Part One: Planning and Preparation
By Jerry Del Colliano
Two of the immutable laws of home theater are a) your room sounds only as good as its acoustics and b) the darker you can make your room, the better your picture will look. I have known and understood these concepts for most of the nearly 10 years AVRev.com has been publishing, thanks to countless discussions and lectures from the likes of acoustician Bob Hodas, Revel speaker engineer Kevin Voecks and video gurus including William Phelps, Joe Kane, Mike Levy and Jeremy Kipnis, among many others. My problem wasnt an inability to listen to their advice, but rather my ability to afford a home that allowed me the chance to chase down the dream of the perfect media room, one where the audio had the power and the immediacy of a mastering lab, paired with a picture that looked like what you might expect to see at Hollywoods best digital editing facilities.
In the fall of 2004, I made the commitment to increase my 1,477-square-foot home in Los Angeles into a larger property. My land covers over 1.25 acres at the end of a serene canyon where we have red-tailed hawks, deer and even the occasional family of mountain lions, but the house was unquestionably small even for two people. What is missing from the property is flat land that is easy to build on. My home, originally built in 1959 in the
now trendy post and beam style, is built as a slab on grade property. Basically, this means that my plywood home with literally zero insulation on the roof or sidewalls is built on top of six inches of cement on top of a huge pile of rock and fill that makes up a very small flat pad. By todays standards in California, you simply cannot build on hillside lots without incredible levels of structural engineering and even more cement. I hired an architect to start looking into the challenges of the project and learned there were many and the costs were going to be high. But damn it,- I was going to build my theater.
Transitioning To a New Architect
The architect I started with in 2004 was on retainer to see if the project was feasible, which he claimed it was for about $200,000. We proceeded to get quotes for the casons needed for the foundation, as well as communicating with the city to get the needed approvals to be able to start the project. We quickly learned my one and only neighbor was going to fight us on a variance needed to build in todays market, as side-yard setbacks had changed since both of our houses were built. It didn_t take long to realize that the project was going to drag on and on. But one thing we were able to determine was that adding a second story to the home had small additional cost, considering the cost of the foundation. Quickly, I saw where my dedicated theater was going be built. It was spring of 2005.
Unlike some projects in Los Angeles, especially north of Sunset Boulevard, my addition has a definite budget and the leadership of the project wasnt disclosing all of the costs needed to complete the project. This was in no way malicious, however: as more and more items were being sprung onto the building costs, it was becoming clear that this was no $200,000 project. At this juncture, I reached out to a friend of mine, Ron Radziner at Marmol Radziner Architects, who is one of the best modern architects in America
right now. Marmol Radziner specializes in modern homes, with a specific emphasis on historic post and beam homes, such as the ones designed by Richard Neutra (my house is a poor imitation of one of these). Because of the small size of my project, they turned me on to one of their architects who recently left to start his own firm, named Bobby Rees. Leaving a big name firm is a common step in becoming a star architect, I have learned, and I was quickly very happy to be working with Bobby.
Despite having to jump through more than seven months of hoops with the City of Los Angeles, Rees was able to squeeze more than 125 extra feet from my project. The limits were based around city rules that stated if we went more than another 10 square feet larger with the addition, we would need to retrofit a fire sprinkler system, as well as build more covered parking. That would cost $50,000, for starters.