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Home theater seating layout: 5 key design and placement tips

The first task that should be done in any home theater design is choosing the number and type of seats. That’s probably surprising to most enthusiasts as they think that equipment is the first thing that should be selected! In fact seating choices end up dictating a lot of other things including room dimensions, acoustic treatment and subwoofer / speaker type and placement.

There are two ways to go about designing seating: from the “outside in” or from the “inside out”.

 

1. Seating Placement Approach

Outside In

For rooms with fixed dimensions (such as our demo room which was a remodel of an existing space) the approach to use is “outside in”. This means that you start with the room size and use this to determine the maximum number of seats, their type and arrangement into rows.

 

Inside Out

For rooms where there is flexibility in dimensions, such as a new home or addition, then the approach to use is “inside out”. Choose the number of seats you want and their type, arrange them into rows, and from there specify the room dimensions.

 

2. Primary vs Secondary Seats

When determining how many seats are required in your theater it is good to think about the “normal” way the theater will be used. A lot of people try to design their theaters for the extreme use cases such as the SuperBowl or once-a-year kid’s party. Most of the time the theater is only going to be used by you and your close family. In addition it is often true that you, the enthusiast reading this article, are the only person in that group who really appreciates great sound. If that is the case then design decisions can be made that will reduce overall project cost.

As an example consider if you went into the design process saying you wanted 12 seats. This number was arrived at by thinking about the maximum number of people who might be in the theater at any one time – the extreme use case. In reality you only have four in your family and 95% of the time it is just the family in there. A better approach, therefore, than trying to design for 12 good seats, would be to design for 4 good seats. Maybe you end up with 8 recliners and a bar area or maybe just one row of 4 recliners and some large bean bags or a couple of couches for the children’s parties. Consider your options and design wisely!

 

3. Performance Related Seating Placement Considerations

There are a number of performance related design principles that must to considered when laying out home theater seating:

  • Viewing angles should be between 36 and 50 degrees for the display to fill in a viewer’s field of vision. These angles are derived from commercial cinema best practices and are explained more in this blog article.
  • All seats should have a clear view of the screen. Risers – a term for a raised seating platform – are nearly always necessary to bring the eye’s of people in rows two and three above the heads of those in row one and two.
  • The bass response for every listener should be similar. Bass response typically changes rapidly throughout a room due to the influence of room modes. The design process to ensure all seats have a similar bass response is complex and requires consideration of the spatial distribution of room mode peaks and nulls as well as the influence of speaker and subwoofer placement.
  • Listener’s heads should be >4ft away from surround speakers. We want to ensure that the surround speakers are not localized for enveloping sounds. This means that the sound pressure level from the surround speakers should not be significantly louder than the main screen channels. In addition speakers are generally not designed to be listened to nearfield and only give their flattest frequency response in the farfield.
  • Listener’s heads should be >4ft away from the back wall. Our opinion is that seats that are against the back wall often suffer from a substantial bass boost and poor envelopment as no reflected sounds are arriving at the ear from the back of the room.

Most of these requirements are simple enough that a DIY’er with a CAD drawing package and some time can can design for them. Others such as ensuring consistent seat-to-seat bass response require in depth knowledge of acoustics and some specialized modeling programs.

Having read and understood these requirements you will be ahead of the majority of DIY’ers whose finished home theaters’ poor seating arrangement and sub-par sound quality bear testament to the mistakes made during the layout process!

 

4. Practical Seating Placement Considerations

In addition to performance relatd considerations there are also practical considerations to ensure the space is usable:

  • Leave 30″+ for walkways  so that people can easily enter and exit the theater
  • Leave 20″+ between seats  at all times, even with recliners in the reclined position!

 

5. Flexing Seating Type In Order To Meet Design Requirements

There are many types of seats that can usefully be deployed in a home theater. The most obvious, and the one that takes the most space, is the recliner. Other types are stadium seats, like those found in a commercial cinema, bar seats and couches. Careful choice of seating type, number and placement can be used to ensure that the home theater meets the requirements outlined above.

