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The Arts and Crafts of Theater

Baumeister Electronic Architects brings 90-year-old former summer cottage into 21st century.

When it was young–an Arts & Crafts summer cottage in an enclave adjacent to a private golf course–enjoying home theater meant taking in the sights and sounds of passing golfers.

What a difference 90 years makes. That pre-World War I cottage has blossomed into a spectacular family home complete with a $600,000 dedicated theater true to the homes architectural origins and a system featuring Genelecs AIW 26 Compact In-Wall Speakers, Crestrons TPMC 10 Control Tablet, and a Barco CineVersum 120.

The two-story residence has undergone progressive renovations and add-ons through the decades, but none quite so spectacular as its 21st century upgrades by Baumeister Electronic Architects, of Niles, Illinois. The lifestyles systems integration firm, founded in 1990, specializes in new residential construction in the $2.5 to $6 million-plus range, both in downtown Chicago and in communities contiguous to Lake Michigan and beyond.

Unusual projects are not daunting for Baumeister, who formerly worked for Universal Recording Corp., helping to design sound systems and the theater for Oprah Winfreys Harpo Studios. A current BEA venture involves a three-story downtown Chicago glass house cantilevered over two steel concrete legs. BEAs wiring has gone into the pours of cement.

“We came onto the scene for the Glencoe house about six years ago to do automation and distributed audio and video throughout the house,” said BEA president, John Baumeister. “The floor plan was Escher-esque, with an expansive world of hidden doorways and nooks and crannies, so it was hard to figure out the flow.”

The clients–shes an aeronautical engineer; hes a management executive–entertain often and had specific goals for their system. They wanted to eliminate the need for multiple light switches, to unify forced air zones, and to add centralized audio with a library and DVD and CD system. BEA installed a Crestron control system for lighting, climate, A/V, distribution, telephones, and computer applications.

“They wanted a dedicated theater but had to put it off,” Baumeister noted. “For one thing, the house had a crawlspace but no basement. We did some pre-wiring so we wouldnt hurt ourselves for future capabilities.”

After the basement was dug out, the room remained an empty shell for a few years, but the clients were willing to take the time to design correctly. When pours for the room became smaller than first anticipated, however, the theater design had to be adjusted. “The only way to do it was with a post in the middle of the room,” Baumeister said. “It lends a visual sheltering for the projector to rest against.”

Eleven custom-made Cinematronix seats in the Stickley design style, oak trim, and a wet bar with built-ins combined to give the theater its Arts & Crafts image, explained project architect Steve Liska, of Stephen Knutson Design, Evanston, Illinois. “We planned specialized theater lighting and decorative lighting, and we had a constant communications process back and forth with Baumeister,” he said. “All of Baumeisters systems are flexible for any design style. We also created some faux beams and soffits to divide spaces and hide some of the complicated ceiling structures. And a proscenium arch adds focus to the stage where kids can play and perform, and guests can enjoy karaoke.”

When you walk down the stairs from the main floor, you feel like youve entered a different time and place, Baumeister said. “All the areas of the space are visible, the door to the wine room, the kids video gaming area, and the lobby bar. The clients wanted a multi-purpose theater that is simple to use. The theater doors are generally open.”

The theater was slated for a Crestron Touch Panel 1700 but ended up with the TPMC 10 Web-enabled touch screen, so clients can surf the web, use e-mail, and control theater and light functions at the same time.

“This is the first time that weve put that touch panel in,” Baumeister said. “Were the largest Crestron dealer in the Midwest, and this is a solution-driven product that helps us provide what clients want. As we met with these clients-multiple times–products changed. As soon as they saw the newer lighting controls, they wanted more of them for a guest bedroom on the lower level.”

Baumeister sourced the Barco CineVersum 120 through specialty distributor Sumiko Audio, of Berkeley, California. “We were looking for higher end but value-driven type of electronics systems,” he said. “This one is bulletproof. Theres nothing else like it at that price, $50,000.”

The Genelec AIW 26 Compact In-Wall space-saving speakers, three inches deep, were selected for their accuracy. “Genelecs are active speakers; they have power amps designed to match,” Baumeister said. “They had always served the professional market and recently came to the consumer realm. These have an amazing dynamic range and active monitors to put out the sound we needed. The clients didnt want curtains; they wanted the room as long as possible without taking out wall space. With some previous construction the basement wasnt as large as they had wanted, constricting the amount of people it could hold, and we didnt want speakers to take up depth.”

Lead programmer for the project, Baumeisters Brad Omori, says it was exciting to see so many high-end and new technologies such as the CineVersum, the Lexicon MC-8 surround processor, Crestrons TPMC-10 Control Tablet, and the Genelec in-wall speakers, come together under one roof.

“This was our first job with the Tablet and it was lots of fun to discover how it works,” he said. “It has great graphics.”

Installing the CineVersum 120 was a challenge, he added. “Its derived from a commercial install, and it took some finessing as all the connections have to be precise.”

Omori also upgraded programs in the home to new styles, rolling with the changes, Baumeister said. “The biggest challenge was that this is an organic project where, all of a sudden, the clients want to work on another area. Above the theater is a family/media room that they wanted upgraded, so we always had to be thinking about what was necessary for that. We had the electrician run piping between rack locations and important locations to make sure we were future-safe. Everything is interconnected. And we replaced a lot of older lighting controls with Crestron, both upstairs and down. The clients love Crestrons functionality.”

Its tough to contain and oversee every aspect of a large ongoing project, Baumeister conceded. “Whenever we did something, we had to be on top of impacts in other areas. While its a centralized distributed system there are major pod locations. We did their master bedroom a year before the theater, installing surround sound with a plasma lift TV.”

Baumeister says that its always satisfying to deliver for clients who want things to be done correctly and expect great things. “Because this client is well-versed in technology, she had spreadsheets based upon the sources she wanted, and we had engineering meetings with her. It was a fun project with a great client who allowed us to be creative, and to come up with solutions. They counted on us but had a clear vision of what they wanted, and if we said no they accepted it.”

A subtle compliment came when he was chatting with the clients near their kitchen one day. “The phone rang, and they immediately looked over my shoulder at the caller ID on the touch panel behind me. They really use the systems all the time. And theyre really interested in whats new.”

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Colorado.