How to design the perfect small home theater setup with flexible media room seating, storage, lighting, and decor for a cozy space to spend family time.
Even though I say this every time we finish a room makeover, I’m not even exaggerating that the playroom to media room conversion is by far our favorite project we’ve EVER done!
Can you even believe this before and after that Robert and I managed to complete in 8 weeks?
How to Plan the Perfect DIY Home Theater Room and Study Space
I HIGHLY recommend using a room makeover tracker like my Room Makeover Roadmap Spreadsheet. I used it to plan every single detail of this media room.
Using my spreadsheet system allowed us to stay within a reasonable budget, keep track of project communication, set goals, create a vision, and organize measurements, sources, tasks, and deadlines.
Our girls are no longer in the toddler phase and were spending most of their time playing in their rooms instead of the playroom these days. We knew it was time to transition this space into more of a family room.
A dedicated media room was a great way to tackle a list of needs: entertainment for movie nights and gaming sessions, much-needed storage, desks for homework, a table for family game nights, and a central place to stream music throughout the house.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a bottomless budget to design a stylish and functional media room.
I’ve rounded up some media room ideas on a budget for key elements such as built-in shelves, storage, a hidden movie screen, multifunctional furniture, tables, seating, art, dark paint, lighting, and cozy home decor.
Hidden Motorized Movie Screen
If you are limited on space, installing a hidden motorized movie screen is a great solution to keep the normal flow and function in a room.
Robert built a box connecting two built-in IKEA bookcases above our double French doors to house our projector screen that drops down from the ceiling with just a push of a button. (Don’t worry. We have a second doorway into this room so we aren’t trapped when the screen is down.)
The 84″ screen size fit exactly over our double French doors.
Affordable options are available, and the motorized feature adds a little bit of luxury. You can even pair it with blackout curtains for an authentic cinema experience without breaking the bank. But since we usually only watch big screen movies at night, we chose to keep our windows bare.
We hoped to turn our French doors into pocket doors, but with solid brick hidden within that back wall, it just wasn’t feasible. The silver lining was it saved our budget quite a bit by leaving the French doors as regular swinging doors so that we could spend on other features in the room.
DIY Built In Shelves with IKEA Billy Bookcases
This was our fifth time making built in shelving using IKEA Billy bookcases. It’s a great budget-friendly way to add storage that looks custom.
These shelves not only provide ample storage for DVDs, gaming consoles, movie projector, surround sound system speakers, books, vinyl albums, Blu ray players, and media accessories but also serve as an opportunity to display decorative items.
We tucked away some of our family’s favorite keepsakes on the shelves:
- Wood carving sculptures made by Robert’s dad
- An Eiffel tower figurine brought back from Paris travels by my grandparents
- A crystal bowl from Sweden my grandmother treasured
I kept the items we displayed as personal as possible. Everything tells a story in here.
Budget DIY Tip: DIY Built In Bookshelves Using the IKEA Billy Bookcase Hack
We used the upper cabinets of the built-in shelves mostly for electronics we don’t need to access as often, along with a sound bar, gaming consoles, and the projector opposite from the motorized screen.
The glass front portions of the cabinets using IKEA OXBERG doors worked well for storing books. And we placed these $5 storage bins on the lower shelves of the cabinets for our kids to stow away some of their toys.
Look for dual-purpose furniture with hidden storage compartments to keep your media room organized.
We stowed ottomans with hidden storage under the coffee table for storing toys or blankets. By keeping clutter out of sight, you can maintain a sleek and streamlined look.
Budget DIY Tip: Use this DIY display book board game hack to make your own board game cases that look like vintage books!
Moody Dark Paint
Dark paint colors can enhance the cinematic atmosphere of a media room. Choose deep shades like navy, charcoal, or burgundy to create a cozy and immersive environment.
We used Sherwin Williams Cascades in satin sheen that appears to shift from navy blue to teal to hunter green and even black depending on the light in the room. It’s a chameleon color that is beautiful in all kinds of light.
Dark colors help reduce glare on screens, enhancing the overall viewing experience.
Designer Tip: Best Navy Blue Paint Colors Recommended By Designers
Cozy Home Decor
To soften the dark paint color, introduce decor accents with lots of texture. We chose to keep the Romabio lime washed brick I added years ago around our old fireplace to pop against the deep wall color. Brass accents added a layer of warmth and a sense of history.
Soft furnishings like blankets and throw pillows add a cozy touch. The more materials you layer into a room, the more depth the space will have.
Ways to add cozy texture in home accents:
- Concrete bust planter
- Rattan tray
- Brass mirror
- Marble chess board
- Artificial succulent plants
Look for options in complementary colors and textures to enhance the comfort and warmth of the space. Don’t forget to keep an eye out at thrift stores where you can score all kinds of unique pieces.
Budget Decorating Tip: 30 Home Decor Items You Should Always Buy While Thrift Shopping
DIY Gallery Wall Art
For times when the kids would rather watch a show on a regular TV screen instead of the big movie projector, we decided to hang a Frame TV above their desks.
