Nice to come home to that 109-inch TV


Seeing it all: The only thing missing in the Johansons' basement home theater is a ticket taker.

January 07, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | By Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For Gary and Dottie Johanson, a night at the movies means a night in the basement of their home near Towson.

Nowadays, quite a few people have their own home theaters with big screens, stereo, high-definition television and DVD players playing Hollywood blockbusters, but not a lot have the kind of setup that the Johansons have.

They have a theater in their home with all the amenities found at your local cinema, plus a few extras thrown in for fun. The only thing missing is someone standing in the lobby to take your ticket.

So what kind of setup are we talking about?

Inside the Johansons' home theater is a 109-inch picture screen accented by a small, oval stage and decorative, recessed lighting, a ceiling-mounted CRT projector, a nine-speaker stereophonic system with radio, compact disc and tape player, a VCR and DVD player and curtained walls with sconces.

A touch-screen remote control governs everything, including the lighting, which can range from full brightness to mood lighting.

The theater seats eight people comfortably - very comfortably. Four leather love seat recliners sit stadium-style, ensuring that everyone can see the show.

"We thought about putting in real movie seats, but I thought this would be a lot nicer," Dottie Johanson said.

Between the love seats are end tables with baskets that she has stocked with candy bars and other goodies.

Just outside the theater door is an ice cream parlor with four cafe tables and a marble bar with stools for a half-dozen guests.

While enjoying a sundae, you can check out the cabinet with the couple's growing DVD collection. There's definitely a "his" and "hers" section. He likes action and science-fiction films. She's more into romantic comedies, but both say they enjoy classics like "Amadeus" or fun films like "Chicken Run."

The couple, both in their early 50s and married for a little more than six years, swear they're not really "into" television. She works for Black & Decker Corp. and he's an engineer at Nortel Networks Corp. Both are active in their church and frequently entertain friends and family in their home.

The Johansons had their home built in 1994 on property owned by her family. She is the fifth generation to live on the land, which used to be nothing but farmland where her father raised and trained horses. Her mother still lives in the family homestead.

When the couple's house was built, the basement was left unfinished. "This whole thing sort of evolved," she said of the home theater. "We knew we wanted to do something with the downstairs, but weren't sure of what."

So, why a home theater?

"I think it all probably started when I went to a convention in Las Vegas," he said.

At a gathering of broadcast engineers in 1997, he got his first look at high-definition television. "It was amazing. I said we have got to have that," he said.

Gary Johanson started looking into having HDTV in his home. He read magazines, visited showrooms and the more he looked, the more he liked, and the bigger the plans became.

The home theater was designed with the help of architect Robert E. Kutner and audio store Silver Screen and Sound.

The Johansons' theater won a first-place award from the Custom Electronic Designers and Installers Association in the "under $56,000" category. The couple spent about $50,000 on the total project, including finishing the basement.

The home has other touches.

In honor of her family, a display of antique farming tools used on the land are displayed downstairs, along with a framed painting of the old homestead. The couple commissioned a local artist to paint a mural of the landscape on the wall behind the ice-cream parlor's bar.

The marble in the foyer was picked out by the Johansons and the floor includes a circular mosaic designed by a friend.

But it's the theater that truly stands out. "This place is party central," Gary Johanson joked. "We've already had four requests to host Super Bowl parties."

The theater is used primarily for special occasions. It's really not the place to watch the nightly news. That's usually reserved for the TV in the living room or bedroom.

Although while watching "Jeopardy" during a recent demonstration of the theater's capabilities, Johanson admitted he might start watching the quiz show on the big screen from now on.

"This is kind of nice. I don't have to have my glasses on to read the screen down here," he said.

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