Building a Reference Grade Media Room on a Budget - Part 2

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When we last spoke I had gone over a few key points to keep in the back of your mind to help you in the planning stages of building your reference grade media room on a budget. To recap, the five main points are: Have a plan, be realistic, take stock, budget and remember that your room is the star. For a quick refresher course, please read Building a Reference Grade Media Room on a Budget - Part 1, which was published in September on Home Theater Review.

My new media room, at the beginning of construction, was nothing more than a living room measuring 17 feet wide by 25 feet long with nine-foot ceilings. As I stated in Part One of this series, my goal was to build a media room that could serve as a true reference room for both audio and video performance but still be hospitable and inviting to guests and my wife. This meant no dark walls, unsightly room treatments or lack of creature comforts. For all intents and purposes, to an outsider, my new reference media room was to serve as a living room - but to me it was to be heaven on Earth. And I had to do it all on a budget of $5,000 all-in.

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There were a few items that came with the room that I could not change, such as a tiled floor, a large stone fireplace and an opening to the house's only hallway located at the back of the room. There were also two 56-inch square windows present, one that sat dead center of my front wall and the other dead center on the left sidewall. I couldn't drywall over nor remove the windows so I had to figure out a way to work with them - not a problem. As for the fireplace, because of its uneven stone construction, it wasn't as big an issue acoustically as I thought, acting more like a natural diffuser than a harsh, reflective surface. The room itself was already framed with the drywall hung by the time I moved in. The floors were in place so cable routing would have to be done via the tight, but workable, crawlspace overhead.

Before moving any equipment or furniture in, I drew a floor plan for the room as well as a color chart so that everyone involved, be it my wife, friends or installers, had the same road map to the finish line. This tactic was something I gleamed from watching Sarah's House on HGTV and it proved to be key in getting the project done on time and on budget.

With our floor plan and color chart in hand, which I made using Adobe's Kuler, my wife and I ventured to Lowes. Since I use high contrast/ambient light rejecting screens in my review system, the need to paint the walls a medium or dark shade of grey wasn't as necessary as it would be if I was using a unity gain screen. So I scored a few husband points by letting my wife choose the color of the room (it helps when you and your spouse share similar tastes), so long as the paint finish was flat and not gloss or semi-gloss, which would've created image issues despite my choice of high contrast screens. She ultimately decided on a subtle, earth tone color from Valspar. It took three, one-gallon containers ($24.00 each) of the Valspar paint to thoroughly coat our new media room - that and a little elbow grease.

Once painting was complete I marked the areas on the walls and ceiling where we would need to drill holes for cable routing and/or mount junction boxes for electrical outlets. I have a friend who happens to be a retired electrician, who agreed to help me with the installation of two new outlets located on the ceiling, and the wiring of a new switch plate that would control my electric drop down screens and projector. Total cost of the new wiring, including labor and materials, was less than $200.

The last item on my construction plan was the running of a 40-foot long HDMI cable from the front of the room to the back where the projector would later be mounted. Because I took stock of my existing gear, a methodology I discussed in Part One of this series, I was able to reuse my Transparent Reference HDMI cable from my old media room and simply bring it over to my new room. Remember, if it isn't broke you don't need to fix it - or better yet, upgrade it.


Interior Design
Once the paint was dry and the new electrical and AV cables were routed and in place, it came time to move in furniture and begin finalizing the interior design of the space. Because the new media room had tile floors, which both my wife and I were unwilling to give up due to our three dogs, a large, plush, area rug was going to be necessary in helping define the space as well as tame some of its reflective sonic qualities. We scoured the Internet looking for "deals" on an area rug that measured at least 10 feet square. The prices were astronomical ranging anywhere from $800 to $5,000 depending on where we looked and the style of the rug itself. I wasn't about to blow my room budget on an area rug so we made a list: a list of what we needed from our area rug and what we could do without.

We knew our new rug had to be around 10 feet square, be darker in color (to hide dirt) have a reasonable pile and cost less than $500. With those parameters in place it helped narrow our search. Low and behold we found our rug at Lowes. Besides being a hardware store, Lowes does offer a variety of home décor products and solutions, including large area rugs at very reasonable prices. We settled on a rug from Oriental Weavers of America that measured eight feet wide by 11 feet long. The rug fit our color pallet (remember Kuler), décor and only set us back $294.00.

While we were picking up the rug at Lowes, my wife and I went ahead and perused their selection of drapes and curtain rods. We found exactly what we were looking for in Lowes' Allen+Roth collection. We purchased four 52 inch wide by 84 inch tall Milton curtain panels retailing for $29.97 each and two Allen+Roth Meridian Bronze curtain rods at $29.97 each.

Throw in a couple of simple Lutron dimmers at $7.47 each and my wife and I walked out of Lowes having spent $496.23.

Continue reading about building a theater on a budget on Page 2.

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