’s still part of the ceiling.”

Related: 10 Tips for Designing a Small Home Theater

The client had some ideas about the theater seating, and Goodman turned to Fortress Seating to accommodate him. “He wanted a comfortable front-row couch and didn’t want typical theater seats on both levels,” says Goodman. “We came up with the chaise lounges on both sides of the couch.

“The client went over to a Fortress Seating showroom because he wanted to see, feel, and touch the seats beyond the little 4-inch sample square you typically get. Fortress was great and came up a lot more ideas as far as different features go — features we didn’t know existed, like compartments and tables. The client wound up spending more money on seating.

“A lot of hands came together to build this room.”

The Rotating Rack & Results

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Rack
The rack had to be moved one foot over and flipped around — not an easy task.

One of the biggest challenges for Cactus during this project was moving the equipment rack to a new location. “The old equipment rack was in a closet in the hallway and next to it was a mechanical closet,” says Goodman. “In one of the design meetings, he tells us that he’d really like to get the closet back for extra kitchen space, so we had to flip the entire equipment rack into the mechanical closet.

“We had to pull all the equipment out — he was down for three days. Then we had move it one foot over and turn it the other way around. And then the electrical sub-panel had to move to a different sidewall. I don’t think I’ve ever taken out a whole rack just to move it a foot, flip it, and put it back together.”

Ahead of the Curve

When designing the original AV and control system, Goodman knew his client well enough to install something that was scalable, figuring an addition was inevitable.

“He wanted to keep the theater modern and to think as forward as possible because the rest of his house is very modern,” he says. “He’s always about three years ahead of the trends, so, four years ago, when we did the remodel of his house, he put a lot of brushed brass in it, which you didn’t see at the time, and now it’s everywhere.”

By staying ahead of the curve, there will probably not be an upgrade needed for the next few years, but when the client is ready, Goodman will be, too. “He’s one of our best customers,” he says. “He’s even invited some of my other customers to his house so I can show it off. That’s very cool. We have that kind of relationship.”

Cactus Sight & Sound Home Theater - Lights Up
Lights up! The home theater has a very different look when not in movie mode.

Equipment List

  • AudioControl Maestro X7S  Processor
  • AudioControl Savoy G7 amps
  • James Loudspeaker 806BE (fronts), QX830 (surrounds) QX820S (Atmos), PP12 (subs)
  • JVC DLA-NZ8 Projector
  • Screen Innovations 145-inch Zero Edge Pro
  • Lucifer Atmos downlights and path lights
  • Fortress Seating
  • Lutron Radio RA2 lighting control
  • Savant Control System
  • Tributaries Cables
  • Furman Power Conditioner
  • LightEFX Ceiling
  • AppleTV 4K
  • Sony UBP-X800 Blu-ray player