In our last house, we didn’t have a dedicated theater—it was a media room that included a bar. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a dedicated theater, but I didn’t have the room to build what I really wanted. In the end, it worked well, and we enjoyed the room.
In the new house, I’ve got room to put in the dedicated theater I really wanted. Sure, I don’t have the size or scale to do a Theo Kalomirakis theater, but I can still do a room with tiered seating and matching, hidden speakers mounted at the optimal placement around the room, instead of having the surround speakers hanging from the ceiling.
Because it’s a dedicated room, I wanted an entrance that would show that what lies beyond was not just a bedroom. And because the most logical place to put the entrance was on the riser, I decided on a curved stair in front of the doors.
Of course you can’t exactly go into Home Depot and buy a curved stair kit. Or if you could, I’ve never seen one. I didn’t want it sticking out too far in the room, otherwise I thought it could become a tripping hazard while shooting pool. After a number of drawings, I settled on a curve with a radius of 24″.
I‘ve got 800 square feet of ½” bamboo flooring to install. Mary has been a bit impatient with it, as it took two weeks from the time we ordered it until it was delivered, then another two weeks for it to sit in the house, acclimating. The place from where we bought it delivered it to the garage; Mary carried most of it to the ground floor* one box at a time as this stuff is heavy. Seriously—800 square feet was over 1,000 kilos.
The bamboo is being laid in the tavern room, the billiard room, and on the riser in the theater. I’ll also have enough left over (I hope) for the future bathroom. On the main level in the theater, I’m framing the room with three courses of the bamboo, with carpeting in the center.
After getting the bamboo up to the bar, I took a vacation day to get the rest knocked out in the tavern and billiard room. It took the entire day to get that last bit done, and another full day to get the riser done in the theater, which included milling custom bullnose trim.
* We’ve decided to call this floor our ground floor instead of a basement, as the floor is two feet above grade in the back of the house, is flooded with natural light, and has a ceiling height that is taller than the top floor of our house, with the exception of our master bedroom. Pretentious? Maybe.
I don’t like home bars that look like a kitchen. Oh, I understand the appeal of that type to a builder or a contractor—the construction is familiar, the materials are common, and it’s trivial to install some base cabinets along a half wall, top them with a granite countertop, then put another slab of granite atop the half wall, and call it a home bar.
But I’ve never been in a pub with a bar that looks like that. I don’t want trivial or common. I want a familiar, comfortable place where I can sit with a drink and watch a game or converse with friends and family. Sitting in a kitchen makes me want to dice carrots, not shake a cocktail.
This bar is starting with a half-wall, but that’s where the similarities to most contractor-built home bars end. For this almost-fifteen-foot bar, I bought 110 board feet of rough #1 common 4/4 walnut from a local lumber yard. Many commercial custom cabinet makers shy away from the common grades as it’s difficult to get a uniform appearance in cabinets and doors due to it’s lower yield, knots, holes, sapwood, flame, and burl. And in a large custom kitchen with custom cabinets, a uniform appearance is rather important.
In addition to being quite a bit less expensive than firsts and seconds, a number of these slabs were hewn from the same part of the same tree, which means that with some careful planning, I can bookmatch some of the panels, putting the imperfections and irregularities to my advantage, including some of the wood that’s highly figured crotch burl. Box columns will separate the panels.
The raised panels are made up of two matched pieces glued together to make a twenty-inch wide panel that are then cut to length (33 ⅜”) and milled on my shaper with an ogee raised panel bit. The stiles and rails are milled with a similar ogee stile and rail bit that reverses to cut the matching copes on the ends of the stiles.
The stiles, rails and panels are dry assembled, no glue, so the panels will be able to move as the weather/humidity changes, and so small adjustments can be made as the whole bar is assembled. The rails are screwed from behind to the half-wall framing, with the stiles and panels able to float freely. The columns hold everything in place. No screws or nails are used from the front of the bar, so there are no patches, plugs, or filler.
Once the bar front and sides are fully assembled and poly’d, I’ll be able to install the flooring. The bases of the columns will go over the top of the flooring. I’ll be making shallow cabinets for under the bar that will also go on top of the finished floor. The bar back will be built as two pieces of free-standing furniture that’ll go on either side of the white column behind the bar.
As soon as the drywall was done, I hung the doors and Mary started priming. When she asked for the primer to be tinted at the local big box hardware store, the girl behind the counter looked at Mary as if she had three heads. Mary finally convinced her that not only can primer be tinted, but that you get better coverage with darker colors when you use a tinted primer. And of course as this is technically our basement (despite being actually above grade), we want dark colors to help emphasise that this is our cave.
For the trim in the bar and billiard rooms, I’m using a mix of MDF pieces and stock trim to match the rest of the house. I think this is most important in the columns, so that they look like a design feature, instead of the big one in the middle of the room looking like I just boxed in a couple of steel poles. In the theater, I’ll be milling custom trim out of MDF.
Instead of using a roller, painting the columns with a brush gives them the appearance of painted wood, which better adds a textural richness. Fortunately for me, Mary does all of the painting. Unfortunately, I do all of the painter’s caulk, which is freakin’ messy, as the best tool for smoothing it is one’s fingers.
As the theater entrance is already a step-above (literally), I figured a fancier entrance would be needed, so I matched the trim of our foyer instead of doing the basic trim that’s around all of our other doors.