Hiding a television within an armoire became a staple of home design during the 1990s' "cocooning" trend.
But as televisions evolved into sleeker styles, they moved out of armoires to become the focal point of wall-unit entertainment centers. Now new home builds are incorporating custom niches into their walls, elevating the TV to a design element.
Chattanooga home builder Lyle Thompson said he has built numerous homes with TV niches recessed into the wall above the fireplace. He explained the placement is a practical use of extra space.
"When homes had wood-burning fireplaces, you had a chimney going up that space. But with gas logs, it just made sense to put a niche above the hearth because you didn't need that space," said the homebuilder.
"Back in the '90s, TVs were really not as stylish as they are now," said Marsha Yessick, owner of Yessick's Design Center. "People wanted to hide them. Designers had to search for armoires deep enough to hold those bulky TVs. They were not attractive, and they were not streamlined."
The designer said homeowners started placing televisions above their fireplaces as early as 2000.
"But even then, we would try to find an oil painting to put over the TV when it was not in use. There were oil paintings made deep enough to go over a television screen. Now TVs are exposed in every room. It's a bit of a status symbol to have one of those really large, thin televisions," she said.
"I like the recessed look for several reasons," said Hank Matheny, owner of Haskell Interiors in Cleveland, Tenn.
"It hides the cords; you eliminate the side glare from windows. TVs are part of life. The recessed niche is a nice way to make it look cleaner and more custom," he said.
Matheny said height is an important aspect to consider.
"Remember you are viewing it from a seated position. The further away you sit, the higher the TV can be; 55 to 60 inches from the floor to the bottom of the TV is a good height," he said.
To further enhance this design element, Matheny suggests trimming the opening with a decorative molding in a traditional setting or with a simple, rounded Sheetrock corner in a more contemporary decor.
Both designers advised decorating the mantel with height on either side of the niche (such as urns or candles) and something low across the center of the mantel beneath the niche.
Thompson said the trend in television placement is evolving as quickly as the appliance's design.
"Now, because of flat-screen TVs, we're starting to hang TVs on the wall rather putting them in a niche," he said.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...