Binning The Box
Now that we’re changing how we view, what’s the effect on our homes? That big box in the corner is off most of the day, so why give it prominence? This is what interior designers are asking.
Television has now been with us in an affordable form for close to seventy years, and in that time it has hardly changed at all. Many of the shows it started out with (‘Come Dancing’) are still running (‘Strictly’). It took cable to alter the model with shows of random lengths and box-set bingeing, but that glowing box still sits in the corners of rooms across the country with a set of comfy chairs grouped around it as though we were living in the 1950s. Portable devices broke the nuclear family shared-watch tradition, but still the box sits there.
This year we embarked on a bit of an experiment; to do away with the wasted space of a turned-off TV set occupying prime space in a room and watch TV only on devices. The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t miss regular TV at all, because my news intelligence is gathered from online sources (when I returned to BBC and Sky news it seemed arthritically laboured). But sofas became places for lounging, chatting and reading once more.
With the removal of television as centre-of-attention comes a problem for networks. Nobody is at the same viewing stage in a series, so there can be no water-cooler discussions anymore for fear of spoilers. A show may last seven seasons and continue to have a shelf-life of many years, so TV watching has become as personal as reading. Only sport still unites a crowd – and cinema. But unless you really want to see another Spiderman reboot, why bother with that?
Now that the box has started to disappear from the corner of the room, the three-piece suite is disappearing, but the tendency is still to group chairs and coffee tables as if you’re expecting a party of guests to descend at any minute. The English are notorious for placing furniture all around the edges of a room ‘in case we need more chairs’, in the same way that my grandmother would roll up the carpet for a dance and my mother kept the front room for best. But there are beautiful alternatives that use rooms differently.
Now the man-cave has come into its own. Visiting a friend this weekend, I find he has a Dolby-approved mini-cinema in a separate part of his house, part personal Odeon, part shed, and the rest of his home can be a place of conversation once more.
So how do you rearrange a room without a TV at its centre? Build a conversation pit? Pretend that you have dinner parties every Saturday night? My argument would be for putting kitchens in the middle – it’s usually where everyone wants to be. Many European restaurants now follow this model, as does the excellent Albion chain of restaurants in London.
A friend has reconfigured her flat, a divided part of a traditional house, to put the kitchen where the front room would have been and everything else behind it. The effect is startling, and groups everyone around a table once more. Over the next few months we’ll be reconfiguring our own home to do this, and I’ll be chronicling the change. Hopefully it will replace a dead electronic box with human interaction – and food.