Basement Nouveau: Building a Cinema Below Your Home

boy watching 3d movie

I grew up with two brothers, so as one might expect, there was a lot of sibling in-fighting. We’re all three very different people with different ways of viewing and operating in the world. But the one thing that could always unite us (besides McDonald’s) was how much we loved movies. There were few conflicts that couldn’t be resolved by gathering around the 15-inch tv in our basement and watching the same handful of VHS tapes over and over. Even now, though we’re spread across the Midwest and have developed very different tastes, we’ll still group text after seeing the latest blockbuster.

That said, this week I want to talk about how to make the most of your basement with a snazzy home cinema. It’s a room you’ll get year-long enjoyment out of, both as a place to hang out in the long winter months and a cool retreat from the summer heat. This may sound like an excessive luxury room, but it’s a good multipurpose space for a family room and tends to be a great return on investment.

Not to mention that a media room like this offers an extensive range for your design creativity. There are endless stylistic options, from a classic movie theater or art deco cinema, to rustic or even futuristic (think Star Wars – how cool would it be to have the Millenium Falcon in your basement?). You can match the style of your house as it is, or design a portal to another time and place. Most people just use their basements for storage, but you could build something amazing.

So where do we begin?

Screen Time

digital projectorObviously, the screen you choose is going to be the centerpiece of the room – the spot where all eyes will focus for hours at a time. You really have two options: projector or television.

Let’s start with projectors. This is the most authentic experience as far as creating that cinema feel. You probably aren’t going to get an old-fashioned film projector (unless you’re just super committed), so shop around when you’re looking into digital projectors. These can be plugged into laptops as well as cable boxes, so you’ll have plenty of input options. The main things you have to consider are price and quality. A projector won’t set you back that much in your budget, but they get more expensive the more high tech you get. And while it’s certainly more authentic as a display, these things can be hard to put into focus, and your image quality isn’t going to be HD by any means.

flat screen tvIf you don’t mind dropping the extra cash for a really crisp picture, you might just choose a flatscreen television. Your typical plasma or LCD tv should fit the bill for your needs, although the scale will be different. Whereas you can adjust the size of a projection pretty easily, you’re stuck with the dimensions of your tv. If you have a smaller basement that should work fine. Otherwise, if you can afford it, you can get a massive wall-mounted tv.

Consider which option fits your vision for the space, and budget accordingly. As for installation, depending on your feelings aesthetically or practically, you can place TVs and projectors on tables, build shelving units for them, or have them mounted on walls or ceilings.

Sound For Home Theater

audio speakersIt doesn’t really matter how good your picture is if it doesn’t have the sound to back it up. You’ll want to invest in a really solid sound system, preferably one equipped for surround sound. This is another spot where you can do some really cool things. Obviously, you’ll want to wall-mount those speakers, but consider having them built into the wall. You can install small cupboards with mesh doors so the sound can pass easily, but you can remove the speakers if they need to be repaired or replaced. It’s also really nice to be able to hide any wires.

This might also be a good time to talk about soundproofing. While not entirely necessary, it’s a nice feature if you’re going to have people using the basement without disturbing those upstairs. My two recommendations, after years of studying sound transfer, are cork boards and acoustic foam. Apply either of these to the ceiling and it will drastically decrease the amount of noise coming up through the floor. Corkboards are the cheaper option, clearly, so you can tile a couple of layers on the ceiling, and they can be painted over pretty easily.

The more professional option is acoustic foam, which you can get from Amazon or even Home Depot. You’ve probably seen this before if you’ve ever watched videos from recording booths. Basically, it’s a layer of spongy foam that’s cut in an egg carton shape, creating lots of little grooves. The sound gets trapped in the grooves and the foam essentially absorbs it. So not only does this reduce the amount of sound that travels up through the ceiling, but also the amount that echos back to you, making for a much cleaner listening experience. The key here tends to be layering though, so you might even consider a combination of materials here. These are cheap, accessible options, so they won’t really silence your room, but brands like PrivacyShield make products for that, so it’s something to look into if you have room in your budget.

Home Theater Seating

So you have pictures, you have sound, and now you just need a place to park it and enjoy themcouple watching tv.

Once again, this comes down to style. If you’re aiming for the most authentic theater look, or if you tend to entertain large groups of people, you might go in for tiered seating and some really high-end chairs. If you have a small space or family, you’re probably fine with just a few couches, maybe a sectional.

movie theaterMaybe you’ve been looking for a way to incorporate bean bags into your home but couldn’t justify keeping them in your main living room. This is the place, my friend.

These are the times when it’s really handy to consult with an interior designer to decide how best to use your space, especially since no two basements are quite the same. Of course, you might just opt for the furniture that’s the most comfortable, and that’s perfectly fine as well.

Lighting in Home Theater

string lights

Lighting is important in any room, but especially in basements. You want to be able to switch between really bright (to keep the basement from feeling too enclosed) and really dark so you get the best picture. The easiest way to accomplish this is to set your lights up on a dimmer so you’ll have multiple levels of brightness. If your staircase is in the same room (instead of separated or behind a door), then you’ll definitely want a separate set of lights for it in case someone has to get up during the movie. Please don’t do stairs in the dark.

Another cool option is string lights – they offer a really cool aesthetic with low-level lighting, so you can navigate a room without interrupting the quality of your movie experience.

Miscellaneous Home Theater Ideas

popcorn machine

What can you add to give your home cinema a little extra pop and personality? Here are some options.

What’s a movie without popcorn? Of course, you could do the expected with a microwave, but why not really commit? You might get a free-standing popcorn machine (especially great for large groups where everyone wants their own bowl). In the long run, you’ll probably save money since it’s so cheap to buy a container of popcorn kernels, so you can use that extra cash on miscellaneous toppings (anything from butter and cheese to garlic and furikake).

bar from Mag Mile renovationWhile we’re on snacking, if you have a particularly large basement, you might build in a kitchenette or bar, so you’ll have a dedicated space for any kind of candy or beverage you can dream of. That said, you might want to take a kitchen flooring route with the whole basement since wood and tile are much easier to clean than carpet when you inevitably spill something while watching the 23rd Purge movie. It’s also just really nice to have an extra sink around so that the dishes don’t pile up so high in your kitchen after a party.

Maybe you’re still skeptical. You just don’t have that many hands with a videogame controller playing a racing gamemovies, or you only watch things with Robert Redford and are about to find your choices dwindling. I promise that you’ll still get plenty of use out of this room, especially if you have kids. Your young children who are still obsessed with Frozen will have a place for their nightly sing-a-longs, and you won’t have to beg them to “let it go” from the next room. Your teenagers now have a place to play video games with their friends. The best part about having a basement space for your kids is that, when they inevitably make a mess of it, it’ll be out of sight of any visitors, so you don’t have to worry that the UPS guy is judging you from the doorway (well, not about this at least).

small family watching a big screenStorage space is certainly important, and there are closets for that, but there’s no reason to let a whole floor of your house go to waste. Make the most of that basement, and give yourself the luxury of another “living room.”

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