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Bringing the theater experience home

Parsons Construction built this home theater room at a house on the South Hill.  (Oliver Irwin Photography)
Parsons Construction built this home theater room at a house on the South Hill. (Oliver Irwin Photography)
By Cynthia Reugh For The Spokesman-Review

Years ago, the words “home theater room” might have conjured images of an elaborate, million-dollar movie-viewing area in a posh mansion for the rich and famous. That picture is changing.

With more people working from home and families connected to the internet by multiple electronic devices, local interest in home theater and media rooms is increasing, a trend fueled in part by the pandemic, more affordable options and a booming Spokane real estate market.

Michael Ninemire owns Noise Frog, an AV company in north Spokane. Ninemire said his business surged during last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns as customers, longing for a true movie experience, began adding theater rooms to their homes as a pandemic escape.

“We saw people definitely putting more money into their own basements and home theaters or media rooms, that type of thing,” Ninemire said. New technology has made today’s home theaters comparable – and sometimes even better – than a commercial movie theater experience, he said. “It’s pretty neat just to see what can be done now in your private home.”

Huppin’s is also busy. Bruce Sarpola, director of business development, credits a portion of that growth to Spokane’s red hot housing market.

“There aren’t that many homes on the market, so people are actually looking more closely at doing what they can to upgrade their existing homes,” Sarpola said.

For those who want more than a home theater, media rooms are often more open in design and typically incorporate many family activities, including the use of laptops, gaming systems and sometimes even pool tables.

“A lot of times, you’ll see people wanting to use that space for more than just watching movies or TV, where it’s going to be more of a multiuse space, so that becomes more like a media room,” Ninemire said.

Sarpola said Huppin’s is installing more systems in mid-priced homes, with lower costs for projectors and big screen TVs contributing to this trend.

“You can buy a projector for $1,000 that 10 years ago would have been $15,000,” Sarpola said. “We’re selling 85-inch TVs now for the price that we sold 40-inch TVs for 15 years ago.”

Sarpola said another incentive driving additions is the ability to watch first-run streaming service movies on a big screen TV in the comfort of your own home.

Parsons Construction has also seen an increased interest in theater and media rooms in the custom homes they build in part due to the pandemic. Office manager Joyce Fontaine said the company is currently working on several Spokane area jobs with these types of rooms.

And, while Spokane home builder Dave Largent has not noticed that same trend, he has seen a move away from offices and a growing desire for homes that integrate WiFi access from any room in the house. “You don’t need to sit at a desk anymore,” Largent said.

Spokane Realtor Steve Ranniger, who works with Coldwell Banker Tomlinson, said home theater and media rooms often add an entertainment value when it comes time to sell, especially in the luxury market.

“If you’re looking in that high-end market, that is something that will distinguish your house over another property,” Ranniger said.

Room size, intended usage and budget are three big factors to consider before calling a specialist to set up your home theater or media room. Most basic systems include a streaming TV, electronic components and speakers.

Sarpola said you can expect to spend about $5,000 for a bare-bones system, but the sky is the limit from there, depending on your choices in the areas of lighting, speakers, soundproofing and seating.

Projects involving extensive room renovations and remodels with IMAX theater-type configurations can top out at $100,000 or more.

“There’s definitely different tiers,” Ninemire said. “It’s really just finding the vision of how they’re picturing that space and then coming up with solutions that are going to work the best for them and make it affordable, too.”

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