So I assume you heard the Concerta F12? They are a boxy looking speaker compared to the new PSB Imagine line, but its performance will be very hard to beat at its price. See Kal's review in Sterophile if you haven't already -- impressive.
You have a huge volume to fill so I tend to agree with your friend's comment. However, I read that there is not much information/energy in the surround channels of many films so floorstanding speakers would not be necessary. It might be a completely different story with a multichannel music system. I don't know. Kal could comment.
The problem with auditioning speakers in different rooms is, well, the rooms! Even in the same room, just having the speakers in different locations by a foot can make a difference. Heck, shifting in your chair can make a difference.
Separates have a financial advantage over receivers in that you can buy the amplifier now and forget about it. The amps will work fine regardless of source technology changes. Replace the pre/pro as technology dictates.
I've become a fan of Integra based on my use of the DTC-9.8 pre/pro. As far as amps go, I like ATI AT2000
balanced amps. They're not pretty, but they are very well made, sound good, won't break the bank, you can buy only the channels you need and can add additional channels later if necessary.