On a recent Friday, Kathy and Leon Osborne head to the basement of their Grand Forks, N.D., home for date night.
They grab a bucket and fill it with buttery popcorn from the large popper on the counter.
Kathy sneaks a box of Mike and Ike candy, her favorite movie-time treat, and they head into the room with the metal Cinema sign hanging by the door.
They’ve named the room Starlight Cinema. It’s their home theater — equipped with a large projector, three rows of seating and more than 700 pounds of speakers, which helps to give the room its impeccable audio.
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Under a ceiling of tiny LED lights that appear to twinkle like a night sky, they take a seat in the middle of the second row.
They make themselves comfortable by using the buttons on the inside of the seats to recline, extend their footrests and adjust their headrests.
Once setting in, they grab their iPad and select one of the 300 movies programmed on their movie server. They have everything from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Chicago” to “Shrek.”
“We love movies, but we don’t go to the theater, so this is my dinner and a movie,” Kathy says.
“Or, popcorn and a movie,” Leon adds.
The Osbornes are just one of many families who have chosen to add a specialty room to their home. Others have added exercise rooms, art studios, game rooms and more.
These rooms are specially designed, usually with one purpose in mind. And while the purpose of the Osbornes’ home theater is obvious, the space is much more than a place to watch movies.
The Osbornes say their goal was to replicate an authentic movie-house experience, and at the same time create a home theater where they felt — well, at home.
“We wanted the comfort — we wanted chairs that reclined,” Leon says. “We wanted a space where we could be a recluse, retire, get away from it all.”
The theater room is painted purple. There are two rows of reclining chairs, and a bar and four bar stools sit behind. Dimmed wall sconces, step lights and cup holders help to create a realistic theater experience.
But, there’s more to the space than looks.
“One of the things we wanted was a room that was about as acoustically well-designed as possible,” Leon says.
They worked with Rod Shafer at Arctic Audio in Fargo, N.D., to create a space that would get the best audio response.
“The room is 50 percent of how a system is going to sound,” Shafer says. “You could throw the best speakers in the world in there, but if the room is wrong, it will sound horrible.”
More than movies
To achieve a near-perfect acoustically flat room, they used acoustic absorption material hidden behind decorative panels, double sheets of sheet rock with acoustic glue in-between and acoustic traps behind the screen.
“Besides having a home theater, I wanted the best space possible for high-end audio, so this is a space where we don’t have to be watching a movie,” Leon says. “We can come in here and listen to all forms of music.”
He says he has memories from concerts he has attended, and the audio in his home theater allows him to relive those experiences.
The theater is also great for watching sporting events. Kathy says she felt like she was sitting courtside as they watched basketball games during March Madness, which was just after they had completed the space.
The same audio system runs throughout the Osbornes’ house, which they can control with their iPad, phone or a dedicated remote control.
From the same program, they can control all of the televisions in their home and play any of the nearly 300 movies they’ve uploaded to their database.
“Anything I can play here, I can also play anywhere in the house from one control interface,” Leon says.
But, when they need to clear their minds, they go to the home theater in the basement.
“This is the getaway,” Leon says, adding that no computers, phones or business is allowed.
Fun and games
While the Osbornes’ space is built for relaxing, Ron and Cyndi Reiger, also of Grand Forks, have a specialty room that’s made for play.
Their game room in the basement of their ranch-style home was designed 15 years ago as the couple’s three children were growing into young adults.
“It was a portion of our basement that we hadn’t finished, and it’s a huge area. We thought [creating a game room] would be kind of fun to do,” Cyndi says.
A dark-green carpet fills the large room, and there is a University of North Dakota logo printed in the center.
Several small drink shelves stick out of the walls with stools below to create a bar-like atmosphere. A pool table sits at one end of the room, and an old-school pinball machine fills a corner. There is an air-hockey table along the opposite wall with framed hockey newspaper clippings hanging above.
Cyndi says it took some time to decide what they wanted to include in the space, but they eventually settled on the gaming equipment.
And, now that her children are all adults, her grandchildren are able to enjoy the room, too. “If they want to play games, that’s where they go,” she says.
While the kids’ favorite part of the space may be the games, Cyndi’s is the decorations, which pay tribute to the family’s favorite sports teams.
Not all specialty spaces need to be as large as a basement.
Interior designer Allie Comstock suggests using an unusual space in the home, such as a crawl space under the stairs or a large walk-in closet, to create a hideout for kids.
Chalkboard paint on the walls creates a drawing space for kids. Bookshelves can be used to organize books and toys. Piles of pillows make for comfortable reading or napping spots. And curtains can be draped over beds or in the corner of a room to create a tent or hideaway.
For those with a bigger budget, play places and slides can be installed, as well.
Other ideas for game rooms include using a cubby shelf system to display various gaming consoles and using a chalkboard or whiteboard to keep score.
When creating a craft room or art studio, Comstock says it’s all about storage and organization. She recommends using a shoe organizer hung over a door to hold paints and small supplies.
Pegboards and various cubbies can be used to neatly organize tools and supplies.
She suggests finishing off the room with some creative inspiration on the walls. A quote, photograph or some of your previous work can be an uplifting addition.
To create an inexpensive home-theater atmosphere, Comstock says homeowners can decorate their family room using a movie theme. Theater tickets, cinema signs and popcorn buckets can give people the feeling that they’re going to a theater without spending big bucks.