 

 

Home Theater Recliners

Home theater recliners take up a lot of space both width and lengthways. Our favorite recliner manufacturer is Fortress who make supremely comfortable and supportive seats in California. Recliners are typically made of leather and come with motorized recline features.

Theater recliners vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer. As a guideline, however, we can use the following dimensions: 34″ wide including side arms, 38″ deep in their upright position and 67″ deep in their full recline position. Consider therefore that a row of four theater recliners with common arms would be 123″ across (over 10ft). Allowing a 30″ of walkway on either side of the seats gets you to 183″ (or 15.25ft) for minimum room width. Length wise we need to make allowance for walkway in between rows when seats are fully reclined. If we allow 18″ between rows then front to back two rows of seats occupies 152″ (12.7ft).

Because of their size sometimes a room is simply not large enough to fit the number of seats required and in this case other solutions may be more appropriate.

 

 

Stadium Seating

Stadium seats are the type found in commercial cinemas. These seats take up less space than a traditional recliner. Some seats have ‘rocker’ functionality which is a partial recline. As a guideline a stadium seat dimensions can be considered as 26″ wide and 31″ deep. The main advantage of stadium seating over recliners is therefore in seating density – more rows can be fit in less space. Two rows of stadium style seats would fit into a depth of 80″ (6.7ft), which is almost half the depth of two rows of recliners!

 

 

Bar Seating

Bar seating is typically implemented in a home theater exactly as you might find it in a bar setting. There is a shallow depth bar behind the last row of recliners with a number of high bar stools with footrests used to provide seating. It provides a relatively low cost, space efficient way of fitting a large number of people in your theater for the few times a year when you are having a party or other event.

 

Couches

Couches are great ways to make a home theater more informal than it is with the rows of classical recliners. They are also a good space saver, primarily because of the number of people that can be fit across a couch. Most couches do not have recliner functions so they also take up less depth. Some manufacturers like Fortress make fixed, non-recline-able versions of their home theater seats which can be mixed in with recliners without creating a visually jarring effect.

66 thoughts on “Home theater seating layout: 5 key design and placement tips”

    1. Hi Atul

      Looks like you are in India? Thanks for reading. Not sure what choices are available where you are, HT recliners tend to be made locally due to shipping size and weight. Some of the main manufacturers in North America are Fortress, Salamander, Palliser, Berkline.

      Thanks,

      Nyal

      1. HI NYAL.

        I AM DR VIKAS BANSAL FROM INDIA . MY ROOM SIZE FOR MEDIA ROOM IS 14 FT(W) X 18 FT(L). I WANT TO KNOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO PUT TWO ROWS OF 4 SEATS EACH .
        ACTUALLY I CAN CHANGE THE DIMENSIONS OF ROOM AS HOUSE IS GOING TO GET START CONSTRUCTED BY LAST WEEK OF APRIL THIS YEAR.
        PLS SUGGEST ME BETTER IDEA.

        1. Ideally: 2 or 3ft for baffle / screen wall, 9 to 12ft to first row, 6.5 to 7ft between rows, 3 to 4ft behind second row.

  1. Please suggest options for media room seating layout for 4-6 people, if the entry door is on the back wall (opposite to the theater screen).
    Room size – 15ft x 25ft

    1. You can fit two rows of seats in that length room…though the second row will have very limited legroom. Generally you can plan on a theater recliner row taking 7ft. You could do commercial style theater seats for the second row, or just a couch. You can also save length in the room by having the door open out of the theater and by keeping the front wall where you would hide speakers / subs, etc as shallow as possible.

  2. Hey !

    I’m currently working on my own home movie theater, and it’s actually a wooden cabin in my garden that I’ll be building on my own.
    I’m an architect and working on the design, and was wondering if there was any kind of specific criteria on :
    1- how far should the closest seats to screen be?
    2- and how high should the screen minimum be from the floor?

