By Marni Jameson
Two weeks ago, when DC and I agreed to host an upcoming friend raiser for our city’s philharmonic, an intimate gathering of 60 people whom we mostly hadn’t met, we huddled – while I hyperventilated – to create a punch list of home improvements we could accomplish in four weeks.
Suddenly, all those projects we planned to get to someday took on the urgency of a kitchen fire.
Or as DC put it: “Someday just became now.”
Top on DC’s list was to have the existing and outdated entertainment center in the family room modified to fit our flat-screen.
“That’s a priority?” I asked. (Why is it men always want entertainment centers when women want drapes?)
I glance at the television, which is perched on top of a toybox, which is stuck inside the cavernous hole left by the prior owner’s ginormous television. Remember those days when big screen TVs were as big as minivans? The center hole in this built-in wall unit is so big you could fit your washer and dryer inside; an idea that, given how much I like television, I rather like.
But I saw his point and wagered that if I went along with the entertainment center upgrade, I could angle for drapes, a more obvious priority that he thinks superfluous. We asked around for a good finish carpenter, and found Abe Hamzehloui, owner of Furniture Design Gallery, in Sanford, Fla., where he has been building custom entertainment centers for over 30 years. That was right around the time men’s palms evolved to seamlessly fuse with their TV remotes.
Abe came to the house, assessed the situation, and declared that the center we inherited was so old it was on the endangered list. In a minute he had made a perfectly to scale freehand sketch of how he would retrofit our center and bring it out of the world of cathode ray tube and into the world of plasma. I was impressed.
One of my favorite parts about being a journalist is getting to talk to people who have become exceptionally good at their craft. Intrigued, I visited Abe’s showroom and workshop, where he and his team custom build one entertainment center a day. I pulled up a stool and asked him some questions:
- What’s been the biggest change in the design of entertainment centers since you started building them?
Abe: Equipment today is smaller and sleeker. When I started, we had those big picture tube televisions, then LED TVs came along, then paper-thin plasma. Older systems also used to have five or six components, including a CD-player and stereo. Now you just need one cable box and a DVD player.
- How often do you retrofit centers like ours to accommodate new technology?
We get a call for this about once every three weeks.
- What does every entertainment center have to have?
Typically, an entertainment center has three levels. The lower level, or the bottom 30 to 32 inches, is for storage. We typically put cupboards and drawers there. The middle section is where we put the electronics, and the upper level is for display. As more TVs are wall mounted, however, the center’s top two sections are beginning to disappear.
- What are some nice but not necessary features?
Customers often add electric fireplaces to their centers. For those customers really adamant about not seeing their televisions when they’re not on, we install elevator lifts to raise televisions into view then lower them out of sight when not in use, or build in pocket doors to slide over the screens, or use mounted pieces of artwork to cover the screen, then, with the click of a remote, lift to reveal it.
- What are the main trends in centers today?
Clean, clean lines. Most don’t want the ornate traditional look anymore. New units are open with simple lines. Many are also white or painted a color. If I make five entertainment centers per week, two are white or painted. Fifteen years ago, everything was wood.
- What’s the biggest mistake homeowners make with their entertainment centers?
Making them out of drywall.
- What’s your favorite material?
My favorite wood is cherry because you have more color selection. I also like maple, but you can’t make it too dark. I’m also using a lot of stone and reclaimed wood. Oak is not popular because customers don’t want to see much grain anymore.
- How do you find a good entertainment center builder?
Get a good reference and be sure the company offers a warranty. Look at photos of their work and look closely at the craftsmanship. One sign of poorer craftsmanship are cabinet doors that meet unevenly or that have wide gaps between them. A sign of better workmanship are doors with only 1/8-inch or ¼ – inch between them, or low tolerance. Also don’t hire someone who specializes in kitchens to build your entertainment center, unless you want it to look like a kitchen.
- Just one more question: Can you make drapes?
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.