Home Media Rooms & In-Home Theatres Create Immersive Entertainment

Who doesn’t love to binge watch their favorite TV show or gather with family and friends for a night out at the movies? The average family of four spends about 1,785 hours each year watching television and $2,500 annually on entertainment. Our love of film and ever-advancing technical innovation have been major catalysts in bringing our go-to entertainment into home media rooms and in-home theatres.

Media rooms and home theatres have become a mainstream must-have, bringing the immersive movie-going experience directly to the viewer. These specialty entertainment spaces can be a dedicated room designed as a full-blown media room, or, for homes without a separate space, living and great rooms can just as easily be transformed into home theatres.

There are multiple technical and aesthetic areas to consider when designing a media room in a home.

Single or Multi-Screen

For movie enthusiasts or families who enjoy watching television, a large single screen is an ideal option. But sports fans often prefer having multiple screens, allowing them to watch several games at one time. Video gamers are another group who benefit from multi-screens as it offers them a first-person perspective especially when engaging with other players.

HD Projector or SmartTV

The choice of an HD projector or Smart TV for a media room depends upon the wall space and the distance viewers will sit from the screen. HD projectors are similar to what is used in commercial theatres and come in a wide variety of sizes, with the most popular sizes ranging from 100 to 120 inches. High definition Smart TVs are continuously increasing in innovative technology and screen size, with 80 inches being the largest to date.

Sound System

The most integral part of a memorable movie is the sound. “As any movie professional will tell you, big sound is more important than a big picture,” declares Harrell Design + Build Designer, Divya Vijayanandakumar. The standard sound system is a 5:1, with speakers located at the front and on the sides of the room along with a subwoofer. If space allows, upgrading to a 6:1 or 7:1 system, where speakers are also at the back of the room, creates a fully immersive sound experience. Since sound is such an important aspect of a home theatre, Divya highly recommends working with a Media Designer to achieve the best possible sound.

Acoustics & Soundproofing

Hand in hand with sound is the room’s acoustical design. Not only does it maximize auditory enjoyment, it is critical to ensuring sound remains inside the room to avoid disturbing other family members or nearby neighbors. Proper sound dampening and acoustics are achieved by installation of fabric panels on the walls, plush seating, carpeted floors, and fabric window coverings. For home theatres in open living spaces, it is best to choose a location away from bedrooms as complete sound dampening may not be achievable.


The initial step in seating choice goes back to the function and size of the space. Is it purely for movie and television viewing or will it also serve as a gaming space? On average, how many people will be using the media room? These details help determine the size and number of seats as well as their layout to ensure that each is the “best seat in the house.” There are a wide array of home theatre recliners, which can be either manually operated or motorized. Seat size and style options also vary widely, from large and plush to sleek in design. Most recliners have drink holders, and some offer built-in tables. According to Divya, a 10’ X 16’ room is the minimum space to comfortably fit two rows of seating.


Proper lighting provides a number of different functions in a home theatre. Dimmable recessed lighting and wall sconces offer the best illumination for a variety of entertaining needs. Divya suggests avoiding table or floor lamps in media rooms to eliminate on-screen glare. If there are two levels of seating, illuminating stairs is important, especially when the space is darkened. She also recommends using a Smart system to pre-set and auto-control lighting within the space. Lutron Homeworks QS and Lutron Radio RA2 are two total home control systems that wirelessly manage both lighting and temperature. If the room has windows, installing motorized shades, which can also be controlled by a Lutron system, also helps create the perfect entertainment environment.

Drinks & Snacks

No movie would be complete without snacks! For many home theatres, a simple snack center with small refrigerator to keep beverages cold, a table-top popcorn maker, and a cabinet filled with candy and other goodies adds to viewer’s enjoyment. Larger media rooms can include a kitchenette space with built-in beverage station, fountain drinks on tap, a fully stocked snack center, and cabinets for storing extra munchies, blankets, and pillows.

From living rooms to a dedicated space designed to mimic the movie-going experience, media rooms and in-home theatres are highly desired by homeowners. Not only do they increase home value upon resale, they enhance lifestyles by connecting families through entertainment.

Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of Harrell Design + Build’s Designers to dial in your family’s home entertainment experience.

A laundry room with plenty of space for garment care and folding.

