Interview by Kelly Magill Nashville Interiors, Vol. 8 2007-2008

Carl Tatz is a much sought after acoustic designer/builder of home theaters, or as he prefers to call them – home screening rooms. We were able to catch up with him recently as he raced between projects and asked him a few questions about his work.

NI: We see photos of your projects everywhere and it’ really impressive looking work. Can you give us a profile of the type of client who would hire you to design and build their home screening room? What are they looking for?

CT: My clients are people who love movies and are really excited by the idea of having a real acoustic professional design and build a room that is going to perform like a Hollywood screening room in sight sound and decor. They are used to custom solutions in their homes whether they’re working with a cabinetmaker for a kitchen or a master carpenter creating crown molding for a bedroom. A lot of them are wealthy but circumstances often create limitations and compromise based on available space that render a more modest application than you might think of. For instance, I’m in the process of implementing a screening room in a penthouse at one of the new high-rise condominiums being built around town. There is a great amount of “shoehorning” involved to get the maximum performance out of a roughly 16′ by 15′ space and sound isolation is a huge concern so that special acoustic construction techniques must be implemented. This work is not for the faint of heart requiring great communication between two architects, interior designer, electrical engineer, cabinetmaker, lighting designer and HVAC personal. It always amazes me how an these people seem to pick up and share our enthusiasm, sensing that this is going to be something special, and help bring my and my client’s vision to fruition. I think that this is a big reason why homeowners hire me.

NI: Can you briefly describe the process that you and the homeowners go through designing one of your rooms?

CT: I think of it as a novel that we are both co-authoring together. I have a set of performance goals in my mind for every room I design so that in a sense I already know what it will sound like and how the movie image will look even before its built. By listening and carefully understanding what my client’s needs are I am able to blend the technical, practical and aesthetic together. Of course there is an educational aspect to this and I find that I often have to dispel a few myths about sound and picture. For instance, hi-fi speakers are not appropriate for cinema no matter how expensive they may be and you can have a much larger, cinema sized screen than you thought possible with the dialogue coming out of the picture, not above it or below it.

NI: How important is acoustic treatment in the room. Is that what’s called tuning the room?

CT: Good question. Another myth is that you can tune a room by carefully applying various acoustic absorption, diffusion and bass trap products around a room. Although critical to any sound room, it only creates the acoustical canvas for the actual tuning that must be performed manually with acoustic analyzing software, electronic frequency crossovers and parametric equalization. I say manually because most receivers and surround processors now days have an “auto-tune” feature that comes with a little microphone and promises to “tune” the sound system automatically in a few seconds while you decide what OVD to watch. It’s great that the manufactures recognize the importance of this step but frankly it’s a layperson’s toy. It takes me at least two days to fine tune one of my screening rooms and is probably the closest thing to art that I do. I’m very proud of it and have actually trademarked the process, which I call The PhantomFocus System™ TIA that was developed over time from my recording studio design background.

NI: That was going to be my next question. I know that you also design recording studios for many of Nashville’s successful producers, artists, engineers and musicians. What have you been able to bring over from the professional world to home theater and how are they similar or different?

CT: That’s another great question because oddly enough it has been a two way street for me. I’ve been able to bring a great deal of my professional studio expertise into the screening room design work that is unique. However, I’ve learned a few tricks from my theaters that I have applied to my studio design. Both, studio control rooms and screening rooms have a lot in common in some ways and are drastically different in others. The control rooms are much more critical because engineers are mixing records based on what they are hearing in a small sweet spot. On one occasion I designed a hybrid room in Malibu, CA where my client was able to have both a critically accurate 5.1 sweet spot and a multiple seated screening room. For a music lover this is the ultimate and I have an upcoming project in Nashville that I plan on repeating this for my client

NI: What about the rest of us who may not be as well heeled as some of your clients? Are we doomed to mediocrity by having to purchase a “home theater in a box” type product from one of the big box stores? Is there any way we could afford your· services without mortgaging our homes?

CT: I hope so. Two of the most expensive parts of a home screening room can be decor and sound isolation. Custom cabinetry, high end dedicated theater seating, acoustical stretch fabric, sound isolation products and construction can easily surpass the cost of the sound system and projector. Here’s the good news, I’ve been able to design, implement and tune some very impressive rooms without breaking the bank. With some basic acoustic treatment and a little homeowner interior design creativity, these rooms end up being far beyond my client’s expectations. As far as sound isolation goes, there are degrees of it that can be applied but can get expensive quickly. The best situation is for it not to be an issue and find a way to make it work in the home without losing family members.

NI: I have a couple of last questions. One, do you a/ways work with an architect and an interior designer and two, are all your rooms dedicated screening rooms?

CT: Of course every project is different and I would say it was half and half. Many times my client and I are able to be quite successful on our own. If there are some construction questions that need to be answered I may bring in a structural engineer for advice but other than that its pretty straight ahead. I’m hired most of the time to design dedicated rooms but even when I’m designing a multi purpose media/living room I’m able to bring in a lot of the performance features of my dedicated screening rooms. They can be a real challenge but a lot of fun because people don’t expect the dramatic results.

See also: About Carl Tatz Design