The walls of Cris Williams’ Spanish Colonial Revival home are stark and white, a perfect backdrop for his collection of paintings by Mexican artist David Silvah — a wild-eyed Don Quixote, Emiliano Zapata as martyr with a barbed-wire crown, Jesus Christ as revolutionary with cartridge-filled bandolier.
But all that plain white plaster ends when the Boise builder opens the door to a small room seven years in the making. Inside is his elaborate home theater, where every inch is richly embellished.
There are silks and brocades and inlaid pearls. Glass tile that looks like tiger’s eye. Persian rugs and tin sconces. Gilded lace and crown moldings and walls painted to resemble Italian antiques. Fancy arches and Middle Eastern screens called mashrabiya. Hand-carved columns of Cantera stone.
Williams calls it his Moroccan movie theater. But the overall effect is so ornate that movies seem almost beside the point.
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“This is decadent,” Williams acknowledged as he reclined in a custom-made burgundy theater seat tucked beneath a tent of gold brocade. “It’s got a feel of Old World. ... I was trying to reproduce a 1920s theater, like the Egyptian (in Downtown Boise).
“In the ’20s, they were building all these outlandish, really rich, ethnic movie theaters all over the country,” he said. “And so I was taking that and doing it in a private residence. That was my goal.”
Finding the right inspiration
But it wasn’t Williams’ first idea for the theme of the room — a narrow rectangle that started out as 11 feet by 20 feet of plain white drywall. Williams considered a Venetian-themed theater, like one he’d built in a client’s home. He pondered a miniature Boise State stadium, complete with Bronco blue turf and metal bench seating.
In the end, though, the Moroccan theme won out, in part because it works so well with the Spanish Colonial home Williams designed and built for his family in Boise’s East Foothills. With its Mediterranean elements — red tile roof, white stucco, ornate ironwork — the style dominated the American Southwest, Southern California and Florida in the early 1900s.
“Americans studying architecture would go to Europe,” Williams said. “But World War I was on, so the only place they could really go was southern Spain. That’s why they brought back all this Andalusian architecture. There’s a lot of Moorish influence.”
Williams said he didn’t incorporate Moorish touches into the house when he built it a decade or so ago because it was initially designed with resale in mind. While he has no plans to sell the home, he was aware during construction that the more outland ish the design, the smaller the pool of potential future buyers.
“I really lost my nerve,” he said.
By the time Williams got around to designing the theater, his nerve had come roaring back.
Appropriately enough, the theater’s color scheme was inspired by a movie: “Kingdom of Heaven,” the 2005 epic by director Ridley Scott, set in the Crusades and starring Eva Green, Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson.
Green “comes riding in on this horse, and she’s got this fabric; there’s wools and silks and toile and all kinds of really cool stuff,” Williams said. Her flowing costume “had greens with golds and burgundies and chains and ropes. I wanted all that influence in here.”
It’s all in the details
Williams took that vision to painter Anthony Pinkston, who specializes in decorative finishing and has worked with the builder for a decade or so. The men agreed that the room needed a feel of antiquity, which required a painting process as elaborate as the finished product.
“The only way to do that is, you lay down one color and another color over the top,” said Pinkston, owner of Boise-based Ornamentum. “I sanded back through to give the illusion that it’s been painted several times before.
“Some of the paneling on the arches has a cracked plaster effect,” Pinkston said. “That was achieved by applying a lime-based plaster over burlap. You do multiple layers and manipulate it to create the cracks. It’s applied like wallpaper and plastered in.”
The theater, said Pinkston, “is over the top.”
Beyond the elaborate paint job, Williams did most of the work himself. He built the arches and the raised tiers for the five plush theater seats. He tiled the floors and quilted the ceiling. And he built the cabinet that holds most of the theater’s electronics.
But all still within budget
One afternoon in early January, he leaned over the cabinet that holds three of the theater’s seven speakers. He ran his hand along the credenza’s reclaimed barn wood and pointed out the cedar strip that he distressed and painted gold and the pearls he inlaid one by one.
When he got to the cabinet doors, he grinned. They are mashrabiya — intricate Egyptian screens — framed in barn wood.
