100-Year-Old Mansion Squeezes Home Theater into Dusty Third Floor Storage Space

Home of the Year Gold Winner for Home Theater ($75,000 – $150,000). As the last phase of an extensive renovation, a high-end home theater lands on a third-floor office space.


Blessed with 14,000-square-feet of living space, the owners of this St. Paul, Minn., mansion had plenty of room for entertaining family and friends — a spacious family room and kitchen, a luxuriously appointed patio, and a grand foyer.

The only thing missing, it seemed, was a sensational home theater.

Remarkably, one of the biggest challenges was finding a good spot for one. The crawlspace-like basement of this 1906 home was a no-go, as were the family room, den, and other spaces that the homeowners preferred to keep as is.

The best option, says Lance Anderson, founder and CEO of the systems integration firm Admit One, of Edina, Minn., was a dusty storage space on the third-floor.

Preserving History Through Technology

Admittedly, scaling the stairs to reach the home theater would require more muscle than skipping over to a media setup on a lower level, but the homeowners liked the idea of making their home theater feel like a special destination. They also were keen on the concept of maintaining the same vintage look that pervades the rest of the residence.

Naturally, then, says Anderson, concealing most of the A/V gear was of the upmost importance. “They wanted the period design to be the focal point, not the projector or the speakers.”

In a room of typical construction, Admit One could have easily tucked a rack of equipment in a wall and stowed a projector above the ceiling. Speakers could have been recessed into the ceiling and walls, and a sleek, modern keypad or touchpanel could have been mounted to the wall for a quick, convenient kickstart of the equipment as the owners strolled into the room.

This 24-x-12-foot room, however, featured slanted walls, dormer windows, and a vaulted ceiling — structural elements that were unaccommodating of these common cloak-and-dagger techniques.

High-Tech Turns Vintage

In the business of home theater design for more than 14 years, Admit One has experienced its fair share of challenging installations, so it embraced this project with gusto, engineering creative solutions that would preserve the home’s historic integrity without any compromise to the performance of the cutting-edge gear selected for the award-winning home theater.

Before any of the A/V gear could be installed, though, Admit One had to tackle a tricky layout and configuration of the theater seats. Slanted walls dictated a rather unconventional arrangement of eight vintage-style chairs.

“Guests wouldn’t have been able to enter the room without crouching if the seats had been set up in rows across the width of the theater,” says Anderson. To ensure that guests could comfortably walk to their seats, a center aisle was designed, with four chairs on each side.

This clever and effective seating configuration set the tone for the rest of the home theater design. A Sony 4K video projector suspended from the ceiling above the aisle is hidden within a custom-built “hush box” that was crafted to complement the period style.

Admit One added a cooling system to make sure the projector would never overheat and to keep it in mint condition. The Sony projector is positioned perfectly to shoot vivid video to a 127-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen screen that commands the front of the room.

Seven JBL Synthesis speakers and two subwoofers round out the room’s A/V accouterments, but they remain largely undetected, having been mounted to the walls and covered by acoustical panels, which were designed and fabricated in a special silk material by Admit One to hide the technology without muffling the audio … and of course, to satisfy the owners’ request for inconspicuous electronics.

Ticket Booth Buzzing with AV

The last piece of the concealment puzzle was locating an impressive rack of A/V components so that they would be out of sight yet easily accessible for service and maintenance. Unlike other spots that may have offered storage in a closet, this room was lacking any sort of tuck-away area. Admit One and the project architect quickly devised a scheme that’s more than just a place to put gear, but adds an element of excitement to the home theater experience.

An authentic-looking ticket booth was designed and stands just outside the entrance to the theater. Built into the back side of the booth, a Middle Atlantic rack holds JBL Synthesis processors and amplifiers, an Integra processor, and a suite of Kaleidescape media servers. The entire rack slides out so that Admit One designers can easily reach the wiring and the rear of the components for any future equipment updates or upgrades.

'Old-Fashioned' Controls Maintain Cutting-Edge Performance

The culmination of this theater’s creative design, though, has to be the keypad that controls the entire A/V setup, plus the room lights. Instead of using a standard keypad that exudes a sleek, modern appearance, Admit One fashioned one to look much more … well, old-fashioned.

Small back-lit buttons were replaced with simple round buttons and an antique brass faceplate was applied. The custom keypad may look like a throwback from the early 1900s, but it’s anything but antiquated when it comes to operating the A/V components and lighting.

Using an RTI processor as the room’s control platform, Admit One programmed the equipment to respond in a perfectly timed sequence to buttons pressed on the keypad or an RTI hand-held remote. A single tap, for instance, dims the lights and activates the appropriate equipment for a spontaneous movie night; another shuts down everything as the homeowners and their guests exit.

For an extra touch, Admit One refurbished at old, non-working intercom system to allow the owners to easily communicate from the theater with family members wherever they may be in the enormous home. It’s just one more example of how modern technology can breathe new life into old electronics.

Systems & Equipment

  • Video Projector: Sony
  • Projection Screen: Stewart Filmscreen
  • A/V Processor: Integra
  • Speakers: JBL Synthesis
  • Control: RTI
  • Lighting Control: Lutron
  • A/V Components: Kaleidescape, Sony
  • Systems Design & Installation: Admit One Home Systems, Edina, Minn., admitonesystems.com
  • Architect: Charlie & Co. Design, Minneapolis, Minn., charlieandcodesign.com

Next: See the Gold Winner for Best Home Theater ($25,000 – $75,000)

About the Author

Lisa Montgomery:

Lisa Montgomery has been a member of the CE Pro and Electronic House editorial teams for nearly 20 years; most of that time as the Editor of Electronic House. With a knack for explaining complex high-tech topics in terms that average consumers can understand, her style of writing resonates with people who are interested in adding electronic systems to their homes, but are unsure of the steps involved and the solutions available. From basic lighting control systems to full-blown automation systems, Lisa understands the home electronics market well, and is able to point consumers in the right direction on their quest for a smarter, more convenient, efficient and enjoyable home.

Over the years, she has developed close relationships with key manufacturers and seasoned custom electronics professionals, giving her a keen sense of what home technologies are hot now and what is on the horizon. She shares this wisdom regularly through feature stories, product roundups, case studies technology spotlights and comprehensive guides and books.


IntegraKaleidescapeLutronRTISonyStewart Filmscreen