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Advice: Karen's TV Problem 

Karen writes:

Dear Anna Beth,

My question involves flat screen tvs and living rooms. What do you do to decorate around/above them? I've been looking in magazines & online for ideas, but no luck. Surely I am not the only one with this problem? I've attached a picture of my living room so you can see what I'm talking about. 
In our specific case, this home is a rental as we're a military family that moves every three years. I'm looking for relatively low cost ways  ($1000 curtains are out) to make that wall look better.  Any general suggestions would be great! I can hunt for specifics. 

Karen's living room

Dear Karen,

I remember meeting you all those years ago in Arlington with your delightful sister. Anyway, regarding your television problem: I have some ideas. First off, you've done well by not hanging your TV over a fireplace, which I consider a cardinal sin as far as decorating goes. I am anticipating the comments now about how incorrect I am on this count, but I am absolutely certain that hanging one's TV over a fireplace is super tacky, and super wrong.

The problem is that lots of people try to hide their TVs. That is their first mistake: almost all of us have at least one TV in our houses, except for those of us who pretend they're too good for them and secretly download The Bachelor on their computers. Why do we keep pretending they don't exist? Don't hide your television light under a bushel, is what I am saying. Instead, surround it with things you love. This family has cleverly ensconced their TV in a bunch of bookshelves. That's cool.

Another really great idea is to create a gallery wall around your TV. Using similar frames, as in the photo below, distracts the eye from the big black box and creates a gently organic background for your television to recede into. I never thought I would ever write a sentence such as that, and I apologize. "Gently Organic" is the name of my all-natural ukelele band.

via West Elm

This genius person used many different frames, but if you'll notice, they are all similar in scale. The TV furniture is long and low, which takes attention away from the electronics and focuses your eye on the beautiful artwork.

And finally, if all else fails, get yourself a wall that matches your television. Accessorize it like there is not even a TV there. Then settle in for a long night of "So You Think You Can Dance."

What I would advise for you, Karen, is to really finish your room. I know it's just a rental, and I know you will only be there for three years, but... it's three years. That is a long time to be unhappy with your surroundings. Here is what I want you to do:

1. Have shades made for each window in this room. It will cost around $100-$125 for each one, but you can choose the fabric, the edge color, the lining, everything. And you can probably take them with you to the next house.

2. Make a gallery wall to hang behind your TV. If you are unsure about how to do it, find a picture you like and copy it exactly. It will add so much character to your room.

3. Purchase a rug to layer over your carpet. It can be a cowhide, as pictured here, or jute, or something colorful. Just make sure it's big enough to take up much of the space in the room.

I used black and white here, because that was the easiest thing to do, and black is always a great contrast color. But you can use whatever color you want. I have made a terrible mockup in Photoshop of what I want you to do, seen below:

I hope this helps. Report back soon!



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Reader Comments (30)

This is BRILLIANT! I was thinking the wall behind my TV needed something but I wasn't sure what - one picture seemed odd - but MANY! MANY PICTURES? Perfection. Thank you!
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
Eagerly awaiting next week's resolution of Karen's teeny shopping cart problem.
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersmartbutt
As a military spouse, I've found that 96-inch panels are very versatile for most homes (even if not in the living room) and are a good investment in colours that match our main pieces (furniture, area rug), whereas anything custom-made is a write-off. Which is sometimes the right thing if we're going to be somewhere long enough.
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWynn Anne
AB, I love the solution! I especially like that you created the example which really helps to see what needs to be done. (And thanks for the shout out.)

smartbutt, your comment cracked me up. Teeny shopping carts are perfect for two year old nieces.
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica Lucci
I don't always agree with your rules, (some of us buy small plants because we can't afford the five-gallon versions) but I do agree that hanging your TV over a fireplace is super tacky.
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTracy Flaming
This made my day - I wrote having no idea if you'd have time to address my problem. Thank you so much! I love the gallery idea + the shades. Not sure I could do a cow rug, but I will look for something. It really changes the look of the room.

And yes, teeny shopping cart was a present from Aunt Erica for the kiddo. This house is fairly small, so toys are kind of just around. *shrug* Kids grow up so fast, I'm not too worried about it. It's only a few years until she's locked up in her room ignoring us, right??
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
Neat ideas (except, fauxhide, please, in keeping with critter-friendly design).

I adore the slate gray wall for my someday pile when I get a flat sccreen. Right now I'm stil rocking an old-school CRT TV because I do watch a lot of my TV programming on my laptop. BTW -- is that shelf above the TV in that pic too high per your height rule?
August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi
A source question: The "long low" shelf/piece of furniture in the 3rd picture from the top, any idea where it is from/what it is? I thought IKEA made a narrow, tall shelf in their LACK line, but after going to their website I can't find it. It doesn't look like West Elm has any such piece, either.
Thanks for any ideas!
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartha
That poor cow...
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergeorge
i just want that quilt to go away... it's lovely, but not on that couch
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbliss
Oh, NO. No ma'am. You do not get to come on here and critique people's houses like that. Take it to Apartment Therapy.

