Ultimate Florida Gators Fan Home Theater
by Arlen Schweiger/Electronic House
Some sports fans visit hallowed places like Cooperstown, NY, or Canton, OH, for a dose of nostalgia and memorabilia. This Palm Beach County, FL, homeowner visits his garage. At least it used to be a garage. Now it’s a shrine to his alma mater, the University of Florida, and its ultrasuccessful athletic program. This isn’t your typical fanatic’s room dressed up in school colors—blue and orange may have been too loud—but is a treasure trove of autographed balls, jerseys, trophies and more. It’s also the best seat in the house for watching Gators football and basketball games.
Along with all the collectibles, the room is a championship-caliber home theater. With four displays, 7.2-channel surround sound and touchpanel control, the theater room makes guests feel much more welcome than in the Swamp, the venue where the Gators tend to throttle visiting football teams.
In planning this homage, the homeowner knew he wanted to convert the single-car garage in his new split-style courtyard residence. He turned to electronics systems contractor Audio Advisors of West Palm Beach, as he had worked with president Jeff Hoover’s team on two previous theater installations, including another with multiple displays. Hoover brought in Boca Raton, FL–based theater design firm Acoustic Innovations to assist with the plans.
“I had been doodling around with sports-themed theaters for a while,” says Acoustic Innovations president Jay Miller. “The challenge was to integrate great sound, video and the Gators into the space. When [the homeowner] told me about all the collectibles, I immediately suggested a locker room.” The homeowner initially balked at showcasing his memorabilia in something that resembled a traditional jock hangout, but he embraced the idea when it was presented as more of a classy, country club –style space.
The solution included custom woodwork and shelves for the homeowner to spotlight and safely stow his Hall of Fame–worthy collection. Among the goods in the 13-by-22-foot room are jerseys signed by Heisman trophy winners Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow; replica Heisman statuettes; real championship rings, and replica trophies from Florida’s conference and national titles in football and basketball; game-worn cleats and gloves of Emmitt Smith, Jevon Kearse and Chris Leak; a football from the 2007 BCS championship game between Florida and Ohio State; and a piece of the court on which the Gators basket ball team won the 2007 NCAA crown.
The prized coup—a Dallas Cowboys helmet worn by Smith during the game in which he broke Walter Payton’s career rushing record—stemmed from the homeowner’s interest in electronics. He and Smith had crossed paths at Florida and struck up a friendship when the homeowner impressed the future NFL star with a decked-out van (it included a whopping 56-speaker system) he entered in car stereo competitions.
“Emmitt wore a different helmet in each quarter of the game where he broke the record. He broke it in the third quarter, and everything from that run went to the Hall of Fame. For the other three helmets, supposedly one is in [Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones’ house, one is in Emmitt’s house, and the other is in mine,” the homeowner says.
The car stereo hobby is also how he met Hoover, whose company has roots in high-end mobile audio/video. “I’ve always been into audio/video,” the homeowner says. “I just moved from the car into the home. I’d rather have all this sitting in the house than in the driveway.”
A driveway couldn’t accommodate everything in this ex-garage, which Audio Advisors senior service technician Jim Votino helped transform into a theater. While a Lutron lighting system highlights the memorabilia on the side walls, it’s not easy to take your eyes off the front wall. That’s filled by a 110-inch Stewart Filmscreen fixed display (fed by a Sharp 1080p DLP projector) and three 32-inch Sharp LCD TVs.
A pair of Velodyne subwoofers and seven in-wall Sonance Silhouette II loudspeakers put viewers in the middle of the action. The rear surrounds are hidden in the back wall behind a high-resolution silkscreen photo of the Swamp that the homeowner had digitally reproduced from a media guide. “Half the sky is orange and half of it is blue, so I said that’s the shot I had to use for the backdrop.”
The homeowner used to travel regularly to the stadium in Gainesville, but 10-month-old twins make the home theater a more convenient game day destination now. There’s no shortage of tailgating options, though: The back of the room features a full wet bar with an icemaker and two beverage centers.
Thanks to the Crestron automation, the homeowner and his wife, also a Gators alum, can keep tabs on the babies’ room camera or see what guests might be arriving from a touchscreen controller or any of the big screens. The TPMC-8X touchpanel also allows for simple video switching between sources—including DirecTV, PlayStation 3, a Sony DVD megachanger and a Sony Blu-ray changer—plus all the clicking between games and switching from the small screen to the large one at times. It’s even a snap for the family’s 6-year-old daughter, the homeowner says.
The theater is devoted to Florida down to the chairs and floor, with faux alligator fabric upholstery and alligator-texture carpeting. Just swampy enough for this Gator.
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