Amazing Spaces: Screen Time

Inspired by a love of movies, Joel Testa transformed his basement into the ultimate theater experience.

Joel Testa apologizes for the popcorn on the floor of his home theater. He explains that son Giovanni, 3, and daughter Zoe, 6, started scattering the stuff when they found out the room was going to be photographed — perhaps in a bid to achieve an added measure of authenticity. Any multiplex worth its salt (and butter) sweeps up plenty of kernels after a busy day.

And Testa is committed to creating a true movie theater experience in the Akron home he shares with his wife, Mary, and their children. Nine leather recliners are arranged stadium-style on two levels in front of a 10-foot, wall-mounted projection screen flanked by a life-sized Spider-Man figure — a Blockbuster drawing prize Testa bought on eBay — and a mannequin dressed in a Star Wars Stormtrooper costume.

"I'm a big kid," admits the movie-loving chief operating officer of Testa Companies, a construction, development and design firm based in Cuyahoga Falls.

Further evidence of this lies beyond the two red, swinging entrance doors to the theater. They flank a realistic ticket booth where the kids hand out tickets to their friends on family movie nights, staged approximately twice a month. Original movie posters for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Shrek 2 hang in backlit frames, while Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E and Twilight adorn the walls, reflecting a few of the titles in the theater's library — a mix of animated features, comedies, chick flicks and action films. Testa changes the art regularly "just for the fun of it."

Across the lobby is the Cinebar, a concession stand where "patrons" help themselves to popcorn from a commercial popcorn maker and a selection of Raisinettes, Junior Mints, Jujubes, Hot Tamales and Nerds displayed on a backlit shelving unit. Testa admits that installing a soft-drink vending machine in a space already equipped with a bar-gun fountain system may seem unnecessary, especially since the machine is stocked with the same Coke, Diet Coke and caffeine-free Diet Coke that is on tap. But the bar guns also dispense tonic water and club soda.

"I always thought it would be cool to have a vending machine in the house," he adds.

To make room for the theater, the lower level of their home was dug to accommodate the stadium seating and soundproofed so people can sleep and carry on a conversation upstairs. Pleated red-velvet panels hanging on the walls help further muffle sound and provide an additional touch of cinematic decor. Aluminum sconces were installed between the panels and LED lights strung along stairway baseboards. One trick Testa utilized in the lobby was painting the ceiling and floor trusses black.

"It actually adds a perceived height to the ceiling — when it's painted black, it tends to disappear," he says. "We used trusses instead of solid beams because they look more commercial and allowed us to run ductwork and wires through them."

Testa and his wife are still making improvements today. He recently completed the half bath, a room with an "Employees Only" sign on the door and commercial decor complete with a motion-sensor faucet and a 14-inch flat-screen TV mounted over it so patrons don't miss a minute of the movie.

"We're talking about putting a hand blow-dryer in there," he says. "I found a couple that we can install easily."

Master of Disguise

Joel and Mary Testa wanted to enjoy the sound of a commercial movie theater, but they didn't want to see the speakers needed to produce it. Traditional in-wall speakers just wouldn't do. "They are not quite the quality we were looking for," he explains. So the couple built cabinets to house studio power speakers, then covered the entire wall with an acoustically transparent fabric in the same dark navy used to paint the rest of the room. "It looks like four drywalls," he says.

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