COTE DE TEXAS: Jul 24, 2012

Dear Miss Cote de Texas: Flatscreen Issues


Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter, c. 1667
Oil on canvas, 89,5 x 78,1 cm. Frick Collection, New York

Half the fun of the Dear Miss Cote de Texas series is finding the art work to go with it.   This choice is by Jan Vermeer and was painted in 1667. 
“The mistress' expression reveals the uncertainties of love that disrupt the serenity of ordered existence. The mistress' controlled demeanor and fashionable wardrobe seems to suggest that such fleeting doubts affect even those who are most secure and content in their lives. The maid, while offering the letter, responds to her mistress' gaze with a caring yet concerned look. With her slightly opened mouth and lowered eyelids, her expression is as restrained as her mistress', yet Vermeer created a visual dialogue between them that conveys the intense psychological impact of the letter's arrival."
Here, the maid interrupts her writing and hands her a letter.  Her hand on her chin represents surprise.  This same yellow jacket with the ermine border is also seen in the painting ‘Lady Writing a Letter.’   To read more about this beautiful painting, go HERE.

Today’s reader writes with questions about her issues with her flatscreen TV.   I picked this topic because it is such a universal problem.  Who doesn’t have at least one TV in their house?  For years and years the TV presented great problems for the interior designer.   As TVs got bigger and deeper – the space required to hold these monsters grew along with the screen size.  Most everyone either had or wanted a TV cabinet – that huge brown piece of furniture which held the TV balanced in between countless shelves and drawers.   Most were hideous – creating a large eyesore in the middle of a beautiful family room or bedroom.  If you didn’t have a TV Cabinet, then you had a faux antique armoire.  The problem with having an antique armoire was they had to be deep enough to hold these TVs and the antiques  rarely were equipped for that depth or weight.  When flatscreens came out, designers everywhere rejoiced.  Finally, there was an end to those fugly TV cabinets!  No longer were we concerned with a TV whose depth could measure 36” – we could now hang these flatscreens anywhere!  It was so liberating.   But, as with all things, eventually when the rejoicing died down, the issues with flatscreens became evident. 

Remember these?  Uggg!!!!! 
Yes, you can hang flatscreens anywhere, but you still have cable boxes and DVD players to contend with.  So, while the flatscreen is hanging – you have to find space for the electronics somewhere nearby.  Wires were another issue.  If you hung the flatscreen on the wall, the wires that connected to the electronics were visible.  For that, you needed to hire an electrician to come and hide the wires inside the wall.   And while the huge TV cabinets became passé – suddenly masses of smaller consoles were being made to sit under the flatscreen to hold the electronics and to ground that huge black hole hanging off the wall.

Flatscreen TV consoles can be just as ugly as the old TV cabinets.  This one is a faux Stickley version, which for some unknown reason is quite popular.  At least these cabinets can be quite narrow – depth is no longer an issue. 
While many choose to hang the TV on the wall, others opt to put it over the fireplace mantel.  It’s a solution of course – most flatscreens fit perfectly over mantels.  But, it’s not my favorite solution.  First, there is the issue of neck pain.  TVs should be at eye level – otherwise you have to crank your neck up to watch it.  And then there is the aesthetic issue.  If the TV is on the mantel,  you lose the valuable space to place a beautiful mirror or piece of art.  You have no place to create a mantelscape – it’s such a waste of valuable design real estate.  I try to avoid putting flatscreens on mantels at all costs. 

For instance, in this family room I just finished, the flatscreen was over the mantel.  It took a while to convince the husband that it would be much better if it was moved.  I’m not sure he is still convinced, but it looks so much without that big black box hanging down over the room.  We did have to go through a few steps that added to the costs, but they weren’t that much.  First, we had to hire a carpenter to finish out the molding over the  mantel and close up the big hole that was left after the flatscreen was moved. 

Next, we bought a console to go under it.  This console is less than 12” deep and it holds all the electronics.   We bought the console at Nadeu in the Rice Village,  so it hardly cost anything.    We had an electrician install the TV here and hide the wires in the wall.  Viola.  Now, we could move the sofa from the middle of the room.  We put swivels on the two chairs to make watching it easier.  Lo and behold, the most expensive cost was the NEW flatscreen that hubby wanted if we were going to all this trouble.  Naturally!  Men and their toys!
(I have someone I use in Houston that comes to the house and installs the TV and sells them and does it all – if you are interested, I’ll leave his name and number in the comment section.)

My own family room has a similar layout.  My client had seen my room arraimagengement and wanted her couch against the windows too  - which is what started the entire process in her own family room.  I would hate having a TV over my mantel!   Again, I would have to float my sofa which would close off the room and then we would have to crank our necks up.  Plus, I love what I have on my mantel!