5 Universal Design Ideas for Beautifully Functional Laundry Rooms

Universal Design centers around creating spaces that are comfortable, accessible, safe, and usable to the greatest extent possible by people with varying levels of physical abilities. A forward-thinking concept, Universal Design principles can be applied in ways that seamlessly meld function and aesthetics to achieve spaces that fit your lifestyle now and into the future.

The laundry room is a utilitarian space that warrants thoughtfulness to ensure its functionality extends to all people. These spaces are best located at the primary point of use. The majority of a household’s laundry is generated from bedrooms and baths, so situating this space close to sleeping and bathing areas minimizes transporting bulky hampers long distances.

When redesigning a residential laundry, Harrell’s resident Universal Design specialist, Genie Nowicki, suggests keeping these five principles in mind.

1. More Space

Many laundry areas are small and constricted. By designing a laundry with more floor space you allow easier maneuverability and accessibility.

2. Lower Sink

Utility sinks are a great addition to a functional laundry area. To ensure the sink is reachable by someone in a seated position, the sink should be shallow (to meet ADA standards), the countertop approximately 32 inches high, be open underneath, and have an accessible faucet with lever handles.

3. Front Load Washer & Dryer

Front loading washers and dryers placed on storage pedestals are more ergonomic for everyone. The washer and dryer doors should open away from one another to allow for easy transfer of clothing. Place the washer in a metal pan with an exterior drain to avoid water damage should the unit leak or overflow.

4. Reachable Storage & Hanging/Folding Areas

Many laundry rooms have wall-mounted cabinetry but having lower storage that is easily reachable is a must in a Universally Designed space. Rolling hampers, which can easily be moved room-to-room as well as storage pedestals beneath washers and dryers meet the needs of those unable to access tall cabinets. Rods and folding spaces placed at varying heights allow clothing to easily be hung and folded by those both standing and seated. Pull-down storage and rods are also available.

“Using rolling hampers really benefits anyone doing laundry. They make it easier to transport laundry from room to room rather than lugging heavy, cumbersome baskets or hampers,” recommends Genie.

5. Good Lighting

Proper light is important, especially for those whose vision is in any way compromised. Recessed LED lighting and under cabinet lights provide bright task lighting, especially in a space that may have no exterior windows. If there is a window, a motorized window covering allows the shade to open and close at the touch of a button.

6. Bonus Design Feature: Pet Spaces

For pet lovers, the laundry room is also an ideal place to install and dog bath and/or a litter box alcove. Dog baths should be fully waterproofed and tiled and be raised 8 to 12 inches off the floor for ideal comfort and ergonomic design. They could also have a bench on which the bather can sit, a handheld showerhead, a glass door to contain spray from the inevitable post-bath shake, and a niche for all those pup grooming products.

Litter box alcoves keep unsightly litter boxes discreetly tucked away, and help keep the littler a bit more contained. Installing a fan will help keep odor to a minimum. The access for cleaning the box should be at a comfortable height and should be wide enough to allow the box to be removed and the inside of the alcove swept or hand vacuumed.

Doing laundry is a task undertaken by just about every household. Having a laundry room that is attractive, accessible, and functional can make this chore much more palatable. And by integrating aspects of Universal Design, this residential space becomes usable by all.

Harrell Design + Build has been designing and remodeling distinctive homes since 1985. Discover how we can recreate and redefine your residence to fit your Silicon Valley lifestyle by scheduling a complementary consultation with one of our award-winning designers at our or Palo Alto showroom.

Premier senior designer, Genie Nowicki, is certified in numerous forms of design and the recipient of multiple awards. Genie joined the Harrell Design + Build team after years of running her own successful design business. Beginning her career in the world of income tax planning, she made a career leap in 1990 to the equally “detail and code-filled world” of kitchen and bath design. Genie obtained her Certification in Professional Kitchen and Bath Design in 1992 and achieved her Certified Kitchen Designer (CID) and Certified Bath Designer (CBD) status in 1996. After passing another rigorous examination, she became a Certified Interior Designer (CID) in the State of California in 2002 and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) in 2006. Her experience has included residential interior design, kitchen and bath design, barrier free/Universal Design, lighting design, and participation in numerous showcase houses in the Bay area, as well as several commercial projects. Genie prides herself on listening to her clients and providing timeless design work that is appropriate to her clients, their lifestyles, and their homes. Her excellence in design has been recognized with awards, projects published in local and national magazines, and a Sunset design book, and an article she wrote was featured in the Fine Homebuilding Kitchen and Bath Annual Issue.