    Thanks a lot for providing this site for us to ask questions !
    And thanks in advance!

    Joe.

    1. Hi Joe

      Thanks for reading.

      Distance from seats to screen is dependent on what lateral viewing angle you want to design around. See this blog article on home theater viewing angles for more.

      If you have a lot of flexibility I’d generally start the front row at 10-12ft.

      The screen height issue is also covered in the article I linked to.

      Good luck!

      Nyal

      1. Hey Nyal,

        Thanks a lot for your help !

        Even the link helped me a lot.

        I’m glad I’ve found this website, hopefully will send you picture when my cabin is done !

        Thanks again!

        Joe

  3. I have just put a 135″ screen in a room that is 14′ wide and 19′ deep with the doors opening in – I have been thinking about changing the doors to open out to allow more space. My problem is I want ot have 2 rows of seats if possible without going to a smaller screen – the projector is about 14 feet from the screen.

    Any ideas on how I can put 2 rows of seats in ideally reclining with the front seating still not being to close to the screen?

    Thanks,
    Keller

    1. Hi Keller

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Likely as you’ve discovered, there’s no way around the laws of physics! You may need a smaller screen so that you can put the first row 9-10′ from the screen. At that viewing distance 110″ or so is normally plenty wide.

      Nyal

      1. Nyal,

        Thanks for your reply and the confirmation –

        I guess as long as my seat is at the correct distance the other folks can fend for themselves….

        Thamks again !

      2. I’m kind of in the same boat. I have a 20′ deep and 14.5′ wide room and would _like_ 2 rows of seating. I read in one of your other articles (http://www.acousticfrontiers.com/three-common-home-theater-layout-mistakes-even-pros-make/) that you need 4′ of space from any wall. Following that guideline the back row would start at 16′. Since it uses 85″ (67″ reclined + 18″ walkway), that would put my front row at 9′. So I’m guessing the 110″ is also the right size for my room? Am I on the right track on how to think about this?

        My question really is how hard and fast is that 4′ from wall rule? Using the Fortress seat as an example, I would only be fitting 2 seats in a row!

        Thanks in advance!

        1. 4′ is optimal….at 3′ you start needing very heavy absorption to properly deal with the reflection from the rear wall (our ear/brain can reliably separate direct sound from reflections at a delay of about 7-8ms)

          110″ wide sounds a little big for 9′ seating distance, but there’s a pretty wide range of lateral viewing angles that work. Anywhere from 33-48 degrees is safe, over 48 some people have issues with tracking on screen objects during fast pans and can result in motion sickness or fatigue.

  4. Thank you for this! The couches can be so expensive but are definitely the best for home theatre seating. We are currently having out basement refurbished and turned in to a home theatre. I will send you a photo when it is done, thanks Nyal!

  5. Your blogs and information are very informative and helpful!! Many thanks!
    I’m working on a home theater and the room is 25′ 4″ x 17′ 9″
    We had the carpenters put the door to the room on one side for more seating together. We would like to get 3 rows reclining, do you have any suggestions- as following the guidelines I come up with 2 rows and only 6″ to spare… and I think I’m doing something incorrectly, as for such a big room to only get two rows seems odd. Thanks very much!

    1. I do not think you’ll be able to fit 3 reclining rows in that length room. You need 6.5′ minimum from the same point on one row to the same point on the next (e.g. back of chair to back of chair).

  6. We are designing our home theatre and have a 17′ x 17′ space to use. We are wanting to do 2 rows of 5 seats. Is this possible with this size of room?

  7. Hi I have two rows of seating planned. I have one recliner floor level for now. And I have a couch. I ordered a 36″ riser stage and am wondering what furniture piece to keep in the front row the recliner or a sofa with an ottoman as a leg rest.

    The recliner is slightly higher in height compared to the sofa.