Instead, I have the flatscreen hang over the hole that once held our old, regular large TV.  The cabinet underneath holds the electronics.  Now, the TV is not the focal point of the room.  You don’t even see it until you are completely inside the room. 

For this client, we had the same issue as with the first client – the TV was over the fireplace.  Here we had a carpenter rework the bottom two shelves to hold the new flatscreen.  I placed a club chair and ottoman directly in front of the TV for the husband to sit and enjoy his sports, but the flatscreen does swivel to the right so the entire room can watch it too.   Again, the TV is not quite the focal point it would be if it was still over the mantel.

For this client, Ginger Barber did the same thing – she chose to place the flatscreen on one side of the shelves.  There is NO way Ginger would put a TV over that gorgeous antique mantle!!!!  Again, here the TV is not a focal point – while the mantel is.

Munger Interiors hid the TV in the closed cabinets – but notice how they softened the look – a row of shelves were added to display accessories! 

One point to consider.   If you do place the TV on the shelves, you lose valuable decorating real estate space.  But, notice how beautifully Munger Interiors decorated these painted shelves.  For this reason, hanging the TV over the mantel seems to balance the shelves and it works in this instance.  Confusing?  I know!   But, here, the TV does look better where it is, with the shelves so decorated and such a part of the color scheme.

You can always just hide the TV like Sally Wheat did.  Sally bought these beautiful old shutters and had James Farmer paint them.  Her TV is hiding behind the set on the left (I think!)

At the Pink Ribbon House this year, Julia Blailock designed this set of doors to hide the flatscreen behind and Segreto did the finishing paint job.  I think these are beautiful and a great solution – the doors become part of the décor.

There are still armoires that can hide flatscreens – the antique ones are much better equipped to house the flatscreens over the old, heavier TVs.  This house in Houston placed a large antique armoire in the family room and centered it between a set of herbiers. 

Or, you can do what Carol Glasser did – hide the flatscreen behind a pair of installed antique armoire doors.  This way you save precious floor space if the doors are attached to the wall.  Ingenious!

In this family room,  Tami Owen had a shelving unit built in to hold a HUGE flatscreen.  She cut out doors and added fabric for the electronics and speakers.  Plus, the fabric softens the piece.   With a TV this huge, you need something substantial to ground it.

Interior designer Jenny Johnston bought an antique buffet to place under this flatscreen.  The doors have screens that let the clicker reach the electronics.  Some clickers can go work through solid doors though so this isn’t always necessary. 

This designer put the flatscreen on her shelves.  It’s barely noticeable, but it is a smaller TV.

At her vacation home, Cindy Hattersley installed a small flatscreen over the mantel, but notice how low the TV is – it’s not such a strain to the neck.   And notice how pretty her green painted shelves are – she didn’t want to ruin the look with the flatscreen.   This California house is available for vacation rentals!  Just ask Cindy about it!

Even big name designers like Bunny Williams have to deal with flatscreens.  Usually you won’t see TVs in magazines like AD or Elle Décor.  The photographer will take the picture showing the other view.  This photo showing a TV is a rarity.  Notice how the flatscreen is angled down – this prevents some of the neck strain.   The client probably requested the flatscreen be placed here.  Some people just prefer this arrangement. 

In this beautiful Houston house, the flatscreen goes on the side wall – above an antique buffet.  Again, this allows the sofa to be against the window instead of floating in the middle of the room.  And it preserves the pretty stone fireplace.  You almost don’t even see the TV where it is placed.

In this contemporary white room with black accents – the TV becomes a piece of art work.   Strange I know, but it really seems like it is just another print hanging on the wall!  It truly disappears for some reason!

I love this room!  It’s the house of a friend of blogger Classic Casual Home.  Again, the owner chose to put the flatscreen over the mantel so that she could decorate the shelves.   I love the way she decorated them too – leaving breathing room around the accessories so that they can show off.  And I love the library lights above the shelves.    Notice those gorgeous bobbin chairs!  I just ordered two for a client and can’t wait until they come in!  This room is so cozy and warm and inviting.  Exactly what good interior design should be!