Pet-Friendly Design for Your Four Legged Furry Family Members

According to a 2017- 2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 68% or 85 millions families in the United States own a pet. 60% of households own a dog while 47% have a cat as a pet although the number of felines (94.2 million) outnumbers canines (89.7 million).

Yet another recent study has shown that a whopping 95% of people consider their furry friends to be a part of the family. Pets provide companionship, comfort, and entertainment, boost our wellbeing and provide unconditional love.

With more and more people in tune to their pet’s needs, making these furry family members comfortable and happy is important. In working with clients, another of Harrell’s award-winning Senior Designers, Sara Jorgensen, frequently incorporates pet-friendly spaces and solutions into her design.

A California state Certified Interior Designer (CID) with a BA in Fine Arts in Interior Design, Sara has the unique ability to discover and artfully execute her clients’ design desires along with their functional needs. “I love to ask a lot of questions,” Sara says of her meetings with new clients. “These days with so many people having pets, I always ask about their animals. Often, people undergoing a home remodel have frustrations about things like pet food storage or placement of food bowls or litter boxes. They often don’t realize a solution could be quite simple and easily incorporated.”

Whatever the pet-related challenge, Sara will create the nook or niche, storage or space that will solve it. Working from a holistic viewpoint to the smallest of details that create the design’s ‘wow’ factor, she looks for creative ways to situate food dishes, tuck away unsightly litter boxes, or to incorporate much-needed storage.

“I help clients truly consider how they live and the roles their pets play in the family. Through this process, I can design an environment that works for both people and pets in mind without sacrificing individuality and personal style.” Sara explains.

Sara finds that homeowners with canine companions often want her help with creating attractive or hidden storage systems for their pet’s food and supplies as well as elevated and/or out-of-the-way food and water bowls. Since feline family members are more likely to remain indoors, Sara designs special spaces for litter boxes, food and water bowls, and even perches for cats to climb or vertical “highways” that enable them to move from room to room.

“Catios”, or patios for cats, are becoming a popular home design element. They can be simple or elaborate but the goal is to create a safe, enclosed outdoor spaces for cats to lie in the sun and fresh air. Sara has designed “catios” from previously open balconies and decks by installing mechanized rolling pet screens that drop down to fully enclose the space.

An example of a more elaborate pet space is a “catio” project Sara did for a client in which she transformed an unused second floor balcony into an artistic safe space for the homeowner’s cats. “The owners were huge San Jose Sharks fans so we designed a custom metal panel with the Sharks logo that added a unique architectural element to the rear of the home that both homeowners and cats could enjoy. We even selected a bird-nest pattern for the background pattern that creative a playful reflection with the light.” says Sara.


Ideas for incorporating pet-friendly design in your home

  • Choose durable, pet-friendly materials and fabrics: From flooring to furniture, there are materials that lend themselves to homes with pets. Choose colors and fabrics that hide dirt, are durable and scratch-resistant as well as easy to clean.
  • Stop dirt at the door: Create a station in your home where you most frequently take your pet in and out. This area should have resilient, easy maintenance flooring plus storage for leashes, toys and supplies.
  • A room with a view: Both dogs and cats enjoy being able to look outside so having a large picture window that provides your pet with a view will be appreciated.
  • Special spaces: Dogs have an innate desire to go underneath beds, tables, and other areas where they can rest in peace while you should think vertically for your feline friends. Designate a doggie den beneath cabinets in the kitchen or Family Room and set up perches or stair-step walls shelving to create areas for your cat to sit or sleep.
  • Pet doors: Technology is a wonderful thing even in the pet product realm. There are electronic pet doors that open only when triggered by a chip in your pet’s collar, keeping your home secure and other unwanted critters out. Even cameras that can allow you to see what your pets are up to while you are away.

Harrell’s Remodeling is very sensitive to how the remodeling process affects your furry family members. We always make areas safe for your pets by removing debris as well as posting signs to alert workers of animals in a home. Sometimes we even post a photo of your pet on doors with a sign to alert our people and subcontractors that special circumstances need to be taken for safety of an animal.

Whether you have a very specific pet project in mind or wish to integrate pet-friendly design as part of a home remodel project, Sara and the entire team at Harrell’s Remodeling can make it happen!

