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August 24, 2017

The Fireplace vs. The TV – Who Wins?

The argument over which feature should be the focal point in the family room is almost as old as which came first, the chicken or the egg!  In many of the markets where we work, our clients insist on the fireplace front-and-center with symmetry being the main organizer for the room. These are markets lean towards traditional styling in their homes. But where does this put the TV? To the side of the fireplace, above the fireplace or somewhere else? Let’s look back in housing history to gain perspective on this conflict.

Remember when most houses had living rooms? This was the “formal” room in the house where guests would be entertained. TV watching did not take place in the formal living room, but rather the small, cozy den. Over the years, the informal room grew in size and popularity to become the “family” room. This new, larger room did double duty with both TV and fireplace.

Back in the eighties and nineties when the TV was a big box, it was placed to the side of the fireplace, often in a built-in cabinet in the family room. The depth of the TV was the same as the fireplace. This worked most of the time when the furniture placement was in an “L” but not always. There was always couch with a compromised viewing angle. Then in the early 2000s, the flat screen TV came to being. It didn’t need the depth of the older model and could float to almost any wall in the room.

It didn’t take long for our symmetry-loving, traditionalists to discover that you could put the TV over the fireplace. Voila! Have your cake, and eat it too! That is, until you actually tried to watch the TV. What many discovered was that the TV was too high for optimal viewing and TV watchers ended up with a neck ache. The problem worsened as flat screen TVs became jumbo in size, potentially wider than the fireplace surrounds.

If the room is large enough, I recommend locating the TV and Fireplace on separate walls. This isn’t always easy to do, especially when you’re trying to capture a view too. Fellow architect Jeff Lake with Cal Atlantic Homes recommends a corner fireplace, allowing the TV to be front-and-center. I love this approach. We may as well acknowledge that we “watch” the TV a lot more than we do the fireplace – even in cooler climates. Additionally, when the fire is burning, it creates an overall ambience in the room that doesn’t have to be in your direct line of sight to be enjoyed. TV watching, on the other hand does. Furthermore, the corner fireplace terminates flush with the TV wall – which makes a perfect visual transition to the flat screen TV.

If your heart is set on symmetry, there’s another option! Welcome the wide, lineal fireplace. While it might not be “traditional” enough in styling for some, it does put the TV and the fireplace on the same wall without compromising the TV viewing. Interior design Lita Dirks recently remodeled her own home utilizing this exciting new trend. But before you start incorporating this technique in all your homes, be aware of the price these fireplaces – especially the ultrawide units. Additionally, make sure to include some type of mantel to deflect the heat from the fireplace outward so you don’t melt your TV (a lot more common than you might think!).

So, what solution do you and your buyers prefer? Corner fireplace, linear fireplace or on separate walls? Or, take the fireplace to outdoor the living?

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This post was written by Housing Design Matters