I was laying in bed on a recent rainy night, watching Love is Blind (so good), the fireplace on low as I clicked in to enjoy Orlando’s new highly personal and enjoyable sub-stack, The Lost Arrow (have you subscribed to it yet?). It was a rather hilarious rant about his #1 design pet peeve. I laughed a lot (because he is a funny and relatable writer) even while he was pointedly talking shit about my very own family room and bedroom. No, he wasn’t saying “Emily Henderson’s fireplace is the worst,” of course not, but he HATES TVs over fireplaces and makes a damning case against them. And you know what I hate? When I’m told I should NEVER do something when it comes to design. OOH that gets me riled up because how we use our home is 100% up to us, for our own pleasure and enjoyment (and usually comes with certain limitations). That’s why I am here to make a case against his extreme rule against a very thing that I enjoy. I thought it would be fun to cross-examine and make a case, not necessarily for TVs over fireplaces, but just in defense of them and talk about when/why and how to do it right (he’ll disagree with the notion that it’s ever right, but I have some pretty solid ideas). Let’s dance:)
Listen, I agree with him that in a perfect world, you don’t have a TV over a fireplace because you have a separate TV room, but even in that TV room you might also want or already have a fireplace. The court should note that both scenarios are obviously privileged. We decided to forego a TV in our current living room because I preferred art over TV, but mostly because we didn’t need it in here because we have a separate room right next to it, dedicated to TV. But what if we didn’t? Would putting a TV over the fireplace be so bad? NO! Would putting the TV on the wall next to the fireplace be better? In my opinion, no, it would look like a rectangle next to a chunky rectangle and maybe look even dumber.
My analysis of his hatred for TVs over fireplaces is that A. He isn’t a huge TV person (maybe?), B. He doesn’t have a fireplace in his living room or he has always had an easy layout for this situation, C. He doesn’t currently have kids, therefore has specific views about the design of a home that might not be as livable to many of us who have foregone some design pleasantries in the name of practicality and livability, and D. He lives (mostly) in Southern California where fireplaces aren’t as much of a mood and heat necessity as they are in areas where its cold and dark in the winter. What I found fascinating about his piece (again, you have to read it here) was that he likened a TV over the fireplace to stainless steel appliances and granite countertops – a sort of wealth signifier selling point that was built into many new builds or McManions during a certain period. These things are essentially examples that these houses are high-end enough to have a flat-screen TV (which for a while were so expensive, but now not at all). I think he’s right about that, which made me like my TV over my fireplace less, but I’m not here to agree with my friend/opposing counsel, I’m here to defend the TV over the fireplace.
So when and why is a TV over a fireplace ok? Can you do it where it doesn’t look dumb?
Reason #1: When You Don’t Have Any Other Choice And You Really Want To Watch TV In This Room
I’m a big proponent of enjoying how you live in your home first, and the design of the home should support that enjoyment. Do I want you to buy huge reclining sofas? Hmm, honestly, I don’t really care because that’s your choice. I’m not going to make that choice because there are great options that are almost as comfortable that might not look so overwhelming, but I also admit that sitting on a La-Z-Boy sofa can be wonderful so you do you! I lean so far into comfort and practicality that a lot of my former design pet peeves have been thrown out years ago (Covid also confirmed my need for comfort and practicality). I think design directives like this are good to have, but USING your home for your own enjoyment should be your #1 priority. I say this while knowing that I have some furniture that is better to look at than to sit on, so I’m not a shining example of this either (although in defense of myself, I wouldn’t buy those pieces now, they are a hold over from years ago when I didn’t prioritize comfort/practicality over style). Does every piece of furniture need to be the most comfortable? Nope. In some rooms, you don’t need that level of comfort and some beautiful pieces are worth having because they shift the whole context of the room in a good way. So I’m not saying that we should all live in La-Z-Boys in every room, but if the room doesn’t meet the purpose of you being in it because you’ve opted against something practical, then that’s a problem to me. In fact, I’ve been known to actually say to friends who don’t use their living room EVER, “are you sure you don’t want a TV in here?” because not using a room for fear of it not looking good with a TV in it is the bigger crime (again, especially because of nice looking art TVs like The Frame). Do I think that Orlando is being a little snobby? Of course, and so am I about a lot of things. Maybe calling us “picky” is what we’d prefer:) It’s the job of design influencers to help guide us to great choices so that we love our home more, and his vehemence against the TV over the fireplace is a noble one. I just fear that it’s not always an option unless you sacrifice your comfort, practicality, and livability. It’s YOUR HOME, you do whatever you want in it in order to love it and have it serve YOUR purposes.
