As TVs have gotten larger and more sophisticated over their fairly young lifespan, our living rooms have been transformed into personal screening rooms. But as entertaining as televisions are, you might notice they can actually be quite distracting when you have guests over. If you’ve ever hosted a party and your guests spend the bulk of their time in your house staring at your TV, you know the problem: TVs can get in the way of conversation and other meaningful personal interactions.
In other words, it’s time to stop arranging your living room around the TV: A more people-focused layout will foster more conversation and better connections with people.
The TV challenge
In an ideal world, we’d all have separate living rooms and TV or family rooms, but many of us don’t have that luxury. If you only have one space in your home where people can gather and relax, you might not be able to just ditch your television. But you can de-emphasize it, at least when you have guests:
- Hide it. One option is to hide the TV when it’s not in use. This can be done by placing the TV on a stand or in an entertainment center that has a sliding panel or door that can be deployed whenever you want to hide it away. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want (and can afford), including buying or building a cabinet where the TV can sink down and rise up as needed.
- Disguise it. Another option is to hide the TV in plain sight by making it look like a piece of art. You could go the easy route by buying a Frame TV, but you can also hack up your own DIY frame-style TV without too much trouble. This way you can have your TV be the focal point of the room, but encourage conversation at will.
- Off-center it. Finally, simply by not making the TV the focal point of the room will go a long way toward encouraging other activities when you have people over. Having the TV on the side of an entertainment center or hung to one side on the wall will make it easier to ignore when you want something other than a Netflix binge.
Alternative focal points
Look, if you have an enormous television dominating the room, people are going to look at it even if it’s turned off. That’s just human nature. If you want a more people-focused room, give people something to look at other than the TV—an alternative focal point.
The most obvious choice for an alternative focal point is a painting or sculpture or other piece of art. But this could really be anything, as long as it draws the eye and inspires a bit of conversation. A fireplace, if you have one, is a built-in focal point you can take advantage of simply by not mounting your TV over it. You can mount multiple pieces of art to create a gallery wall. You can use a large mirror as a focal point, or a window. You can even use a large potted plant or an exotic light fixture. A focal point can literally be anything visually stimulating that you arrange the room to focus on. Just don’t make it the TV, and you’ve already won the battle for people’s attention.
The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to making your living room more of a people space is creating a vibe that encourages conversation and personal interaction instead of staring at the TV. The goal is to create “conversation circles,” seating areas where two or more people can easily talk while sitting comfortably. This encourages not just group interaction but more intimate interactions that aren’t dependent on the larger group.
Ideally, your conversation circles should overlap a bit so people can switch off from one sub-group to another at will. Think of a room with a large couch and several smaller chairs or loveseats off to each side—you could be talking to someone on your right, then turn and jump into a conversation on your left.
There are several things to consider here:
- Movable furniture. If your room has to do double duty and will be used as both a TV room and a meeting place, furnishing it with pieces that can be easily moved and re-arranged might be ideal. This could mean chairs, tables, and sofas that are on casters, but it could also mean skipping the big couch and furnishing the room with smaller chairs that can easily be picked up and shifted around. This way you can have everything focused on the TV when it’s time to watch a show with your family, then easily form some conversation circles when it’s party time.
- Facing furniture. If you want to make a powerful statement about encouraging conversation in your living room, arrange your furniture so it faces itself. That could mean two couches on opposite sides of a coffee table, a couch facing some comfortable chairs, or having those chairs off to one side at an angle. The goal here is to have everyone facing each other instead of a TV screen.
- Low-backed furniture. If your TV is the focal point of the room and you’re unwilling to change that, consider placing low-backed chairs or a bench in front of the TV facing the other seating. This way you have an unobstructed view of the screen when it’s movie night, but other people will become the focal point when you have guests seated there, and there’s no rearranging of furniture needed.
If all you ever do in your living room is watch TV, then by all means, make it the centerpiece of the space and get comfy. But if you want to be the sort of person who hosts memorable get-togethers and actually has in-person conversations, consider arranging things to focus more on people.