When 1-year-old Mason Sotelo needs a Barney fix while his mother is busy in the kitchen, he watches the purple dinosaur on the television in the kitchen. But, when he and his parents, Dan and Mary Anne, settle in to watch a movie or a Bears game, they head to their media room.
The media room, says Dan, was the couple's "No. 1 priority" when shopping for a new home in 2007. Their three-level townhouse at The Crossings at Morton Grove includes a second-floor great room, where the Sotelos entertain. But the 14-by-14-foot media room on the first floor is primarily for the family.
The Sotelos' media room has a 52-inch LCD television, room-darkening shades on the windows and an audio closet for the electronic equipment. "All the wiring is in the ceiling or in the closet, so the only things you see in the room are the TV, video games and remotes," says Dan.
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 16 percent of buyers of mid-priced new homes consider the media room/home theater (the NAHB doesn't differentiate between the two) critical, while 72 percent of buyers of upscale homes consider it critical. Both rank it more important than the exercise room, in-law suite and hobby room.
"It started in the 1980s," says the NAHB's vice president of research, Gopal Ahluwalia, of the media room/home theater trend. "The definition varies from a room with a wide-screened TV to a theater with a popcorn stand, drop-screen and built-in recliners. Now, it is a must in upscale homes, especially."
Some buyers of existing homes agree, according to statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In its most recent (2007) "Profile of Buyers' Home Feature Preferences," 21 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a home with a media room.
Buyers of 3,200- to 4,500-square-foot, single-family houses built by Chrystyn Homes in Naperville usually want the builder's second-floor, T-shaped bonus room that includes a media room, says president Bob Hudgens.
"Most buyers use it as the kids' TV room, while the parents watch TV in family room," says Hudgens. "We include CAT-5 wiring, cable, lots of electrical outlets and pre-wired surround sound. Many buyers also want built-ins for games, equipment and a mini-refrigerator."
Yuri Birg, president of Lincolnshire-based Greenview Homes, says his custom-home buyers usually choose a media room or home theater, depending on their budgets.
"The home theater usually has insulated walls, is decorated like a theater and has an sound system that's at least 7.1, which is seven speakers and one subwoofer. You push a button to dim the lights and turn on the sound and audio," says Birg. "But a media room doubles as a living area or is at least closer to the living area, in part so the parents can keep an eye on what TV shows or video games the kids are watching."
By investing in wireless equipment with remote controls, adds Birg, a media room can be as tidy as a home theater, which typically has equipment hidden in a closet.
Don Smyczynski, president of Country Club Villas LLC in Joliet, says one of his townhouse buyers transformed part of his finished basement into a media room and hid all the equipment in a small hallway he built behind the television wall.
With a little forethought, almost any room can become a media room, says designer Julea Joseph of Reinventing Space in Palos Park. Key components include a wall large enough to accommodate one of today's supersize televisions, window and lamp shades that block out light and light dimmers. Joseph recommends furnishing it with modular furniture that can be rearranged, depending on how many people are in the room. But, she says, "Try to keep accessories to a minimum and keep in mind the room's purpose -- a quiet place to watch TV."
When George and Darlene Lundin bought a condominium at the Preserve of Palatine from R. Franczak & Associates in 2008, they turned the room the builder calls the den into a media room. Enclosed on three sides and sans windows, the room is devoted to watching their 52-inch TV, which they mounted on one wall. They hired a carpenter to dress the room with molding, including trimwork that surrounds the TV so it looks built-in. Crown molding hides wires that run from the TV to a cabinet, where the Lundins store the accessories. On another wall, the couple added a bar. They furnished the room with a double recliner that faces the TV and has a built-in table between the seats.
"We're empty-nesters, so it's just us here," says George. "We have a TV in the bedroom, too, but the media room is where we sit in the evening to watch shows we've recorded."
Like granite countertops and butler's pantries, media rooms have trickled down from upscale homes to mid-priced homes, says Ahluwalia. As the number of TVs per household and the size of those TVs both grow, the TV becomes an important household feature instead of an afterthought. So, it's no wonder builders and homeowners dedicate rooms to it.