The prosecutor/plaintiff, Orlando admits that it can be challenging to find a non-TV over fireplace layout that makes sense and he offers for readers to send him photos of their room and he’ll re-lay it out for them, ensuring that he can find a way to not have the TV above the fireplace. I’d personally love to see how he does that because in my experience, splitting the focal points can make a room feel chaotic and inevitably someone, multiple people actually, end up having a bad viewing seat. Obviously, some rooms are totally set up to do this naturally, but many are just not. I think that having it above the TV (listen, if I’m being honest I’m talking about Frame TVs) looks totally fine if you can put on a nice piece of art when not in use. Would I rather have actual art? Of course, but again, it’s about enjoying your own home and having it meet your needs.
Reason #2: When It Can Be Low Enough Not To Hurt Your Neck
Admittedly they can be too high in some houses, we all know this. At the mountain house, in our family room, ours was higher than I wanted. This is usually due to firebox sizes and clearances. I wish there were more that were low and wide that weren’t so contemporary looking (I don’t mind some linear ones, but I don’t love that they are usually just rocks instead of faux logs). So in order for the fireplace box to be scaled right for the room they are usually kinda big, and then when you had the usual 12″ clearance above it and add a mantel, your TV can be pretty darn high. But I have found that if your sofa is deep enough to lounge in, it’s totally fine. A shallow sofa can be a problem if you are forced to sit upright, but if you can lean back then your neck can be salvaged.
Reason #3: A High TV Over A Fireplace In A Bedroom Is Actually A Good Thing
We knew that we would want two TV options in our home – one for kids and one for us, especially when having people over. During lockdown at the mountain house, we only had one TV and often had to set the kids up in their room with the laptop if we wanted to watch something less appropriate – which was fine because they were 4 and 6, but we wanted to make sure that for this house we had two options for those Saturday nights when Brian and I actually want to watch an R rated movie (we generally are so tired and go to bed right after them so unless we carve out adult TV time, we watch ZERO grown up shows/movies). So we put a TV over the fireplace in our bedroom and they can watch their garbage in the family room while we watch Severance. It should be noted that we’ve watched TV maybe 10 times in our bedroom since we moved in 6 months ago – so not a lot, but I’m still glad we have the option. We are both big readers (not being pretentious, I literally read romance novels) and rarely watch TV anyway post-lockdown so maybe we didn’t need it in here after all.
TVs in bedrooms are a whole other controversial debate which I’m not usually a huge fan of, but again because it’s a Frame, I don’t mind it. We thought long and hard about putting one in here and again only did it because we wanted to have two TV viewing options (we have since put one in our guest room because we accidentally bought one too big for our bedroom wall while we lived in the rental house – before the fireplace wall was even designed). So if we have a lot of kids over and want to shove them away they all climb on the guest bed.
Now, back to my case when you are lying down on a bed you need to make sure that you can see over your feet. So in a bedroom, you actually want your TV higher so you can watch while lying down. And, FURTHERMORE ORLANDO, there is nice simplicity of having both focal points on the same wall, allowing for symmetry next to it (something I LOVE in a bedroom).
Reason #4: I Don’t Like Split Focal Points, I Prefer Symmetry
If your room has the perfect layout then you can relax, and have your TV on a different wall than your fireplace, but most rooms do not. I personally don’t love when you have two competing focal points – and both square boxes. So in my mind, it actually looks better to have a Frame TV over your fireplace than to have it awkwardly floating on a different wall. Orlando uses the above example of how he’s done it, and this room is lucky because there is a blank wall right next to the fireplace so honestly it’s an easy choice, but what if there was a window there instead? Would a Frame TV above the fireplace look that different than the rectangular painting? No! It would look fine!