Having a TV screen here also comes in handy when we need to connect a laptop to it if the kids are working on a school project. (I always need a large screen when editing photos.) If you don’t have a Frame TV, you can stream art from this Vintage Art YouTube channel.
Designer Tip: How to Hang a Gallery Wall Perfectly Every Time
Paint Thrifted Frames
Designer Tip: Mistakes Most People Make When Hanging Picture Frames
Use Public Domain Archives for Free Art
Create a gallery wall with framed posters, movie ticket stubs, or your own artwork. You can even find vintage art for free online on public domain archives.
Budget DIY Tip: The Secret to Find Free Printable Wall Art Online
Shop Art Secondhand
Don’t forget to shop secondhand; I found this vintage sketch of Biltmore Estate secondhand on Mercari. It’s where Robert and I had our honeymoon, so it’s extra special to have it hanging on our wall.
The rest of the art I chose have a lot of symbolic meanings to our family: sheep in honor of our surname’s meaning and a bird in honor of my and Robert’s bird-themed wedding.
Desk Space Built with IKEA Kitchen Cabinets
To create a built-in desk where our kids can do homework or school projects, we used IKEA SEKTION base cabinets with drawers and an IKEA BARKABODA countertop. It was so much cheaper than building a custom desk, and now we can utilize IKEA drawer organizers that fit the desk to store art supplies as well.
Especially in a room with dark paint, having multiple light sources is very helpful. In addition to an overhead light and/or recessed lights, opt for table lamps and wall sconces placed evenly around the perimeter of the room.
How to Turn Regular Light Fixtures Into Smart Lighting
We linked all of our light fixtures to our phones using a Lutron Caseta kit so the entire room is filled with voice-activated smart lighting on a dimmer. This setup provided us with customizable lighting options for different moods, depending on what activities we’re doing in the space.
We looked into every recliner sofa out there some most were either not our style or way over budget. (I love the look of the Homebody, but paying over $5,000 for a two-seater recliner sofa seemed impractical.)
Less Expensive Recliner Sofa Option
I found this modular power reclining sofa for under $1,800 that we are totally happy with so far. It looks very similar to this luxury version power reclining sofa from Arhaus for $4,200 less! Plus, our cheaper version took less than 4 weeks to arrive, which is unheard of when ordering a sofa.
Using chairs that swivel was the best solution for this living space that benefits from multiple seating configurations. When watching a movie on the projector, these swivel chairs can spin to face the drop-down movie screen. (The storage ottomans are perfect for propping up our feet while sitting in the chairs too.)
When watching a show on the TV hanging on the wall, they can swivel around to face the desk. And for conversation or game night settings, the chairs can face the sofa. Plus, they’re so comfortable and hug our backs perfectly.
You can also consider seating options like bean bags, floor cushions, or second-hand couches can create a cozy atmosphere without breaking the bank. Mix and match seating styles for a laid-back, eclectic vibe.
Instead of splurging on expensive tables, I found designer look-alike tables for less that didn’t sacrifice the style. These wood cocktail tables were just $37 each. And this burl wood coffee table was half the price of the designer version.
As makeshift tables to use next to the swivel chairs, the tops of these storage ottomans flip over to become side tables too.
Admittedly, the Rebel Walls Spruce Forest wallpaper we used on the ceiling was a splurge. But it added such a gorgeous effect to our 8 foot ceilings. Having low ceilings has always bothered me, but this wallpaper makes the space feel extra cozy and whimsical.
We accentuated the wallpaper by putting our DIY sunburst light fixture back up. It looks so dramatic and was a great homemade option to the designer version sunburst fixture.
Since this is a movie theater room after all, we knew our family would probably spill drinks and snacks all over the floor. So we opted for this washable Ruggable rug that we can easily clean as needed in the washing machine. Although, I’ve found they spot clean very easily too.
This is the third Ruggable we have owned over the years.
Related: You can see our unbiased brutally honest Ruggable rug review here, if you’ve ever been curious about them.
Before and After DIY Theater Room
I can’t believe the difference in this space now! This media room is definitely the perfect spot to hibernate in the coming months.
You better believe we’ll be watching all of the entire Harry Potter series beginning to end in the movie room starting now. 😉
Media Room Sources
You can find all of the furniture, paint colors, and decorating sources we used below. Whether you need diy theater room ideas or media room sources, many of these can apply to both setups.
More DIY Home Theater Ideas
- Top 10 Best Reclining Sofas With Modern Style
- How to Set Up a Backyard Movie Night on a Budget
- Budget DIY Movie Screen
- 100 Best Movies to Watch for a Movie Night
Frequently Asked Questions
Our media room is approximately 18ft x 13ft with 8ft high ceilings.
Regular drywall works well for home theater walls as it absorbs sound better than concrete or concrete blocks. We removed the 1960s vinyl paneling and replaced them with drywall partly for this reason so that the media room would have high quality sound.
A home theater room is a space dedicated completely to movie watching and entertainment. A media room is multipurpose by serving a variety of functions like a living room, game room, home office, and library all in one.