And the next person who uses the terms "fauxhide" or "critter" is banned FOR LIFE. I will never use anything other but cow for a COWHIDE RUG, and I LOVE TAXIDERMY. Take that, also, to Apartment Therapy.

Damn, y'all! Ruining my morning and whatnot.
August 12, 2011 | Registered Commenterabchao
Besides, those cows are dead anyway. They are delicious steaks and hamburgers by now. Why not use the hide for something useful?
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen Z.
Love the gallery wall idea. I want to do the same thing at my place. I've bought the art. I've bought the frames and I am too darn scared to do the wall! So many opportunities to mess it up! I've even looked for someone to hire to do it! I suppose I just need to put my big girl pants on and go for it. It is on my Life List and all...

Plus, I have a cowhide rug and I love, love, love it!
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebra
@Martha - There is a tall bookshelf in the Expedit series that can be used horizontally as a sideboard. Add legs or casters & you're good to go!

AB, I cannot express how grateful I am to have been directed to your blog from Christa at Manolo. I love that you are posting more often - it makes me absurdly happy. And a big thanks to you for introducing me to Mighty Girl & The Bloggess. Their writing makes me absurdly happy too.

Also, thanks to your "shiny, fluffy" and I can't remember the third thing, I found the softest, fluffiest Mongolian wool pillows which I pet obsessively while hanging out in my living room. You rock.
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarole
Oh for heaven's sake! I am VEGAN and somehow managing to restrain myself from writing annoying, immaterial comments about a throw rug on a DESIGN SITE. AB, you rock on with your bad taxidermy-loving self!

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Burr
Love the gallery wall idea! I think I'll be doing that myself soon.

Also, thank you AB, for actually addressing the question of how to incorporate the TV into your design. On certain other sites (cough, AT, cough), when half the responses consist of "get rid of the TV" and "move the TV into another room," it's less than helpful. Some of us need The Real World/Road Rules Challenge!
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
I NEED that wallpaper in the last one, srsly. It looks like the two birds on the botton are standing on the table! I need the chairs, too. And the side table. And... everything. Right now. I am very taken with it.
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterALH
Dear AB,

Love your style, love your blog, love your hair, amen. I have a plaid couch and laminate floors. Is a cowhide rug the solution to all my problems or am I basically screwed?


Trying not to be Tacky in Tacoma
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
dear ab, i enjoy your sass. i enjoy your blog. i check frequently for posts. i love taxidermy too! the end.
August 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpriscilla
Oh this is great, I really like the tips for us 'move all the friggin time' folks, please keep 'em coming.

Regarding the cost of the shades, you can make simple shades yourself. Or buy cheaper ones and add trim to personalize it. I am new to sewing and have managed similar projects (and have been told by objective persons that it looked good). Just google it. I love the online sewing community almost as much as I love AB's gentle sass. I can't handle Apartment Therapy and this is my low-stress venue to learn about decorating. Thank you for keeping it a snark-free environment for us newbies. I will go dutifully iron my sheets now.
August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersaro
ulp! i said the quilt was lovely!
August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbliss
How about a trunk/storage bench for those toys? Under the left window, perhaps?
August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
Where does one get shades like these made (on a budget)? I have a few rooms that could use something like this.
August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarin
Here's what I came up with after a quick google search:


Also go to your library and find the sewing books. Some of the older sewing books have great instructions even if the styling is not so pretty.
August 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersaro
Thank you very much for saying NO to tvs over fireplaces. Hate it so much! xx
August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
Thanks. That DIY shade is so pretty! I dont have a sewing machine, so that method is perfect.
August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarin
So I have a TV over a fireplace, and I kind of dislike it but have two distinct challenges. One, it is a corner fireplace and if there is no TV it is a big chunk of corner up in the air to fill. The bigger problem is that all of the cable outlets are up in that corner. If I hang the TV on the wall then I need to snake a cable over the edge of the fireplace and over to the TV, which is just not an option. So what would you do? (Aside from installing a cable jack near the floor?)
August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngela
What do you do when a tacky builder has already built a niche for the TV above the fireplace? Do you hide it? Or is this tacky squared?
August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaulina J!
oh where oh where can one find that incredible bird wallpaper?? please direct me.
August 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereve
Little late to the comment party here, but I just had to chime in that this is a great way to customize your television, especially when you're not going to be in a place for very long -- or if you're in an apartment that just isn't big on letting you do major work within the walls (which was my biggest problem). Great solution!
February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVannsAdam

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