Reason #5: If You’ve Opted For Windows Instead Of Wall Space
This is the challenge we have faced every single time – where we have designed the house with the window and door plan, opting for more windows and negating the perfect wall place to have a TV and fireplace be separate. We have done this in our family room at the mountain house, our bedroom at the farm, and also in Ken/Katie’s future living room. We consciously made this choice of prioritizing windows and natural light OVER the ability to separate the TV and fireplace. Now, I will say that if you are building new or doing a complete remodel my favorite combination (should it be appropriate) is what we did in our current family/tv room – to put a stove-style fireplace NEXT to the TV, thus sharing the same focal wall, not being two big boxes next to each other and yet you can enjoy looking at both the same time. The reason we didn’t do this in Ken/Katie’s future living room is because the height/scale of the room is far too high/big for a small stove fireplace. We also wanted to be able to see the TV from the kitchen while cooking/hanging so it needs to be big and higher than Orlando would likely want it to be. When your sofa is back far enough, a higher TV is FINE.
So If We Want Both A TV And A Fireplace In The Same Room (And View Them At The Same Time) What Should We Do??
I’ve thought about this A LOT and I have some solid solutions. By the way, I know that many of you will make the case AGAINST having a fireplace at all, and it’s one that I want to agree with in theory, but long dark, wet, winters are hard enough to get through. A fireplace that creates ambiance, and heat, and helps your mood which is a wonderful thing. If you don’t want a fireplace, don’t have one. I literally don’t have a car because I don’t like driving (but unfortunately it is becoming extremely apparent that I do in fact need one which I’m bummed about) – we all have our things that we enjoy and enhance our lives while here on earth. There are many of us who appreciate fireplaces immensely for ambiance, heat, and a necessary winter mood boost. Do I think you need one in LA? Nope. But up here, it gets used a ton and enjoyed when it’s cold, wet, and dark. And of course, you are not allowed to put in wood ones in many states, so we opted for a direct-vent gas stove in our family room. I’m also very very excited to see how the electric fireplace technology advances (it’s getting better every year). But today we are not talking about the pros and cons of fireplaces. Instead, we are addressing IF you opt for a fireplace and TV how do you design it to look the best?
- Put your TV over the fireplace, make it as low as possible, and go dark with the whole fireplace (should that make sense). The reason we did a brick fireplace in our bedroom was to paint it all one dark color and have the firebox and TV disappear more. It’s my personal preference that new gas fireplaces (which for the most part is your only option if you’re building new) look better on dark fireplaces because they are black metal and glass.
- Design your TV/fireplace wall to have a shared focal point, but do a stove-style fireplace instead. Again, this is what we did here in our current TV room and it’s a GREAT combination IMHO. It is a shared focal wall but they are different shapes. The TV can be lower, making Orlando’s neck more comfortable should he come over to watch Love is Blind with you.
- Put your TV over your fireplace, but design the fireplace to be less formal, i.e more appropriate for a TV. Even though we could have designed the mountain house family room to have fewer windows (we probably didn’t need any or both) and we could have done the stove-style fireplace + TV combination I spoke of above, I think that the plaster treatment lent itself easily to a casual family room. I think what bugs Orlando (and myself) is a super formal-looking fireplace surround and mantel with a big bulky TV on top. But again, if it’s a Frame TV I don’t think it’s a huge deal.
Ultimately I think my friend Orlando and I agree that there are certainly some less good ways to combine a TV and a fireplace, but just to say unequivocably that TVs over fireplaces are always terrible is what I found hilariously incorrect and deserving of this rebuttal.
I think what we’d both agree on is that in a perfect world, you’d have a separate TV room, where the TV is at eye level, sharing the focal wall with a fireplace that you use – like my friend’s basement that we designed last year. But if that is not your life/house, I’m here to tell you that it’s OK and there are ways to do it where you can continue to enjoy your own home, without feeling like you’ve committed a design crime. 🙂
**We’ll be trying out a new comment policy today, due to the fact that posts like this can be really controversial, with statements that someone might feel offended by, or one might want to attack those of us for even having a fireplace – something that we know to inherently not be great for the environment. So we’ll monitor comments and publish anything contributing to this conversation, and not publish anything that creates negativity, environmental evangelism, or frankly saying anything negative about my friend, Orlando. 🙂 If you don’t like him or me, simply don’t read 🙂
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: How We Designed Our Super Kid-Friendly Family Room