Saturday, November 22, 2003

Basements make ... Room for Fun

Game tables, home theaters allow families to get away without leaving house

By Cheryl Sherry
Gannett News Service

It's all about games for 3-year-old Kendall Haen. But nary a tear has to fall while she waits her turn when friends come to play in her entertainment room. There's always something bigger, better and brighter that catches the little girl's eye.

Those awesome options include blast-from-the-past video arcade games, air hockey and an inflatable bouncing toy. It's no wonder all the kids want to play at Kendall's house. Their parents want their kids to play there, too, almost as much as they want to play themselves.

The game room is part of Lance and Gina Haen's lower level, which has a billiards table, gym, sauna, bar and home theater. Why go anywhere else?

Cal Spas calls it an easy getaway. The California-based company sells spas, saunas, grills, billiard tables and accessories.

"Imagine it," the company writes in its catalog. "Only a few steps away you'll find that there really is no place like home, especially now that you've created your own personal (home) resort. Treat yourself to the four R's of good living - relief, relaxation, recreation and refreshment."

The centerpiece of any game room since man put plywood to basement walls has been the pool table. According to the Billiard Congress of America, pool table sales indicate more pool is played in the home than in taverns or billiard rooms.

Most families who come to Pool Tables Plus in Appleton, Wis., have fond memories of their parents' pool tables and want to give that to their children.

"They want something that will keep them at home," says owner Dan Leanna. "And sure enough, you get a pool table and you'll know where your kids are. And the rest of the neighborhood will be downstairs playing pool, too."

Another entertainment option experiencing tremendous growth is the game table. Its popularity can be traced to nesting, bigger houses and baby boomers. Designers not only are dedicating entire rooms for everything from pool to poker, they also are using the tables to fill awkward spaces, say, on second-floor landings.

Michelle Lamb, senior editor of the Trend Curve newsletter, looks at game tables as a close relative to home theaters in that the entertainment is found while you sit.

Table tennis, just-for-fun slot machines, foosball, electronic darts and air hockey - these are some of the games motivating people to make room.

For Lance Haen the game comes with a joystick.

"I've always liked (arcade games) since I was a kid. But video games today are pretty violent. ... The video games like Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Pole Position were how I grew up and I loved playing them. Even when some of my friends come over today that are my age, 30 and older, they love it. It is kind of like reliving a little bit of our childhood."

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