When designing their “green” 5,000 sq. ft. Washington, DC-area Victorian home, Matt MacPhail and his wife, Ann Lyles MacPhail, were committed to using sustainable, efficient building techniques and materials. They also agreed on one rather unorthodox requirement: a professionally designed, acoustically superlative recording studio for their thriving
ARLINGTON, VA: audio production business, News At Eleven Productions. Located 22 feet below street level in the sub-basement of the MacPhails’ home, their new facility is called Undisclosed Location Studios, a tongue-in-cheek reference to its convenient proximity to the political power centers of downtown DC and the Pentagon.
The MacPhails have been producing music and voiceovers for nearly twenty years, for clients such as IBM, Boeing, MasterCard, and Bank of the West. Having done this work in a variety of quirky, makeshift home recording spaces, the MacPhails knew their growing client base required a dedicated studio. “We had problems with sound leakage and ventilation in our old studios,” explains Matt MacPhail. “And, clients always had to step over our kids’ toys and through our messy kitchen when they came to work with us. We really wanted to do it right, and that meant bringing in an absolute pro this time around.” WSDG-Walters-Storyk Design Group kept coming up again and again in the MacPhails’ research on top-flight studios. “I had a great initial conversation with WSDG founding partner John Storyk, and even sat in on a lecture he presented to American University audio production students here in DC. When we were ready to build, we were confident WSDG would develop the best possible design.”
“We met with the MacPhails’ residential architect at the earliest design stage,” reports WSDG project engineer Matthew Ballos. “They wanted to be sure that their studio did not disturb their neighbors in any way, and that their new home would blend in with the style of the neighborhood. With these considerations in mind, we decided that putting the studio in a sub-basement was the best way to provide the acoustic isolation they wanted.”
“The 1300 sq. ft. main studios feature a spacious 245 sq. ft. control room and three isolation booths to meet the varied music, voiceover and post-production requirements for the MacPhails and their clients,” Ballos adds. “We developed a custom ceiling cloud for the control room to fine tune the ‘sweet spot’ and contribute an aesthetic finishing touch. We even built a separate entrance at the side of the house that leads directly to the studio, so clients never have to go through the residential part of their home.”
Just up the stairs from the studio is the MacPhails’ elegant home theater, which doubles as a screening room for client projects. Designed and equipped by WSDG, the theater is outfitted with a 114-inch Stewart front projection screen and a full compliment of top-flight gear. WSDG’s Judy Elliott-Brown, who designed the facility’s Systems Integration, developed sophisticated electronic connectivity between the theater and the studio’s control room. With these connections, the room goes way beyond fun movie nights with friends and neighbors; it’s also perfect for professional applications such as recording narration and ADR, and for presenting 7.1 surround mixes to clients.
The dual-use theme continues in the MacPhails’ living room. This acoustically treated
space features a Steinway Model O grand piano, a 22-foot cathedral ceiling, and a NanaWall® sliding glass partition to provide isolation from the adjacent kitchen. “The acoustics are amazing,” says Ann Lyles MacPhail. “This is where we entertain friends, and the piano is a big part of that. But the opportunity to record in here was too good to pass up.” So WSDG installed a full complement of microphone, line-level and data tie lines to the main studio. This allows the MacPhails to use the space as both a living room and a live room.
“Now, we can blend the personal and professional sides of our home, but only when we really want to,” says Ann MacPhail. “Our neighbors are always surprised when we show them the theater and the studio, because no sound leaks in or out, and the recording spaces are so well hidden in the design of the house. You’d never know we have such a high-end studio beneath our quiet Victorian home, and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
“WSDG created an extraordinary studio for us,” Matt MacPhail concludes. “The sound, the look and the feel of our new studio far exceed our initial hopes. Having rooms like these not only puts our clients at ease; it enhances our professionalism and inspires our creativity.”
Photo: Undisclosed Location Studio Control Room view towards rea
WSDG, a media facility design and consulting firm has collaborated on over 3500 audio /video facilities worldwide. Credits include Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios (1969); NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Center and, Le Poisson Rouge; broadcast facilities for The Food Network, ESPN, and WNET; major education complexes for NYU, The Art Institutes and Berklee College of Music, Valencia and Boston (2015 TEC winner); and media rooms for such corporate clients as Hoffman La Roche, Cemex, and Sony. Studio projects include NYC’s Jungle City Studios for award winning engineer, Ann Mincieli, Green Day (CA), Jay-Z (NY), film composers Carter Burwell (NY), A.R. Rahman (India), Aerosmith (Boston), Bruce Springsteen (NJ), Alicia Keys (NY), and Paul Epworth’s The Church Studios (London).WSDG principals John Storyk, Beth Walters, Sergio Molho, Silvia Molho, Renato Cipriano, and Dirk Noy lecture frequently at universities and industry events, and contribute regularly to industry publications. WSDG has collaborated with such noted architects as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Phillipe Stark. WSDG is a ten-time winner of the NAMM TEC Award for outstanding achievement in Acoustics/Facility Design. The firm maintains offices in New York, Miami, Buenos Aires (Argentina), Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and Basel (Switzerland) with representatives in Barcelona (Spain), Moscow, Guangzhou (China), Florence (Italy), Mexico City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.