A lifelong passion for film inspires the creation of this home theatre in Palos Verdes 

Cinema paradiso.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Diane E. Barber
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

When my friends Bob and Silvia Van Dusen enlisted my interior design services for the remodel and redesign of their lovely, Mediterranean-style Palos Verdes residence, a state-of-the-art home theatre that whispered of Hollywood’s golden years was a top priority for this entertaining-loving couple. During our preliminary meetings, Bob’s primary focus was the theatre. Without articulating it, his enthusiasm shouted, “I’ve got this!” So I shifted my attention to working with Silvia on the rest of the project while Bob set his sights on creating his ultimate movie aficionado haven/man cave.

Often our deep-rooted passions stem from childhood. Such was the case for Bob, who grew up in Los Angeles captivated by the world of cinema. His fascination began as a boy with a family friend’s collection of 16mm films.

“My dad had a friend with a makeshift theatre in his garage,” recalls Bob nostalgically. “The projector was mounted in the back, and he had folding chairs to seat his guests. We usually watched shorts from the 1920s that included Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy.”

He also spent summers devouring movies in the neighborhood theatre–the landmark Loyola in Westchester. “My mom would drop me off at the Loyola for the afternoon. Our local bank often gave away double feature matinee tickets to see films such as The Pink Panther, It Came from Beneath the Sea and Boy Did I Get a Wrong Number!” When not at the theatre, Bob watched television movies from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s starring Jerry Lewis, The Little Rascals and other household names of that era.

Decades later the Van Dusens now proudly have a dazzling home theatre that is a testament to their classic style, his long-time love affair with Hollywood entertainment and the family’s shared appreciation of it. As you ascend the Brazilian cherry wood staircase from the entryway to the second floor of their splendid oceanfront house, dimmed lighting, a display of antique movie projectors, roped stanchions and a plentiful concession stand all set the stage for an experience to rival most boutique commercial theatres.

Thirteen automated reclining black leather seats perched upon two levels of cushiony, retro-style carpeting are precisely positioned in front of a 140-inch Stewart FireHawk screen. “Stewart Filmscreen is headquartered in Torrance and has been in business since the ‘50s. They are the defacto standard for screens in the movie industry,” says Bob.

It is not surprising that the art deco accents, lush red velvet fabrics and rich, dark color scheme hint at the décor of the Loyola Theatre. “It was my primary inspiration and goes back to all of the time that I spent there,” he adds. “Silvia and I especially like the wall sconces. They have alabaster shades and were cast in bronze by European Lighting in Canada. The mermaids complement the ambience and our ocean view.”

The collectibles that adorn the room are mostly eBay and auction finds. “Silvia and I had a few ‘conversations’ about all of my eBay purchases,” he says with a smile. “If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Victor Model I 35mm projector produced by the Victor Animatograph Co. in 1914. It’s a portable, hand-cranked unit made when permanent theatres were just beginning to be rolled out. It uses a carbon arc as a light source and the carbon was hand-fed. There are only four known to still exist.”

Beyond the magnificent ambience, Bob is especially proud of the sound. “It took quite a bit of tweaking to get it where I wanted it,” he explains. “The sound is configured with seven surround speakers and one very large subwoofer. There are also sonic transducers mounted on the floor that convert low-frequency sound into movement and the velvet-upholstered walls prevent sound from reflecting in the room. With approximately 3,000 watts of total audio capability, action films usually give the sound system quite a workout.”

The advanced technology did not stop with the sound. The theatre and the entire house are automated using Control4 equipment. The lights, window coverings and sprinkler system can all be controlled by smartphones, tablets or remote controls.

The equipment is also bridged to a voice recognition system. If the theatre is turned on prior to sunset, all of the shades close automatically as the lights come up. After sunset, the shades can be closed with the touch of a remote control button. Anthony Ferara of U-NET was instrumental with executing the technical design.

Since the completion of the project, the Van Dusens watch movies weekly and often host movie nights with friends. I have had the pleasure of being a guest for movie-themed dinners followed by classic films, popcorn and fine wine, and I can personally attest that Bob more than “got it” with the creation of the family’s sophisticated, intimate theatre. He and his team of collaborators nailed it.

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