“A piece of mashrabiya from Egypt or from Morocco is about $500,” he said. “So I was like, ‘I’m not gonna spend 500 bucks. What am I gonna do?’ So I found some stuff on the internet, and I made the mashrabiya. You know what these are?”
He pointed to the spindle-shaped wooden pieces that make up the mashrabiya’s latticework. They are bucket handles, he said, 5 cents apiece, 45 per door. Which means the two screens cost $4.50, plus his labor. And that’s key. His budget for the room was $10,000, and he didn’t break it.
Williams bought the custom seats, the projector, the screen, the other electronics, the carved Mexican columns and the raw materials. He paid Pinkston to paint and found Katie Anger, a seamstress who now lives in Bend, Ore., to sew the tent.
But the seven years of design and intense but intermittent labor that went into the singular space came compliments of Williams himself, who learned woodworking as a student at Meridian High School.
What took so long, you ask? A bout of major indecision. Williams couldn’t decide what to do about the seats. For years, he and his family and friends watched movies in the elaborate theater while perched on lawn chairs.
Until Facebook helped him make up his mind.
He had chronicled the lengthy process on the Facebook page of his company, Retro Homes. And one day, he asked for guidance.
“I am, to a degree, torn on what I’m trying to create,” he posted early in the process. “Is it better as a 1920s Moroccan themed movie theater (along the lines of the Egyptian in Boise...) or a semi-authentic harem styled room that’s equipped with a movie projector/screen?
“Thus my conflict with the idea of movie seating over lounge beds overrun with pillows (more of a Chateau Marmot pool scene but in a theater??” he wrote. “Anybody have any ideas?”
They arrived in August. Finally.
Freelance writer Maria L. La Ganga recently moved to the Treasure Valley from the San Francisco area. La Ganga, who was a longtime reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times, most recently was a U.S. correspondent and senior reporter for The Guardian of London.
Thinking about your own movie theater?
If you’re a movie buff who wants to enjoy a fine film in the comfort of your own home, be prepared to spend around $6,000 for a good, mid-range electronics system, says Jeremy Garner, owner of Polarity, a Nampa-based company that installs home electronics.
One of the first things Cris Williams did when building his home theater was buy the Da-Lite screen that rolls down from the ceiling, the Panasonic projector, Boston Acoustics speakers, Yamaha receiver and Samsung DVD player.
But that was seven years ago, and technology is ever changing.
DVD players have largely given way to Blu-Ray. Projectors come in 4K and can run in the tens of thousands of dollars for big names like Sony.
Garner recommends less-known manufacturers. A midline Optoma or BenQ projector — 1080, not 4K — runs between $1,000 and $1,500, he said. He likes screens made by Elite, which cost from $300 for basic models to high-end offerings that are thousands of dollars.
A note of caution: It costs more to turn an existing room in a finished house into a home theater because of how much demolition must be done to install the wiring for the equipment.
“If you had an empty room and all it had was the sticks and you were building the house, and I had access to everything, then it would be about $6,000,” including labor, Garner said. “If it was an existing house, and you were looking at good, mid-grade equipment, you’re probably closer to the $8,000 mark because of the labor involved.”
And one final thought: Anyone who wants to install a home movie theater needs to be clear about one thing — you should build it for yourself, not for the next family who may someday buy your house.
Here in the Treasure Valley, says appraiser-turned-real estate-agent Doug Flanders, elaborate home theaters are neither common nor expected, and they may not add much to a home’s resale value.
“I have seen builders of upper-end build jobs in the area that create a room that could be set up as a home theater,” said Flanders, who is with the Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Group. “But custom home theaters are not prevalent. ... Extravagantly designed theater rooms would be on the level of in-ground swimming pools here — a lot more cost to build than the amount you would get out of them in resale.”
▪ Cris Williams and Retro Homes: Search for Retro Homes Boise on Facebook
▪ Ornamentum (painter Anthony Pinkston): ornamentumonline.com
▪ Fabri-Kate (Katie Anger in Bend, Ore.): firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ Polarity: Facebook.com/PolarityAV