Binning The Box

Christopher Fowler
Personal TV 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? Chinese-style-living-room-design-without-TV 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.


Agnieszka Majid (not verified) Sat, 18/06/2016 - 09:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wow! I am an awful traditionalist (fireplace, teapot and the lot), but Chris you have made me thinking!.. Looking forward to see the progress!

Steve (not verified) Sat, 18/06/2016 - 10:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interesting... I think a lot depends a lot on your time of life and lifestyle.

My old house in London had kitchen in the middle, i ended up getting really fed up with it and moving it back to the side. So ymmv, personally i would really think carefully on that, i think maybe you need a lot more space than i had to make it work. There has to be extractor above, all the cooking and cleaning areas, and enough storage space and fridge freezer. After a couple of reconfigures i just got fed up with it. It may well be a question of needing a larger space than i had though!!

Today, our basic layout is the same in every country. So we have tv and a couch. Couching together is a pretty important part of our relationship and most of our friends have this setup too!

Then there is kitchen / dining together - my partner loves to cook and is really fast - dining table centre with kitchen at the side ;-)

In bg and Germany there is a room with piles of books and dvds and a computer, that's mine! As I mentioned before, much less books than i used to have since my ebook campaign but still enough. Also in bg in this room my 60s comics....

On the tv side, my partner likes to watch live tv and channel surf, whereas i like to choose from my vast library of archive tv and film. Of course she wins :-) so if i want something different i must watch on device with headphone. In England freeview means pay tv isnt needed, but in germany and bg we must have cable, one thing i really appreciate in uk is freeview.

Btw friends with children, the tv is always pretty central because it brings the family together. Also for games like nintendo, they are good fun and do bring everyone together.

Soon, ok another 2-3 years probably, all the homes will be networked together, with my tv and film library on two central servers in germany and bg, backing each other up, and streamable anywhere :-) well maybe this is slowly too much information...

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 18/06/2016 - 12:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best wishes for your renovations. I get daily updates from ex-pat friends who are living here in the States but renovating their places in greater London area in anticipation of returning upon retirement. Your planning councils sound like nightmares--only you're awake and counting the mounting costs of meeting various codes.

Christopher Bellew (not verified) Sat, 18/06/2016 - 20:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have a friend who lives for part of the year on a ridge above the Russian River in California. Helping him prep dinner I noticed that there were multiple sinks and lots of work surfaces for chopping and so on. "Oh yeah, at Thanksgiving we all share the cooking and it's fun to be able to all work together and have a chat and a drink." Living in London there isn't enough room for such a spacious and extravagant set-up but my vote is for the kitchen to win over the home cinema.

snowy (not verified) Sat, 18/06/2016 - 22:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Binned' the 'Idiot Fascinating Lantern' years ago. Must be... *counts on fingers* 23 years now, don't miss it, still watch the occasional box set now and then, but mostly films, [on a monitor].

There are plenty of other more constructive things to do in life than idle it away. Too busy? It is estimated that the average person, [Who dat?] watches 3 hours of TV a week.

[Consider what you could each do if you suddenly had an extra 21 hours of free time each week?]

Matt (not verified) Sun, 19/06/2016 - 06:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dearest Snowy, those three hours a day are for us our wind down before bed... the only time the Lantern is switched on. Its the only time we get to sit together and share time together (except in the bedroom over night of course, but then we are mostly sleeping then)...

As for the the Kitchen being the centre of the home, a grand Idea if you have a home built big enough to accommodate one. Personally I am not keen on the cooking smells getting right through the house/apartment.

snowy (not verified) Sun, 19/06/2016 - 10:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Darling Matt, I don't decry anybody enjoying TV. As an entertainment option it is fantastic in terms of cost/hr, delivered straight to the, home no need to get dressed up or travel to a venue. For those with young children, the 'One-eyed babysitter' is an absolute gift from some made up place that doesn't really exist.

I'm just astonished that people can find 3 hours of quality viewing <b>per week</b>. My flabber is beyond gasted that people can find 3 hours per day.

TV has a strange magnetic attraction and quickly becomes habit-forming. I know people that arrive home and the first or second thing they do after stepping through the door is turn on the TV. Which they then promptly ignore leaving it to burble away to an empty room while they make coffee, start preparing dinner.

[I fear I am starting to build a head of steam on the subject, I'd better stop there, for the moment. Much to do this afternoon, outside in the sunshine, not staring into a screen of any form.]

[Cooking aromas are almost just a matter of ventilation. I say almost, if you are sitting in the room in which you ate, your brain deems them appropriate and pays them no mind. It is only when you move to another part of the building that the brain registers them as something to be remarked up.

It seems to defiy logic, your brain knows you just ate food, you know you ate food, you know what food you ate and where you ate it Perhaps it is just an old instinct kicking in? Your brain telling you it has detected food nearby and is prompting you to investigate it before somebody else gets there and hoovers it up, leaving you none?]

[Oh dear, many words!]

*Rucksack On*

*Computer OFF*

Vivienne (not verified) Sun, 19/06/2016 - 22:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've still got an open fire so that's quite good to sit around and look at. I generally have one TV programme on the go, but have run out of late. Have watched a football match or two.

Matt (not verified) Mon, 20/06/2016 - 15:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ah Snowy, yes your quite right. 3 hours of actual network TV never happens for us. Its a case of watching stuff off the hard drive from either the night before or banging some DVD's in and watching them On the TV... so we are not as I may have led you to believe just sitting in front watching Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emerdale and Casualty or the like. We watch with purpose and I didn't make that clear. We box set binge a whole lot these days.

Hope you had a lovely afternoon out in the sun....

snowy (not verified) Mon, 20/06/2016 - 23:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very nice, thank you.

Admittedly taking a mid 19th Century map out for a walk is not going to appeal to <del>most</del> <del>many</del> any but the slightly unhinged.

[I had a reason that puts me <b>just</b> on the right side of sanity.]

Matt (not verified) Tue, 21/06/2016 - 07:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No I am very curious Snowy.... I like to look at old maps of our town to see how much its changed over the years, I have never been out with one though. I think you just gave me a reason not to turn the TV on.

snowy (not verified) Tue, 21/06/2016 - 13:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There is just the very faintest possibility that you might not have come across the National Library of Scotland map collection. All of the UK OS maps dating back to the 18/19th Century. Digitised, online, free.

Not the easiest site to navigate. Um.... I'll toss a link under my name that leads to the 25" to the Mile Series. There are other series but this is generally the most detailed

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 21/06/2016 - 16:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, ho! Snowy. I have been waiting for the in-house expert to do the ordering of the 1880 era maps of Old Monkland to locate the family miner's home. Perhaps I'll do it myself using this. As usual, thank you for your knowledge. (Walking with an old map is a fascinating thought.) We have American Public Telivision and our local Knowledge Network which carry all sorts of science programs, concerts, and general interest as well as all the British detective series so we can usually find at least one good program to watch after the local news program.

Christopher Fowler Thu, 23/06/2016 - 07:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And once again, in a way that I can only describe as 'fabulous', our intrepid band of internauts wanders off into the conversational byways of this website to discus the ordering of rare maps. What would the lot of you be like in a pub on a rainy night?

Matt (not verified) Thu, 23/06/2016 - 08:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well Admin, I am slightly socially uncomfortable and don't enjoy visiting Pub's but yes I agree a rainy night and an open fire to chat by would be quite the thing for me and of course like minded friends.

Thank you Snowy for the snippet of information. I am heading off there now to have look see....