    The screen is 120″ and is 2-3 feet off the floor. The only wiggle room is 5-5-6inches if I move the screen higher

    https://goo.gl/photos/NFSyCEko8bu7xG4c6

    The viewing angle right now I as shown in pic. Any insight will be helpful. Will follow your advice and set up accordingly

  8. Hi, I want to have 3 rows of recliners with 4 in each row. My room dimensions are 27 ft 6 inches by 14ft. My screen is 88 inches. I’m of the view that I can accomplish this. What do you think? Thank you.

    1. Recliners you should allow minimum 6.5′ between same point on each row, so three rows I advise 19.5′. That allows 7′ from first row to screen. It’s possible using in-wall speakers/subs and a small screen that you’ll find a way to make it work. Personally though, if I were designing a room for a client, with that length I’d do two reclining rows or two reclining plus bar seating.

  9. Great info here, kudos for sharing!
    Im planning a home theater in my basement room 10’1″(w) x 33’4″ (l) x 7’2″(h). As you can imagine, the height and the width are severe limiting factors. I am planning the following; would appreciate your opinion and or suggestions-
    Screen- 110″(diagonal)
    Seating -2 rows(3rd row as a bar if possible)
    Row1 – 2 seat recliners(around 11′ from screen)
    Row 2 – 3seat couch (15′ from screen)- This row will be on a platform 7″ high
    Row3 – Optionally a bar behind the couch to seat 3 people
    What do see as being possible?

    1. I think your idea will work, if you put the screen high up on the front wall and keep it small (which it seems you are planning on doing). That way you can use a small riser to keep as much head height as possible. Another trick you can use is just to build a platform under the seats, rather than a riser that takes up whole width of room, that way you keep head height in the aisles.

  10. i am planning a large home theater for 25 people with recliner seating.
    1) how big should it be
    2) what should be the screen size
    3) how far from the screen should the first row be and last row too?

    1. Hi Mani

      That’s a large theater with a lot of open questions! I’d suggest a first seating row at 12ft from screen, with minimum 7′ between rows if you are planning on using theater recliners. Aim for 15″ between levels on the riser. Make sure everyone can see the screen bottom, and then make the screen as big as you want it. How big depends on which row you want as the primary seating row. You size the screen based on desired lateral viewing angle – see this blog for more. Once you have seats and screen laid out then you add width and depth for walkways…minimum 3′, preferably 4′.

      If you need professional assistance, we offer a home theater layout service that may be of interest.

      Good luck!

      Nyal

  11. Great article. I’m designing a media room. The width is 15 ft and the length is 18. My issue is that the entrance to the room is double doors in the middle. They do open out but I’m fearful of having two rows because of people entering the room and walking into the back row. The screen is about 106 inches diagonal. Any suggestions would be great.

    1. It’s going to be very tough fitting two rows in a room like that, unless you do something like a single seating row + bar, or move the door…

    2. Morning all, you give amazing advise. So;I too am building a home theater that is on the small side at 9′ wide × 22’long × 7’high with a screen that is 109.5 diagonal. I’d like to have 2 rows what do you think???

      1. It’s possible. I think you’d want to do the first row as seats and the second row as bar stools. You don’t have enough height to put in a riser tall enough to allow two seated rows a good view of the screen, unless you mount the screen high up on the front wall, which will make the screen too high (neck ache) for the front row.

  12. Hey Nyal,
    Love your advice! I am looking to build a theater in my basement with:
    120 inch screen
    2 rows of 4 recliner seats with a 7 inch riser
    Bar in the back
    I was wondering, 1, if there was enough for the two rows with the bar, 2, if the riser would fit in the room even with the low ceilings, and three, if 120 is the correct size screen for the space I have (if not what is).
    The dimensions are:
    15′ wide x 20′ long x 7’6″ high
    Thanks,
    Griffin

    1. I’d suggest drawing up your room “to scale” either with a CAD program or graph paper. Do both a plan and elevation drawing.

      Two reclining rows will be a tight fit in a 20′ room, and allow no room for a bar. Typically plan on minimum 6.5′ better 7′ from row to row (e.g. seatback row one to seatback row two).

