Rue de Merveille

The setting is a French village street circa the early 1900s. The mood is serene, the ambiance enchanting and full of subtle character. 

Shadows fall around pools of light which preface several chic storefronts. 

The rugged stone street winds quaintly past curtained shop windows, floral displays and original posters from bygone eras. 

Water trickles from a wall-mounted stone fountain and nearby, a kiosk offers a variety of timeworn visitors’ pamphlets to passersby. One pamphlet touts the delights of Pyrennes while another beckons tourists to Lourdes. 

Further down the street and just beyond a slight bend, a spacious courtyard awaits those who wish to partake in a little social time. 

Vibrant hues color the courtyard’s twilight skies where sunset golds, reds and blues eventually fade away into deep indigo obscurity. 

Narrow wooden doors and aged plaster walls frame the courtyard with interesting textures which suggest layers upon layers of year–or perhaps decades– gone by.

While the aforementioned could easily depict an
evening vignette straight out of a timelessly elegant
French yesteryear, it is, in fact, a scene from here and now. 

Tucked away in a glorious estate in a prestigious and blissfully private gated community in Overland Park, this street serves as the exceptional entrance to a one-of-a-kind themed home theatre.

Designed to encourage life as usual to fade away, this astounding recreational escape captures the imagination.

“When you watch television in your home, you are still surrounded by your day-to-day events,” explains James Potter, créateur fantastique of this high-end cinematic marvel. “You are unable to completely leave all the stress and angst that the day has created. But when you enter a themed theatre, you are, in effect, transported to another place.”

Indeed, it is impossible to escape feeling utterly swept away while strolling down this solitary street.

Which is exactly the response Potter intended.

How this theatre came to be is a story punctuated by creative vision, phenomenal teamwork and unending attention to historic detailing that makes all the difference…in this world.

Small details = big impact

While this street and theatre are immediately alluring upon first glance, it is the masterful details that may not be so readily recognized that give this sensational space its magic.

“The real character of a themed theatre stems from the details that a person may not consciously notice,” explains Potter. 

To that end, this meticulous designer points out how the colors and artistic elements have been utilized to purposely create specific yet subtle focal points.

“The first impression is the most important factor in a themed theatre’s visual impact,” says Potter. “That impression is then complemented by attention to details.”

Details, which in this case, include three to four different multi-layered coats of paint to simulate years of maintenance; allowing the paint to build up in some areas more than others; lighter buildings in the foreground and darker buildings in the background to create a sense of greater depth; posters which are original artworks rather than purchased; and products and companies depicted on posters which correlate with the time period of the village street.

All of which make up the convincing backdrop for the even more convincing “props,” if you will.

Without a doubt, the brochures and magazines that dress the central kiosk are some of the most intriguing elements.

They may be small, but they pack an authentic punch with their faded patina and promotional English and French narratives on Calvados Seaside Resorts, French railways, and the cities of Vichy and Normande, among others.

In addition, the magazine “Gazette Du Bon Ton,” which was once considered the premier source in French fashion, adds a unique flair to the newsstand.

Without a doubt, this scenic street seems to recreate a little sliver of a past that was, perhaps, one of the most idyllic in history.

World War I had just ended and the time period was one full of hope and anticipation. As one of the most exciting and creative time periods in history, it was a natural fit for the setting of this themed street and cinema.

Potter explains that the homeowner was initially inspired by postcards done by an artist who specializes in street scenes from the turn of the last century.

That inspiration served as the design catalyst for this cinema which pairs the magic of yesterday with cutting-edge technology of today.

The miniature shops were created to be keepers of collections the homeowners have acquired over the years.

The boutiques display costume jewelry, sports memorabilia, vinyl records and videos, and a doll collection. There is also an electronics repair shop complete with an antiquated door, dusty vintage blinds and all the little imperfections that a turn-of-the-century repair shop might have had. An eclectic little shop simply called “Nana’s” rounds out the handful of whimsical shops.

Potter says that the couple thought the shops would provide an unusual way to show their collections.

“They felt instead of keeping the collections stored where no one could see them, why not come up with a unique way to display them?” says Potter 

When initially discussing ways to showcase the collections as well as create a home theatre, the two elements eventually merged into one cohesive thought.

“The idea was to create a street that you walk down to go to the theater and on the way, it would be possible to view the couple’s beautiful and unique collections,” says Potter.

Quality collaboration

Potter is the first to say that a project of this size and scope could not be possible without the seamless integration of a variety of talented industry professionals.

Among those collaborators were Nick Hampson and Steve Russell, electricians from Lenexa-based Teague Electric who helped create the essential lighting effects.

“Lighting is key to creating mood,” explains Potter. “If not done properly and with careful consideration, the total effect is greatly reduced — if not completely lost. Nick and Steve understood immediately what my vision for the lighting was.”

Israel Winn, owner of Signature Finish in Kansas City, Kan., was another person instrumental in this themed cinema’s success.

“Israel studied at the Safra School of Italian Plaster in San Diego and brought his expertise and passion to the project,” says Potter. “He created amazing stone and marble effects which greatly enhanced the overall effect of the theatre itself.”

Others who embraced the creative vision for this theatre included trim carpenter Larry Day and audio/visual pro Larry Lawyer of Audio Advice in Tulsa, Okla.

“All the technical professionals brought the same dedication to what I was doing,” says Potter. “They did not see this as a job but as a partnership, and that they were helping me to create something special.”

There is no arguing that this theatre is indeed something special. 

Clearly in a class of its own, not only is the project a work of creative genius, but it also is outfitted with some of the most advanced electronic capabilities.

For starters, the theatre’s — or courtyard’s — screen is of impressive size, as it must be for such a spacious room.

The Stewart CineCurve Firehawk Cinemascope projection screen roughly measures a cool 11 feet wide and six feet tall and takes its cue from a Cinewide High Definition Projector. 

Other products including a seven-channel surround sound processor, seven-channel surround sound amplifier, NAD speakers and subwoofer, and tactile transducers for the seating ensure that the movie-watcher not only sees a movie but feels it as well.

The technological capabilities span far beyond big-screen viewing and include the ability to watch four different items at once on a Crestron 4 Window high definition video processor, operate gaming systems and connect to home computers for multimedia purposes, all at the touch of a remote-control keypad.

The sound system can also be used on its own to play concert-quality music.

It’s a given that the homeowners host frequent gatherings with family and friends in this stunning cinematic sanctuary.

Pass the popcorn

While Potter prefers to work locally and obtain clients by word of mouth, he is gaining national attention thanks to his steadfast work ethic, passionate attention to detail and commitment to customer satisfaction. Not surprisingly, his cinematic labors of love are reported to be in the top tier of themed home theaters nationwide.

As for these homeowners, they couldn’t be more pleased with the end result.

The wife says that she was struck by how attentive Potter was to what she and her husband were hoping to accomplish with the theatre.

“He always made us an integral part of the project, thoroughly explaining why he wanted to do things the way he did,” she says. “However, he never hesitated to consider our suggestions as well and use ideas we came up with. If he felt that our idea wouldn’t work, he would explain why. He never dismissed anything we suggested offhand.”

The husband concurs and says that after extensive explanations from Potter regarding the various design principles he used, it was only then that he fully appreciated what Potter had accomplished and why when he entered the street, he had a sense that it was, in fact, real.

As for Potter and his approach to creating themed home theatres, he sums up his thoughts simply and succinctly: “For me, this isn’t just a project,” says Potter. “This is my art.”

For more information on Jim Potter, visit http://jpthemedtheaters.com or call (816) 739-4534.


words: Rachael Hedgcoth

photos: William and Jill DiMartino


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