So…let’s get to our reader’s TV problem, ok ?  Here is her family room with her large TV: 

Our reader, Libby, has a beautiful stone fireplace and pretty cabinets that flank it.  But, their new, huge flatscreen is the issue.  Here’s what she has to say:
Dear Miss Cote de Texas:
I have a question that's not about windows!   I have a troublesome wall in my family room. I'd love to re-do my built-ins and mantle. The built ins fit a 29" TV - ha! They are also quite deep, over 2 feet deep. The current cabinets on both sides with smaller (shorter) cabinets on the bottom halves and open shelves on the top halves. We'd hang the giant TV in front of the left side cabinets, at about the height it is now (removing the dresser that currently holds it, of course)! But how do we handle the electronics? We need to be able to access our DVR and Blu-Ray player and use our remotes! And how do we handle the depth? I think two feet is too deep for open shelves, don't you? Should I take them all the way up to the ceiling or leave it open? And as long as we're replacing the built-ins, shouldn't we replace that mantle as well? I love the designer chicken wire look for the cabinet doors  but will that age well? The trim paint is aged ivory all over the house - could I do something different with these or am I locked in? If I can do something different, how do I handle the transition?
This is actually quite a small room for a main family room - 14 x 17. It doesn't have any exterior windows and therefore tends to be dark. As  The exterior of our home is stone as well - Texas Hill Country style. Please don't suggest we cover the stone!
As you can see, I'm still in the "yellow wall" phase (Concord Ivory, to be exact - fifth house I've painted this color - two in Atlanta and two in Sugar Land - but the light is different here in Alamo Heights - it looks almost yucky green in dark corners) and my hubby won the TV size argument and selected the upholstered pieces (how did that happen?). Blue couch has been a disappointment (sloppy and faded) but we need to keep it for a while. Leather chairs (one of which is a recliner) have been fantastic with our dogs. Am ready to replace the rug with seagrass (will that really be ok with my big dogs?).
I love your blog and would just DIE for personalized advice. I can handle the comments, anonymous and otherwise.
Please help!! 

First off – I would suggest that yes, I would tear out the upper cabinets.  Since the room is small and doesn’t have much else going on, the open shelving could be a good place for decorative objects, such as books and accessories.   And yes, 2 ft  is way too deep for shelves.   The bottom cabinets should be 2’ deep, but the shelves should be only 12'’ deep.  The TV will rest on top of the bottom cabinet and the shelves will be above it on that side.   Be sure to run the shelves all the way up to the ceiling to balance out the size of the flatscreen.   When  choosing decorative items for the shelves – try to stay in the same color range.  Such as,  look for white ironstone to display along with dark, brown books.  Or buy blue and white porcelains to display.   This will help your shelves become part of the décor.   Your mantel is fine – I wouldn’t put my money in a new mantel.   It seems proportionate for your fireplace.  And I would never suggest you replace your Texas limestone fireplace!!  I love it – plus, it adds charm to the room and warmth.  Keep it.
As for the electronics, they would go in the cabinets right beneath the TV.  Most clickers can penetrate through cabinet doors, but if not – then you could take the middle portion of the doors out and add the chicken wire – then put a gathered, neutral fabric, like linen, behind it.   Again, this could add some needed charm to the room.
As for the color of the shelves and cabinets – you could definitely keep the same trim color, which would be ideal.  But, you could paint the back of the shelves a deeper shade than is on your walls.  This will make the shelves pop and is an easy, inexpensive way to add a little pizzazz to the room!  You don’t sound as if you plan to repaint your walls, so a deeper shade of the same color would be my first color choice. 
As for the seating arrangement – if the room is really that small, have you ever thought of having just four chairs with an ottoman in the middle?  It’s hard for me to see if this would be feasible, but if so, maybe consider it.   You could use your two leather chairs and mix in two white slipcovered ones.   OR, think about getting the white slipcovered sofa from Ikea (it’s under $400) and mix it with the two leather chairs. Slipcovers are a dog’s best friend.   And yes, I think seagrass would be fabulous in your room – especially if you do white or khaki slipcovers one day!   Perhaps you could move that console piece to the wall behind the sofa or on the wall next to the door – put two tall lamps on it.  I would then move the family portrait over there  – and put a round, wood or rattan framed mirror on the fireplace.  Consider buying or sewing slipped skirts for the two French chairs – they would hide the AC vent better! 
Several of the pictures above will be helpful to you, this one in particular:

For instance, this photo shows you how the shelves will look going up to the ceiling.  You can see how the TV will look on  top of the bottom cabinet.  And notice, the doors are solid.   No chicken wire was needed.  You can buy clickers that penetrate through the doors.

Painted bookshelves really make the room pop!

This blogger Westhampton DIY HERE redid her family room  - she painted the back of her shelves and notice how she got a great look on her shelves by covering her books with paper!   Easy and inexpensive.  Really pretty!

And one more look at this room,  your cabinets with painted shelves can look like this – and notice how the accessories are in the same color family.  They make quite a decorative impact themselves!
I hope this helps you and helps anyone else who is having flatscreen issues!   If you still have a décor question – you know what to do – Ask Miss Cote de Texas:
Write me at: