Writing for Sound & Vision has taken me to such exotic locales as an aircraft carrier at sea and George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch. Getting to meet the family that won our "Home Entertainment Makeover Contest" (November 2004) might not seem to rank with those experiences, but it proved just as unforgettable.
The Ludlows live in Laingsburg, Michigan, about 20 miles north of Lansing and two hours northwest of Detroit. Laingsburg is a Norman Rockwell kind of town with lots of red barns and silos, a place where people still grow their own food. Passing the acres of cornfields on my drive there conjures up Field of Dreams (and a little bit of Signs).
The Ludlows are the kind of people who make you feel completely welcome in their home. Within 10 minutes, I feel like I've known them for years. When I walk in, an inviting aroma of scents washes over me, the byproduct of wife Cara's homemade soap business. Kevin, who's a shipping manager for a local furniture company, is quick to offer coffee, soda, or beer, depending on the time of day. Three-year-old Anna loves to show off her tap-dancing skills in her red princess dress, while six-year-old Emma is quick to challenge you to a game of tic-tac-toe. Aspiring-gymnast Alexander, 12, says a polite "Hello" before retiring to the computer.
Paul DiComo, marketing manager at Polk Audio, voted for the Ludlows' entry because "they had a 'blank slate' room that allowed for a fresh system design. And I thought their situation - refinishing a basement into a home theater - would resonate with a lot of readers. I also liked their enthusiasm for home theater, and including a photo of the family holding a 'Thank you' sign in their contest entry was a nice personal touch - they just seemed like nice folks."
John Sciacca began his career as a custom installer in 1998 at Custom Theater and Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, where he still works. He's still trying to figure out how to get the members of his family to turn the lights off when they're actually in the house, let alone from hundreds of miles away.