Acoustic Innovations (AI) of Boca Raton, Fla., maintains a very unique relationship with custom A/V integrators. It doesn’t do installations itself, but the full-service interiors and acoustics company works directly with installers to create gorgeous home theater spaces.
“Usually, custom installers come to us as they would another vendor,” says AI founder Jay Miller. “We work with these installers to design, manufacture and install theater interiors that take into account both aesthetic and acoustic issues, such as room isolation and room reverberation.”
End users often contact AI directly; AI simply refers them to one of its 100-plus affiliated local installers so each client can get better ideas about equipment before choosing an interior design. The installer thus gets unsolicited business simply for being associated with AI.
Affiliates display AI theater interiors prominently in their showrooms. “When an A/V installer first orders an Acoustic Innovations theater, they receive training on how to put the theater together,” says Miller. “We send out an installation supervisor/trainer who will work with the integrator to take the process from beginning to end.”
AI’s business model begs the question: How can one firm handle both acoustics (a seemingly left brain specialty for engineering types) and interior design (a right brain profession that requires intense creativity and imagination)?
Miller got the idea for AI when he moved to Florida from Massachusetts. “I had a home theater in my basement that sounded very good,” he says. “When I moved to Florida and I set that same home theater up in a high volume room, it sounded very bad. I looked at all of the acoustic treatments that were available—mostly just egg-crate foam—and it certainly was not design- or wife-friendly.
“I figured if I had this problem, others might as well, so in 1992, I built a company based on blending gorgeous interiors with fantastic acoustics. So many interior designers and architects design a room to look great without any regard to how it performs. Our main goal is to make it look and sound great.”
Brian Bergherm of Atlanta-based Georgia Home Theater (GHT) contacted AI to do the acoustic and interior design of our featured home theater. “The client absolutely fell in love with some of the samples we had in our showroom of AI’s work,” says Bergherm. “Once we identified the client’s affinity for such a room, we immediately knew this was the only option for them to be ultimately satisfied with the end product we would deliver.”
The resulting collaboration between GHT and AI is called the Renaissance Theater. The room, a basement renovation, was very challenging at first. The homeowners had a very specific idea of where they wanted the theater. AI went through several permutations of how the theater would work in the space allotted by the builders and architect, and encountered many sightline challenges. So it convinced all of the trades to move the theater to a different portion of the basement. The builders dug the foundation down to accommodate the necessary height. AI provided the architectural and design details, and handled several back-and-forth tweaks.
GHT encountered challenges, too. One was the schedule. The builder was moving fast, and most of the trades couldn’t keep up. Some walls were finished before the back boxes for the speakers GHT planned to install. Bergherm and his team were forced to retrofit those boxes to accommodate the speakers. “Once we reached the trim stage, we finally had the builder’s attention and things became more manageable,” says Bergherm. “It was a matter of the builder seeing our work and commitment and realizing that GHT is comprised of more than just ‘stereo guys.’”
Another challenge for GHT was the location of the right side channel, which needed to be installed right where the three main electrical panels for the house were. GHT discussed several options with the builders and electricians; ultimately, they decided the most cost-effective solution was to move both side speakers forward and compensate for placement during room calibration.
“Because the various trades are often working together before the A/V integrator is called in, there is a dynamic that is often established early on that the installer is not necessarily a part of,” says Bergherm. “That’s why getting in as early as possible on the planning side of things is so important.”
AI’s design staff specified architectural elements, colors and the correct materials, while its draftspeople helped with the engineering. The Renaissance boasts a truly ornate style, evidenced by its sublime ceiling.
“Because the theater is so intricate, we were challenged to accommodate the HVAC and mechanical wiring that had to run through the ceiling to the rest of the home,” says Miller. “We had to coordinate with GHT, the builder, the HVAC contractor and the electrician to come up with innovative solutions to this problem to get an outcome that the client was happy with.”
The client, indeed, was very happy with the end result—amazing performance courtesy of Georgia Home Theater and awesome acoustics and interior design by Acoustic Innovations.
When AI collaborates with an A/V integrator, the latter usually calls the shots and interfaces with the various trades. There are exceptions, however. “We have a project management team on all of our projects, and occasionally we interface directly with the builder if the A/V integrator gives us permission,” says Miller. “A good analogy for the way we operate on any given project is an orchestra. Sometimes, we are the conductor, heading up the project; other times, we simply provide the instruments. It depends how involved the A/V installer wants us to be, as well as the amount of control they want over the project. We are often on projects where we have a very picky A/V integrator or a strong interior designer who has worked on the rest of the home, in which cases we often simply hand them the final plans and materials.”
AI’s challenge then becomes how to give the A/V integrator the tools necessary to get the interior side of the room up and running, which isn’t always easy. “Most integrators we deal with are engineer types that are exceptionally good at their core businesses,” says Miller. “When they step into doing an entire theater, it takes them out of their comfort zone. That is why I believe we are so successful. We take a load off their shoulders while adding to their bottom line.”
AI offers three basic levels of home theater designs. The most custom and expensive models are “unique” theaters; AI basically starts with a blank sheet of paper and begins designing based on the clients’ needs, often coordinating directly with the client or the client’s agent, such as an interior designer or architect. “In some cases, we coordinate the entire process, working with local trades, like a general contractor who will build a room out to our specs,” says Miller. “We work with local electricians because they are certified by state or county.”
AI’s next level is “custom theater,” which may be a theater it has already designed and built that can be modified based on client preferences. Color elements can be altered, lighting sconces or drapes can be customized, elements can be removed or added. The final level is “showcase,” a module-based theater interior available in 18 different set designs.
AI furnishes integrators with proprietary software that provides tools for predicting the theater’s appearance and cost; for example, it can predict the cost of the interior/acoustic design based on variables such as the room’s dimensions, the number of desired seats and columns, or whether the client wants drapes or cabinetry. Clients then select custom seating and choose from among 500 different leather and fabric combinations. Using these style parameters and seating, AI’s software provides installers a “virtual showcase” visualization tool that shows what the theater might look like, before plans are even laid out or one penny is spent by the client. Once approved, the theater interior is fabricated at AI’s plant in Boca Raton and shipped to either the installer or the job site.
“We get them to the point,” says Miller. “I find it very interesting that many theaters are built by general contractors and designers but are horrible from an acoustic standpoint and vice versa.”
By blending interior design and acoustics, and collaborating with the fourth trade of A/V installation, satisfying customers is much easier. And that is, after all, the ultimate goal. CR