      The problem with low ceilings is you are limited on riser height, and the problem with low risers is it means you have to keep the screen small, use a 2.35:1 aspect ratio over a 16:9 screen, and put the screen higher than optimal for the front row.

  13. I have a room that is 23′ length, 15′ 9″ wide and with a 9′ ceiling. I would like to have 1st row with 3 recliners, 2nd row 4 recliners and bar behind second row of recliners. Is this layout doable?

    1. It’s a little on the short side, but do-able. Normally you need 6.5′ minimum row-to-row spacing. So say 2′ for false wall at front of room to hide LCR behind an acoustically transparent screen. 10′ screen to first row. 7′ first row to second row. That leaves you 4′ at rear for bar.

  14. I have a room that is 17.5 in length and 13.5 wide. We want to put 2 rows with 3 theater seats on each row in the room with the back row on a riser. We currently have a 90in TV, but want to put in a projector. Should this work out? Three chairs linked together are 101″ wide and are 140″ reclined total for both rows….or 70″ reclined per row. It will all fit, but is there enough space between the first row and screen?

    1. I’d suggest minimum 10′ screen to first row (heads). It’ll be a very tight fit. Unless you need all those seats for the main usage scenario of the theater, I’d just do a single row, and make it a really good one.

  15. We’re just in to the planning stages of our theatre room. I want to have 2 rows of seats (recliners) and a bar in the back. We have a 70″ tv now but may go to the 110″ screen. What should I be planning as far as the size of room, if we want say 10 foot in the bar/back area? We just started getting ideas so can build whatever we want, but don’t want to build a gymnasium.

    1. Front-to-back, here’s what you need to consider:
      1) distance for screen wall, this depends on if you are hiding speakers / subs in a false wall, are doing an acoustically transparent screen (recommended, etc)
      2) distance between screen wall and first seating row (start at 9ft and go up from there depending on screen size, the sweet spot seems to be in the 10-12 ft range)
      3) row-to-row distance (minimum 6.5ft with theater recliners, preferably 7ft)
      4) distance behind second row

  16. I will be building a new home starting this summer and plan on having a home theater built. The room will be 17’x34′ with a ceiling height of 9′, is this large enough for three rows of seats and a possible bar behind the third row? Also how high do you recommend the risers be for the second and third row?

    1. I’d suggest having a professional design done to work out all those details…but I expect you’ll have room for three rows of seats. Risers are normally 15″.

  17. Hi. . We have a small room of size 11 feet 9 by 16 feet which we want to convert to a casual media room. We are aiming for a single row of 4 recliners on a step up. For extra seating maybe throw in some bean bags. What is your opinion ? What kind of screen do we buy?

    1. Very much depends on which row you want to be the prime row. I guess with 15-20 people you are talking about 3-4 rows? If so then you would choose a row to be prime and then layout the room around it. Take a look at this article: http://www.acousticfrontiers.com/2013314viewing-angles/, pick a viewing angle and layout the room so that everyone can see the screen and there is enough room between rows and per the guidance in this blog article.

  18. Hi,

    The seating in my home theater is about 3 feet from the back wall. Do I need diffusion or absorption panels on the back wall?

    Thanks!

  19. Hi Nyal,
    We are building a new house and planning a room… right now it is 19.5×22.5. We are flexible on ceiling height. We ideally want two rows of 4 fully reclining seats (front row 2 doubles and 2nd row 2 singles and 1 double centered) with a bar row behind it. Can you advise us if this is doable, and if not what we should try and change? (may not be much flex in size) Assuming this is the size what size screen, what ceiling height and what other equipment do you recommend such as wall panels etc.? We are clueless but want it to be done right! LOL Thanks!!

