A home theater is like a massive math problem. There are multiple routes to reach a client’s desired outcome, but if one small step is missed, the entire project can fail.  

“In my mind there is only an A or F grade and nothing in between,” said designer Lisa Slayman, ASID, IIDA of Slayman Design Assoc. Inc. and Slayman Cinema in Laguna Beach, Calif. “You will always have an A result when you put together a great team of consultants and the goal for everyone is collaboration. This will result in a great theater that a client has dreamed and fantasized about and wants the world to experience.” 

Getting Started in the Field 

For Slayman, the home theater specialty is one that is a good place to be right now, but not one that is easy to become successful in. When she started in the business in 1995, she worked very closely with a high-end AV company who communicated frequently with her about the best acoustical locations and materials needed. They had specific parameters and requests in regard to the layout, design and finishes.  

“Working with them really educated me on how complicated these rooms really were, and it wasn’t just about finishes and colors,” she said. “I truly loved the challenges, collaboration, forward thinking and problem solving and knew at that time I wanted to do more of these rooms.” 

According to Slayman, working in the home theater business is not something one can learn from a book or one class. It takes years of experience, collaboration with different trades and constant learning.  

“For me, it’s all about communication with the acoustical person and the integrator. It’s also trial and error,” said the designer. “It can be very intimidating. Designers sometimes think that they do their pretty part and they can leave the rest for the AV integrator, but that’s when the theater doesn’t turn out as well.” 

Fitting Together the Puzzle Pieces 

While the client might be more concerned about the look of the space first, it’s important that any designer tackling a home theater project understands how essential technology and acoustics are for a successful outcome.  

“It’s impossible for a designer to keep up with every technology advance, so I rely heavily on collaboration with the AV Integrator,” said Slayman. “Their work impacts my design and direction. If I don’t work closely with them and understand the technology goals, it jeopardizes the outcome of the project.” 

For Slayman, the most challenging part of a theater project is creating a design and documentation for a unique space that is complicated and also very expensive. The drawings for the contractor need to integrate the AV, acoustics, mechanical and electrical, all while including the beauty that the consumer wants in their space. 

“The integrator and I have certain constraints and desires, and we will have to tug and pull a little to accommodate each other,” she added. 

The Home Theater Your Client Wants Today 

As a result of the pandemic, the luxury of having a safe and comfortable place to escape to in your own home has never been higher in demand. People are looking for a fun space to entertain close friends and family, play games and watch sports. As with any aspect of the home today, clients want their home theaters to be as individual as themselves. Slayman encountered this first hand with one of her favorite projects, a 45-seat home theater with a mezzanine level dubbed “Lady Luck.” The design started from a traditional and elegant fabric with Swarovski crystals woven into it, which the client and her found at a showroom at the Pacific Design Center. The colors were chocolate brown, red and silver.   

“This was my inspiration to create a gorgeous room representational of Hollywood in the 1930’s,” said Slayman, adding that along with the theater were men’s and ladies’ bathrooms, a bar area and an entry exterior façade reminiscent of an old theater.   

This pattern for memorable, unique experiences is something Slayman agrees will continue to grow in the home theater business. When paired with the technology that immerses the homeowner in the video and audio, the theater can be highly successful.  

“When you walk into a theater you really don’t see the technology, but you experience the result of what it does through sound,” said Slayman. “Consumers want to have an emotional reaction that transforms them into another world.” 

Photography: Eric Figge Photography