Hollywood Homes: L.A. Moguls Add Separate Home-Theater Pavilions

Perfect Screen View
Roger Davies

The architect built two full-size models of the three-tiered seating plan to ensure that every chair offered a perfect screen view.

Architect Dennis Gibbens built a 2,700-square-foot home theater space for CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves and wife Julie Chen with 18 seats, each with a perfect view, plus a homey lounge and a bar.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Dennis Gibbens designed and built a stand-alone screening room for WME's co-CEO Ari Emanuel, little did the architect realize that the project would spawn a string of sequel home-theater clients, including WME's television chief Rick Rosen. The Emanuel theater also got the attention of CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves and his television anchor/personality wife, Julie Chen, who inquired about the designer during a visit to the talent agent's home. Soon after, the couple tapped Gibbens to design and build their own theater structure that would stand separate yet aesthetically equal to their Beverly Hills home.

Today, the completed project, a 2,700-square-foot structure that includes not only a screening room but also a lounge, a kitchen/bar area, wine room and large-scale home gym, looks like it always has been part of the property, which is anchored by a contemporary-looking Cape Cod-style main house.

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And that, says the designer, is exactly the point. "The mandate was to make it feel that this home-theater building had always been here," says Gibbens, a New Orleans-born, Santa Monica-based architect whose other clients include Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and wife Laurie, Shine America CEO Rich Ross and WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell.

"This house is traditional in feel -- it has a kind of clean, uncomplicated and comfortable elegance," says Gibbens. "This isn't your overblown house; it's all properly scaled, and it was those elegant proportions that we extended to the theater."

Consider it one of the fastest-growing trends in high-end home design in Los Angeles: stand-alone screening rooms that are just as stunning as guesthouses. The motivation? With screenings both a professional necessity and a personal passion, detached theater buildings let homeowners place a boundary between areas for entertaining and meetings and their private residences.

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In designing a second building on the Moonves/Chen property, Gibbens wanted to connect the main house with the theater building, not just by using similar materials and architectural references, but also by literally linking the two with an elegantly arcaded walkway.

"When you first see the theater, it's not identifying itself from the outside," says Gibbens. "This building feels like it could be a guesthouse. It's not screaming, 'Oh, I'm a screening room!' " That feeling continues even as you enter the structure, where a series of rooms modulate from airy and garden-inspired in the entry hall to clubby and cozy in the high-ceiling, wood-paneled lounge area. Few clues indicate that a theater lies beyond the lounge's black lacquer door dotted with inlay pearl. "That door adds some drama," says Gibbens. "I wanted to create a feeling of, 'I wonder what's behind it?' "

Unlike other rooms in the building, the screening room itself mostly is devoid of pattern and ornamentation. "These are highly technical rooms. But I didn't want all of that technology to be visible," says Gibbens, who had not one but two full-size models of the room constructed in order to adjust the seating height and pitch with laser precision. "The front seats are not just on a lower level, but the seats themselves are lower than the middle and upper seats, which are adjusted slightly higher," he says of the extra-wide chaise lounges that are placed on their tiers. "There was a lot of fine calibration of the seating."

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At 800 square feet and with a 17-foot-by-9-foot screen, the space roughly is the same size as a small commercial theater. Linen/wool textiles line the walls, chenille upholstery covers the custom-made chaise lounge seating and silk/wool carpeting pads the floor. "Acoustics are, of course, essential to this kind of construction, and everything is designed to be able to evolve with technology as it improves," Gibbens says.

But just as important to him as getting the latest in state-of-the-art home-theater technology was creating a space that would be in near-constant use. "I wanted it to be comfortable because you're going in there for entertainment and relaxation and to have a very rich and luxurious feeling. It's a specialty kind of room," says the architect. "And I wanted it to work whether the clients were watching an old-time Hollywood classic or the latest action-packed thriller."