Flat-screen TVs a friendly fit for modern design
At the home-electronics store Tweeter, rows of flat-panel TVs fill a wall like works of art. The store sells only thin-panel and flat-panel...
Seattle Times retail reporter
LAS VEGAS — At the home-electronics store Tweeter, rows of flat-panel TVs fill a wall like works of art. The store sells only thin-panel and flat-panel TVs, a trend it sees as shaping the future of electronics.
Here, customers learn how to transform their living rooms into home-entertainment centers. New homes don't "leave a place for a TV," said store manager Hector Mena. "The flat panel is the answer."
If TVs are changing, the living room is coming along for the ride. Steadily climbing flat-panel TV sales are redefining electronics and the living room.
Absent the bulky armoire, the flat-panel TV opens up more possibilities for living-room design and décor, interior designers say.
"They [customers] don't want to see anything," said Richard Murphy, owner of Kent-based MESA Digital, which designs and installs home theaters. "They want the speakers in the wall, they want the TV on the wall. That's the trend."
For years, Smith Furniture Manufacturing offered one sectional in its line of midprice sofas, a "big ugly bubba" of a model it carried for the sake of a lone retail client.
This summer, Smith displayed a range of sectionals far from bubba-esque. These carried clean lines and contemporary fabrics: Partridge Family-sizes for a Pottery Barn world.
"In today's busy, busy world, time at home is more precious," said Mark Smith, vice president of the Waco, Texas, company. "They want furniture that's unobtrusive; pleasant to look at."
For Chino, Calif.-based Omnia, the sectional has become its strongest seller. Today, it accounts for 85 percent of the company's product line.
Omnia carries styles from the "Veneto," a contemporary L-shape sectional made of soft-touch buckskin, to the "Escalade," a red monstrosity that seats eight.
"Flat-panel TVs allow more room in a room," Omnia President Peter Zolferino said.
There's another factor, one that bodes well for home-electronics salespeople. Some quietly call it the W.A.F., or wife acceptance factor.
If a home-theater system makes the living room sound like KeyArena, at least it no longer resembles Stonehenge.
"Selling electronics to a guy is easy," said one dealer who declined to be named. "If it's this big old black box taking up 30 inches, with monster speakers and wires, the answer is 'No.' They, as a couple, make those decisions."
Home-electronics experts say flat-panel TV adoption should continue to climb, thanks to a combination of declining prices and its unobtrusive design. TV manufacturers last year shipped 3.5 million flat-panel (plasma and liquid-crystal-display) sets to North America, a figure expected to more than double to 7.3 million by year's end, according to iSuppli, an El Segundo, Calif.-based market-research firm.
Marcia Van Liew, managing director for Seattle-based Lawrence & Scott agrees — to an extent. While designers applaud the TV's thin design, it presents design challenges.
"The plasma is a wonder of technology," she said. "But it really creates a big shiny black hole in terms of interior design."
This has created opportunities for companies such as San Diego-based Cabinet Tronix, which specializes in automated flat-panel furniture.
It sells models such as the Bombay, an antique-appearing dresser that lifts the plasma from its bowels with the push of a bottom. Another company carries a bed rigged to let the TV rise out of the footboard.
For $3,500 and up, Newport Beach, Calif.-based VisionArt will hide the TV behind a piece of framed, retractable canvas art.
VisionArt, an offshoot of Solar Shading Systems, was born after the company installed motorized window treatments in the home of a well-respected magazine editor.
"She allowed her new husband to put his new plasma up," said Paul Self, VisionArt national sales manager. "She was begging us to find a way to get her art back."
Three years later, the company sells through interior designers. Its tagline: "Her living room. His new plasma. A perfect marriage."
Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org