The home theater industry is so young and varied that it hasn't produced many people that can be considered legends. But there is one man who actually created the concept of home theater as we know it today, and who continues to push the boundaries and redefine what home theater can be. Theo Kalomirakis won CEDIA's Best Dedicated Home Theater design award every year he entered - a total of nine times - until he decided to stop sending in submissions; he was given the CEDIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He has designed scores of high-profile theaters, including rooms for Eddie Murphy, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Walt Disney World. Since I'm a custom installer, meeting Theo was a chance to have an audience with our industry's Yoda. Listen well I did.
Practically everything Theo says speaks to his lifelong love for cinema and watching movies. You could say it's in his blood since he grew up in Athens, Greece, watching and obsessing over films. His first theater was an outdoor Cinema Paradiso on the terrace of his Athens apartment, with a 16mm projector and a bedspread stretched between two posts in the dirt. At 16, he joined a film society and started writing reviews for a Greek film magazine. With a grant from the Fulbright Foundation, he made his first movie in 1971.
In 1972, Theo's film, Limited Engagement, won First Prize at Greece's Thessaloniki Film Festival and became the only Greek movie ever invited to the New York Film Festival. (Fun fact: The assistant cinematographer of The Ten Commandments photographed the movie.) Theo was then invited to study film at New York University, so he came to the States.
But moviemaking was not to be his profession. "My thesis film stunk, and that crushed my dreams of doing another movie or becoming a filmmaker," he says. "I locked the film away in a trunk and decided to switch careers." So Theo went into publishing and wound up working for Malcolm Forbes as the art director of American Heritage magazine.
In 1984, Theo had what would become a life-changing experience: He saw his first projection TV, a Novabeam. "It was the first time that I'd come across a large screen that resembled my experience showing movies in Greece, and I started dreaming about owning one." So, like any A/V fanatic, he found the store where the TV came from and bought a 50-inch Mitsubishi rear-pro set. As soon as he turned it on after lugging it up to his apartment, Theo had his first taste of video disappointment.
"I connected my VCR, and the picture looked lousy. So I went back to the store and said, 'It looks so much better here. Why does mine look so bad?' " In response, the owner introduced Theo to laserdisc, and he left with an LD player and his first disc, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But Theo realized that a big TV does not a theater make. "It was missing the impact of the big sound. So I bought two of Klipsch's horn speakers with huge woofers, and I put them to the left and right of the TV." He also bought one of the first surround sound processors and connected it to rear speakers. "I had an instant theater in my living room, and I started inviting people over to watch movies."
That the theater was in his living room bothered him, though. "It didn't have any ambience. The environment was the missing ingredient that would complete the technology and make the experience fuller. I needed a better room."
This is the same philosophy that drives his elaborate theater designs today. "Unless you put the environment around the technology, it's like getting a Christmas gift without the wrapping paper. It's kind of cold. My designs are the wrapping paper. It's about the preparation to enjoy this emotion. It's not really about audio or video; it's all the diverse elements that make the experience fuller."
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