Q&A / 

Entertainment Centers

DEAR TIM: My television, VCR, stereo receiver and DVD player are a jumbled mess. Add to this my collection of tapes and you can see I need some organizational help. Is it possible to arrange all of these things in a set of beautiful cabinetry without going to the poorhouse? Where does one start? What should I include in this entertainment center? Eric M., Boston, MA

DEAR ERIC: Talk about being at the right place at the right time. I have seen the design emphasis shift to different parts of a home on a fairly regular basis. Recently the home office was in the cross hairs of the design professionals . Before that it was the master bedroom bathroom suite. Years ago it was the family room. One of the current hot spots of interior home design happens to be an entertainment room for those that afford this luxury. For those of us that can't, a wonderful affordable alternative has come of age- the entertainment center.

This photo doesn't do my center justice. The camera makes the center look like hobbit furniture.  The center is nearly 15 feet wide! That is a cool custom coffee table with two working model trains under the glass top.

This photo doesn't do my center justice. The camera makes the center look like hobbit furniture. The center is nearly 15 feet wide! That is a cool custom coffee table with two working model trains under the glass top.

Many of the cabinet companies that have made kitchen and bathroom cabinets for years saw this trend emerging. These companies decided to expand their cabinet line to offer a multitude of specialty cabinets that you can mix and match to create a highly functional entertainment center that will house all of your electronic gear. The look of these centers is stunning. Just last month I installed a set of factory made cabinets that appear as if they were custom made for my basement space.

In a matter of speaking, my cabinets were custom made. My wife and I selected the style, the wood species- we used real cherry wood- and the stain color. A professional designer who worked for the cabinet retailer developed a plan for us after we supplied her with the width and height of our opening. Because our available space was nearly 14 feet wide, the designer was able to include a huge TV cabinet, tall storage cabinets, drawer bases and bookshelves. If your available space is just eight to ten feet wide, you can create a deluxe center.

Your entertainment center TV cabinet must have fold away pocket doors. These doors open and fold back along the inside of the cabinet. Lesser quality cabinets have traditional doors that open and swing back in front of the other cabinetry next to the TV cabinet. If your VCR, DVD player and cable TV box are in cabinets next to the actual TV, these solid wood doors will block the hand held remote control signals. Glass doors are a must if you decide to place your remote controlled equipment in these areas. Keep in mind that electronic equipment produces heat. This heat can damage the sensitive circuit boards and micro-chips within the equipment. Be sure that air can flow naturally up and over the equipment to cool it off.

A close-up view of the left side of my center that was made by putting together standard factory cabinets and trim!

A close-up view of the left side of my center that was made by putting together standard factory cabinets and trim!

Look for cabinets that are available in different heights and depths. The primary cabinet is almost always the TV cabinet. It can be as tall as 84 inches and as deep as 29 inches. The cabinets next to the massive TV cabinet are slightly shorter- 789 inches- and only 22 inches deep. This multi-layered design creates depth and makes for a highly interesting appearance. To achieve a total custom look, try to include filler strips that have fluted overlay strips of wood or accent blocks where you can attach decorative rosettes. Roping and other thin decorative overlay wood molding pieces also add character. If at all possible try to include open shelving to display books and other decorative items. Don't forget to include decorative crown molding that will really create that custom look.

There are booby traps you need to avoid. Check and double check again your measurements. The best advice is to have the cabinet designer or a professional installer come to your home to take the measurements. Don't try to fit too many different cabinets in a smaller space. Be careful about designing a cabinet(s) for a particular piece of electronic hardware. Technology changes so rapidly that a newer or replacement model simply may not fit well into the space you created.

I encourage you work with a professional designer. Many cabinet showrooms employ such people. They are trained to take advantage of every option should your situation allow for it. You can help them by providing them with photographs or with pages torn from a magazine that show different entertainment center concepts that appeal to you. To insure that the designer is up to your task, ask for photographs or plans of entertainment centers he/she has designed.

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