    1. I advise everyone, whether “clueless” or “hardcore amateur” to consider hiring a professional home theater design consulting firm to create a set of plans to include the room layout, placement and number of subwoofers, audio/video equipment selection and acoustic treatment design. Only with a complete design in place can you guarantee good results. Whilst the process of creating a high performance HT might be considered magic or voodoo, actually it’s quite straightforward, if a little time consuming. It’s much like the process of building a house – would you start without a good set of plans?

      For you theater, 25′ would allow two seating rows comfortably. Two plus a bar will be tight.

  20. Hi Nyal,

    I have a brick wall basement with concrete ceiling that is size 16′ x 24′ x 9.5′ height which i will do my new HT room.I’m going to do 7.2.4 system with an AT screen.My questions are:

    1. Is brick wall and concrete ceiling bad for acoustic and i have to cover up with rockwool and dry board?
    2. If i want to use only one row seating,whats the best distance guide from rear wall,35% from the room length?
    3. How far is the good distance from AT screen to front wall?

    I really appreciate your help,thanks a lot..

    1. Hi Azman

      1 – yes brick and concrete is bad acoustically as it doesn’t absorb any low frequencies. You don’t necessarily have to add new gypsum board walls since you could just build membrane absorbers that would work better in the same 4″ of depth. Obviously you need to figure out how to cover those membrane absorbers, so they look ok…

      2 – I would layout out the room from a functionality perspective and then worry about managing the room modes through multiple subs, EQ and bass trapping. Those guidelines like 33% of length, etc are a good starting point if you have flexibility as they are generally the most benign areas in terms of room mode activity.

      3 – The screen wall only needs to be as deep as you need it to hide speakers and subs, whether that is 8″ or 36″. Deeper walls can also add a lot of bass trapping too.

      1. Hi Nyal,

        Thanks for the reply.

        Do you mean that i have to build membrane absorbers for the whole walls and ceiling or just a few reflection point?

  21. Hi Nyal,
    I am currently playing around with a room design – two rows of seating and following most of your guidelines, however because the room was used previously for a cinema, the front of the room has been dug out (concrete) to accommodate the front seating and screen, therefore no matter how i tweak things, the front row of seating ends up in the centre of the room which I believe is bad for bass and audio. Is there anything you suggest I look at regarding subwoofer placement or room acoustics that will help bass control and quality for these seating positions?
    Thanks

    1. With respect to a centrally located seating position front-to-back, yes this is generally bad if you only have one or two subs at the front of the room, since it is the low pressure area for the 1st axial length mode. If you have subs at the rear of the room you can effectively drive this room mode destructively. Room EQ Wizard, a free software program, has a room modeling component you can use that graphically shows you the response with different subwoofer and seat placements. I would start there, or, if you have higher quality aspirations for your space, please do get in touch with us for professional assistance with the design of your theater.

  22. Hi Nyal,

    My room is 11.7 w & 20ft length with 8ft ceiling. I have a couch and a love seat and I guess I want to build a 6 or 8′ riser. I have a LG PF1500W projector. I’m trying to decide between 100, 110, or 120 screen? What would you recommend for the space? I have the ceiling electrical box at 12ft from screen.

    Any ideas will be great. Thanks

    Would you put the couch in front or place love seat in front?

    1. Hi John

      Please see this post for information about screen viewing angles: http://www.acousticfrontiers.com/2013314viewing-angles/. There’s a lot of room for different screen sizes based on personal preference as you can see. If you haven’t already, one thing you can do is tape out the different size screens with painters tape, and then watch content such as fast panning scenes to get a feel for what screen size you prefer. When using this approach, most people find they can quickly hone in on a screen size.

      The other thing you need to consider are throw distance and image brightness – see this blog for an overview: http://www.acousticfrontiers.com/2013325projection-system-design/.

      I don’t think it matters whether couch or love seat is in front. Probably the front row will be the best row, so that’s where you would sit. Pick the seating type you like best for that row.

      Nyal

  23. I am building a new addition which will
    Be a dedicated home theater room. Dimensions are 26’ x 13’ x 9’ and would love two rows from f decline and a small bar area at the back.

    Is this possible?

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