Q: I want to convert a seldom-used family room into what I've heard referred to as a "media room." Can you give me some design tips? Also, where can I get information about the electronic accessories for such a space? And, I wonder if built-in speakers are still popular.
A: A so-called media room is a late-20th century phenomenon. It's usually outfitted to function as a sort of mini-entertainment center, complete with sound systems, video installations, computer games and, for those of us who still read, an array of bookcases.
Arranging all this gear, along with the more traditional items like tables and chairs, requires a high degree of technical knowledge as well as an experienced eye. It isn't easy to create a setting in which complex functional considerations are addressed in an attractive fashion. I have personally designed a good many media rooms, but I am still awed by the complexity of the task.
Ideally, an interior designer and an electronics specialist should be simultaneously involved in planning such a space as well as in selecting the various products to be used in it. The latest home entertainment systems are so sophisticated that they should be installed by a properly trained consultant. Otherwise, the assembly process can be very frustrating, and the results may be downright disappointing.
Glare from an improperly placed video screen is only one of the potentially negative outcomes. Bad acoustics can negate the entire purpose of a media room. And chairs and sofas had better be comfortably designed in a space devoted to relaxation. Don't overlook the importance of the lighting, either. An appropriately designed lighting system will create the right kind of mood as well as be kind to readers' and viewers' eyes.
The media room is truly the ultimate in multifunctional spaces. In fact, with these situations, I often have a hard time distinguishing between form and function. It may even be that the two sets of considerations are inseparable.
If you need help finding the necessary specialists, you can contact the American Society of Interior Designers in Washington, and the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Center (CEDIA) in Palos Hills, Ill.
As to your final question, this recent photo from CEDIA certainly suggests that built-in speakers are still popular.
In some completely high-tech settings, the speakers are installed so they automatically disappear below floor level when not in use. That's the case in the media room illustrated here, which is notable for its relatively simple and superbly functional design.