This is not a story about the Cinema Architects showroom in Vereeniging, South Africa. This is a story about the brand-new Cinema Architects experience center, located in the home design district in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg — which is about 100 km away from its traditional showroom.
Why build the second space? “At Cinema Architects, we sell a lifestyle,” says Mauricio Tavares, marketing director at Cinema Architects. “We offer solutions, and we need to show how all these things work together. So, we decided to build a complete home — without product branding and fully integrated — so that we can take them on a tour and allow clients to better understand how this technology could function in their own homes.”
Not only does it help end users understand the possibilities tech can have in their homes, but it is also the kind of space that architects, designers, and builders enjoy, and it is located in the place they tend to be. “Next to us is a company called Linear Concepts that is a kitchen showroom,” says Tavares. “Below us is a company called Grand Living that sells furniture. It’s all showrooms in this area. And we see architects and interior designers walking by with their plans in their hands, and we’ve got this amazing sign out front that simply says, ‘Cinema architects — Cinema home automation.’ They see that and come in to have a look. If you’re building a home nowadays, you need some sort of automation. This is why we’ve positioned ourselves here.”
That community design community mentality extends beyond the storefronts and into the experience center, as well. “Building a showroom like this is a very expensive exercise,” explains Tavares. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we offer our partners an opportunity to showcase some of their wares as well?’ So, we visited South African furniture artists and told them what we were doing and asked if they wanted to get involved. Then we’d give them a design to work off of or they would come up with one of their own and we let them showcase all of their talents.
“When we were building the experience, we were trying to think of ways that we could differentiate ourselves from our competitors. And one idea was to partner with local artists.”
Experiencing the Experience
Tours are given by appointment-only, and it does not take long to be impressed, as the entryway is adorned with wavy walls and a videowall that welcomes guests. “The videowall plays content that speaks of integrated audio and everything that we do in the showroom,” says Tavares. “When we have clients by appointment, we put their names up on there with a ‘Welcome to Cinema Architects’ and a background image that makes them feel special.
“Then I press a button that puts the showroom into what we call ‘Demo Mode’ that turns down all the lighting. And then I start taking them on a walkthrough.”
The first stop is a bedroom environment with stunning closets. The bedroom features a motorized shade that comes down over an image of the skyline and shows off not only what the blinds can do, but also the various lighting scenarios. And if they think that looks impressive, wait until the hidden electronics reveal themselves.
“There’s a 65-inch Samsung TV in the ceiling that flips down,” says Tavares. “I show a Movie Scene and, with the press the button, all the lights dim and the 65-inch TV comes out of nowhere.
“At this point,” he adds, “we have not mentioned any brands, nothing technical, no numbers — the client is just experiencing the space. The clients look and say, ‘Wow, I can have my TV come down with just a touch of a button.’ We are moving away from the word ‘scene’ and now call them ‘moods’ because that’s what lighting does — it creates moods.”
Next up is the lounge area. “As we walk through from the bedroom, I press another button as we’re walking to the lounge and the TV comes on and the lighting goes to a certain level. It all works very slowly and quite dramatic.”
The lounge features a Samsung Frame TV and Paradigm speakers. There are wall-mounted keypads and touchpads in the space to show customers that you don’t have to walk around with a tablet or a phone all the time.
From there, the tour moves into the kitchen area, which, like the bedroom, is a stunner to look at, but also holds some surprises. In this case, Cinema Architects has a Samsung Freestyle projector on the kitchen counter that projects onto the all-white cabinets.
“The idea with the projector is that you are cooking and you want to look at a recipe and we can project it up on the cabinets,” says Tavares. “Or if we have an event here, because it really lends itself to nice functions, we can project something up there, like a live video of the chef working.”
The next stop on the tour is the Whiskey Lounge, which has a distinct look from the rest of the experience center with its golden hues and…actual gold. “Every section of the home has its own look and feel but is still integrated and it all works together,” explains Tavares. “That’s real 24-karat gold gilded onto the bar in the Whiskey Lounge. Why would we do something so elaborate? Because we have very well-traveled, high-end clients that will go to London for the weekend to do some shopping, and they’ve seen it all.”
With the opulence on display, it would be easy to skip any hidden treats in this area, but for all the elegance in the design and furnishings, it is all about the tech. “There is a big portrait on the far wall that is actually a screen,” reveals Tavares. “Again, I press a button and the painting rolls up to reveal a micro-perforated screen with speakers behind it. There is a projector that drops down from the ceiling — completely concealed — and the lighting turns down. Now you’ve got a mini media room.”
As guests leave the Whiskey Lounge, they see shelves of components and speakers that is closest thing to a typical showroom you will find in the experience center, and it is there so clients that choose to can “touch and feel” the electronics.
Next up is the VR room, which Cinema Architects uses to show clients exactly how their spaces will look using Oculus virtual reality goggles and software from Blender. The room itself is a teenage gamer’s dream, with a deep red hue and images of cinema heroes on the walls.
“The client can see his cinema in three dimensions before it is built. He can look behind the couch and change the size of the screen to see what works best,” says Tavares. “This is a first in South Africa, where you can have a virtual walkthrough of your cinema before it gets built.”
The tour ends with stops in the space’s two home theaters. The first theater is the smaller one and features a 110-inch MicroLED panel from Samsung and a 5.1.2 -channel Dolby Surround system from Genelec. “That room is about 7 meters by 5 meters, and it shows that not all cinema rooms need to be huge. Also, we’ve done something interesting with the position of the cinema chairs by placing them in an arch formation. Now, when I’m sitting down, I can see the person at the other end of the row without having to move forward to dodge the person next to me.”
The second cinema is much bigger with a 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos system. The seats are not recliners — instead they are more informal with a couch-type feel. It has a full Genelec system with NAD processors.
Cinema Architects’ use of Genelec is interesting, as they are more commonly found in recording studios and other professional audio applications here in the States. “As a company, we have a strong background in audiophile audio, and we understand that sound should be reproduced as intended by the director or producer,” says Tavares. “We find that Genelec produces this best of all the brands we’ve dealt with. Besides its exceptional audio quality, the built-in amplification allows us to have neater component racks, with less wiring between amps and speakers. It also minimizes opportunities for things to go wrong. The most significant advantage is that the amplifier has been matched to the driver, eliminating this guesswork. Reliability is probably one of Genelc’s most vital points. We now have some Genelec cinemas running for over 10 years with zero equipment failure. This builds trust with our clients, which is great for long-term relationships.”
Although the experience center was only recently completed after 18 months of construction, its evolution is inevitable. “There’s always room for growth,” concludes Tavares. “Possibly the next step would be to open something in another major Cape Town coastal city. But first we need to learn more from this space. We are also thinking of adding a high-end listening space for 2-channel audio where we can swap speakers around, which is the one thing that we’re lacking here.
“It’s been a long, hard road, but I think we’ve achieved what we needed to with this space…for now.”