Laundry and Hobby Rooms: The New Family Center?

More and more home remodeling projects are including large open spaces with multiple uses instead of smaller rooms with a single use. Sometimes the need arises for a less formal space, a place where family members can spend quality time together in a relaxed atmosphere. A multi-purpose room has become the new family center. As a result, hobbies and laundry are ideal companion activities to share this space.

The space can be designed such that there is enough room for all family members to do their special activities, alone or together. For example, Mom or Dad can do the laundry while the kids are painting or building puzzles. There are several elements that are popular in hobby and laundry rooms which help make the space more functional. For example, add a TV or a sound system for enhanced usability.

Counter Space

Everyone needs room to work. Layouts for the room might include counters that that run along some or all of the walls. For extra room to work, tabletops or islands can be placed within the room, or perhaps pull out or fold down for convenience. Countertop materials range from wood to laminate to natural or engineered stone. Give some thought to scratch-resistant and stain-resistant surfaces that wear well and fit their purpose.


Where there are activities, there are supplies. Ask your Design + Build team to create cubbyholes, drawers and storage space above or below the countertops and workstations. This can help you minimize the clutter and keep it a pleasant place to spend time together. Cabinets can include a fold-down ironing board, a place to fold clothes and an area to store laundry supplies.


Choose flooring that is smooth, moisture-resistant, durable and easy to clean while coordinating with the rest of the decor. Use area rugs to create extra comfort and a cozy feel to select parts of the room.


Lighting is one of the most important features to the new hobby room and laundry room. Use natural light from large windows and put focused task lighting over specialized work spaces. Recessed lighting throughout the room can help illuminate even the largest spaces.

Walk-in closet

Home Remodeling Projects: Closets and Organization

One of the latest trends in home remodeling is creating functional closet space. The idea is to bring organization and functionality to your bedroom closet. Ideally, you should be able to go into your closet and see all of your choices, from head to toe. Create functional space that let you walk around, rather than standing at the door and guessing what gems are hidden away inside. When doing a home remodeling project, especially a whole home remodel or one that involves bedrooms, take the time to consider what you love and hate about your clothes closets now. Maybe you like having two levels of clothing racks, or perhaps your can’t see or reach hats, ties or other accessories. Join forces with your design and build remodeling contractor to create a space that works for you and each person in your household. Here are a few points to consider.

Lighting should be easy to turn on and off. Either use a sensor that automatically turns on your lights when you enter, or make sure that the switch is easily accessible. Lighting should be bright enough so that you can see all of the items in your closet. Keep in mind that the type of lighting can change the appearance of some colors and materials.

Space and Organization
It seems that there is never enough closet space. Layout is important, as it keeps things organized. If you can’t see what you have, you need more space and a better design. Don’t forget to save room for things that don’t need to be on hangers.

Once you have chosen some items to wear, you’ll need to see how they look. Placing a full-length mirror in your closet as well as in the bedroom may make selections easier before you try on your clothes.

Shoe selection can make or break an outfit. Keeping footwear close to the floor can be helpful when envisioning an outfit. However, if reaching down to try on shoes is challenging, raising the shoe space probably makes more sense.

Coordinated Separates
When considering your closet design in a home remodeling project, decide whether you need more space for shorter coordinating separates or for longer pieces, like dresses and long coats. Coordinating pants and tops may be easier when the choices are above and below each other.

Accessories are usually the last element chosen when putting together an outfit. Be sure to leave space for them where they can be seen and appreciated.

Creative storage solutions by Lisa Sten

Over time, many homeowners become “real estate challenged” and find that their home doesn’t provide room for everything in their busy lives. With the high cost of property in the Bay Area, the thought of moving to a larger residence is frequently discarded in favor of remodeling an existing home to maximize its potential space. Beyond obvious living space though, people often forget that every attic, crawlspace, closet, nook and cranny holds potential for creative storage solutions. Professional design/builders are experts in identifying and exploiting unused spaces for higher capacity storage throughout the home.

Kitchen Space

These days, kitchens contain much more than a fridge, a range, dishes and cookware. As the social center of most homes, kitchens today accommodate a number of conveniences – multiple appliances, specialty cookware, pull-out bins for trash and recycling, homes with fold-down computers, spacious pantries, laundry appliances and display shelves, to name just a few. It’s easy to see that the heart of every home needs to face many challenges with clever design in order to keep pace with today’s busy family.

