Living Rooms are for Living In

A successful home is scaled to the family it is serving, meaning that every room should get some use each day.  Gone are the McMansion days when bigger was better.  A core principal of sustainability, wise resource management, means not building more than we really need.  I’ve been to many homes that have lovely living rooms that get very little use –often only on holidays.  We’ve all seen it: the perfectly decorated parlor that the kids are not allowed in.  The real “living” happens in the family room – you know – the room with the comfortable sofas that is near the kitchen.  And the room that has the…


Now we are getting down to core of it.  It has been said of contemporary culture that “our shopping centers have become our temples”.  In our homes, the television holds an altar-like focus for most of us.  Now I admit it:  this is something I used to try and hide.  I was raised to believe that a T.V. in the living room was déclassé – something to be ashamed of.  So for years, I had a comfortable living room with a great fireplace that was abandoned each night at prime time for the den downstairs.  It took a client and friend, who came for a weekend visit, to bring me to my senses.  We had a fire going and a rented movie to watch.  The hearth beckoned – but so did the film.  My dear friend politely remarked that we really did not have to choose.  Why not move the TV to the great room?  Perhaps it was her British accent that finally gave me permission.  And I did draw the line a bit:  video games stayed downstairs on a second TV set.  My son was thrilled to have gained possession of the den, and now the living room is enjoyed daily.

I now have the TV discussion with my clients early in the planning phase.  For most people born after 1980 it is a no-brainer:  place that big screen front and center!  For the rest of us, there are built-ins and furniture pieces that can hide our vice.  But this TV thing can really pose a design challenge – what I call fighting focal points. 

Here in the Berkshires, everyone wants a fireplace, or at least a woodstove.  One of life’s true pleasures is a warm fire in winter. Having been through many ice storms and days/weeks without power, there is also a practical element to installing this primal heat source.  But if the furniture is grouped around the fireplace, where should the TV go?  Some opt to place the screen above the mantle, but I try and discourage this unless you don’t mind regular chiropractic visits; the viewing angle is just not comfortable. 

A better solution, where possible, is to place the television on an adjacent wall to the fireplace, and create an L-shaped seating group that faces both features.

Alternatively, and this is very common in modern Scandinavian homes, a sculptural wood stove is installed that takes its place amongst the seating group without becoming hierarchical.  Wood stoves are less of a focal point, particularly if not placed on a raised hearth.  Perhaps it is appropriate that we cede prominence to the screen, as it gets almost daily use, whereas the stove lies dormant for 5 months of the year.  Floating a wood stove in front of a wall of glass that points us towards a beautiful view might be best of all:  it pulls our focus out to nature and the world beyond.  Let’s turn off the TV and go outside!