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By Electronic House

Ask any custom electronics professional about the proper positioning of theater chairs in a private home cinema and, one phrase pervades: sight lines. “There’s nothing worse than having part of the screen obstructed by someone sitting in front of you,” says installer Eric Theis, a partner with Los Angeles-based DSI Entertainment  Systems.

Theis offers this simple rule of thumb: Each row should step down a minimum of 12 inches. If the first row of seating is at ground level, the second row should sit on a 1-foot-tall riser, and the third row should be positioned 1 foot above that.

Many theaters, however, may not have enough real estate to accommodate risers. For those situations installer Robert Bliss, co-owner of Bliss Home Theaters and Automation in Los Angeles, offers another solution. “We raise the placement of the image, such as the flat-screen TV, to create enough clearance in the row in front of you.”

Other industry professionals recommend adjusting the height of the seats. “This happens a lot in basement conversions,” says Don Wolper, president of Fortress Seating in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “In a two-row theater, you can make the first-row chairs 17 inches tall, and the second-row chairs 21 inches.”

Chair Count and Screen Distance

First Impressions Theme Theatres’ Jeffrey Smith, who has designed nearly 600 home theaters since 1975, says homeowners must be realistic about the number of theater chairs their space can accommodate. “This is always an issue,” he says. “Let’s say a client wants three rows instead of two, and the space is tight—something has to suffer. And if the client’s heart is set on a 15-foot-wide screen and the space is 16-by-16, [the view from the front row] is going be intense.” Or the back row of theater chairs may have to abut the back wall, a scenario Smith tries to avoid. “It’s an audio situation because the sound can get a bit muddy that far back,” he says, adding that he prefers a minimum of 2 feet between the back wall and the last row of seating.

The distance between the screen and the front row should range from one-and-half to two times the screen height. “If the screen is placed too close to the front row, the image can be blurry, depending on the projector,” he says. Another consideration is field of view: Chairs should be positioned within the imaginary rectangle that projects out from the screen and into the audience.

“Once you’re sitting outside that rectangle, you’re not getting a good view,” Smith adds. His rule of thumb: With a 12-foot-wide screen, seating shouldn’t extend beyond that 12-foot field of view to ensure everyone is sitting within the screen image.

Conforming a straight row of theater chairs into one that curves can remedy this situation. Manufacturers can produce a pie-shaped arm “radius” between each chair to create an arced row of seats. Wolper adds that a smaller chair width can help squeeze more chairs into the theater itself. “Most airline coach seats are 18 inches wide, and most theater chairs are standard at 24,” he says. “So it’s easy to customize the seat width, especially since a 250 pound man can fit into a 22-inch seat.”

Row and Aisle Space

Installer Don Krasen, president of Krystal Clear Audio-Video in Dallas, Texas, says each row should comfortably accommodate a fully reclined chair and adequate “sidewalk” space. “A good rule of thumb is to measure the seat in its fully extended position and add at least 6 inches; provide aisle space that’s 2 feet wide if the theater will allow it.”

Smith prefers each theater row to be 6 feet deep (from the back side of the front-row chair to the back of the second-row chair) since his chairs measure approximately 36 inches in depth. “This gives you a foot of clearance with an extended footrest,” he says. “You don’t want a 6-foot-tall individual’s feet to crash through the chair in front of him.”

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