In a remodeling project completed by our company, the original kitchen was woefully lacking in storage. There were no cupboards on the walls and only a few base cabinets among them, several were useless and inaccessible corner cabinets that hid hard-to-reach and, thus, forgotten cookware. Additionally, a center island housed a sink and dishwasher but provided little counter space for the large area it occupied.

Determined to find more room for the family, Harrell Design + Build designers created a kitchen layout that makes food preparation a breeze. Cookware, utensils and pantry goods are now conveniently accessed in the numerous cabinets, drawers and pullouts. A generous, sweeping peninsula provides plenty of counter space and enables the homeowners to prepare meals together while visiting with their guests. Ironically, the new peninsula layout created the possibility of a dead, unusable space in the sleek new walnut buffet, but the designer was not deterred. Instead, an ingenious pullout wine cabinet was installed to make use of the 30-degree angle created by the new peninsula.

In another kitchen located in Los Altos, a leak above the kitchen inspired the client to correct an inefficient room layout and improve storage in every available corner.

With little room to spare, every precious square inch was carefully considered for function and storage in this redesigned kitchen. The cramped under-stair storage area was opened up to the room, creating space for the owner’s new rustic table. The walls in the alcove were lined with shallow shelving for practical storage and display of collectibles. The existing stacked washer and dryer now reside in custom built-in cabinetry that cleverly conceals the appliances behind new flipper doors. The space now has a more open and organized feel to it that is brought together by the seamless blending of the warm, distressed-finish cabinets throughout the kitchen.

Laundry Space

In Portola Valley, a homeowner needed a solution for their laundry area. The original location was adjacent to their living room and they needed to find a more appropriate place for their noisy laundry. After careful scrutiny of the upstairs spaces, a wonderful solution was found.

An existing hall closet and the attic storage area located behind it were combined to create a spacious laundry room. Now suitably located near the second floor bedrooms, this small feat was achieved with only a modest amount of structural work. And, to ensure everyone’s comfort, sound isolation detailing and vibration specialty work was integrated to limit appliance noise and vibration from impacting family members in the adjacent rooms. Outfitted with crisp, white cabinetry, every compartment in this tidy area was detailed to the homeowners’ needs. Plenty of hamper baskets kept sorted laundry handy. Spacious countertops and a fold-down ironing board got clean clothes organized in a snap. A new skylight combined with a colorful (and quiet) floor made this a very cheerful and well-illuminated room!

Bathroom Space

With today’s hectic lifestyle, a bathroom needs to be correctly designed to make the space truly relaxing and luxurious. Excellent illumination and good ventilation are just a few of the details to consider in a space that may include a jetted tub, a shower or steam shower a private toilet area and mirrored lavatories. Of course, the need for appropriate storage within a bathroom has expanded. In addition to storage for linens, other space-saving built-in features may include hampers, makeup lighting, recessed mirrored

medicine cabinets with electrical outlets (for razors and toothbrushes), and plenty of drawers for toiletries.

Bedroom Space

Bedrooms and family rooms can also be designed for maximum efficiency to store just about anything. Details often include customized clothing storage (adjustable hanging roods, bins and trays, shoe shelves, tie racks, pull-out roods for garment bags and dry cleaning), dressing areas, entertainment systems and library shelving.

Thoughtful storage solutions can make the most of any space. One lovelyPortolaValleyhome lacked a playroom for the children and needed a guest bedroom for the frequent out-of-town family guests. Searching the home, the large unused attic above the garage provided the perfect solution to both space problems at once.

The generously vaulted room has plenty of space for the homeowner’s three children to read, play games, do homework and run around. A built-in desk, a TV cabinet and abundant storage systems house the many books, toys, games and videos for the children, as well as the linens (for the new full bath) and space for guest’s personal effects.

Displaying a chameleon charm, when company arrives, it easily transforms from a playroom into a luxurious guest suite. Visitors will find a comfortable room with plenty of natural lighting, a generous seating area, and a pull-down Murphy bed hidden inside the wall storage system and a desk area.

Imaginative storage solutions can be created in every home. Even the smallest of houses have hidden space that can be better exploited so that the home will function more efficiently for the family. So think bigger, get outside of your obvious floor plan area, and get into storage.