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THE STATUS REPORT

Turn On, Tune In, Show Off

TVs are back as a conspicuous display of prosperity. How wired is your bathroom?

September 16, 2007|Meghan Daum | Meghan Daum is an opinion columnist for the Times

"The higher in class you are," wrote historian Paul Fussell in his seminal 1983 book "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System," "the less likely it is that your TV will be exhibited in your living room."

What a difference a couple of decades--and flat screens--can make. No longer a symbol of middle-class boorishness, the television set has gone from an object of denial to objet d'art. The aspirational classes once pretended not to watch TV at all, relegating their sets to dens or hiding them inside media cabinets. Now they display their sets as proudly as they might a tank of exotic fish. And why not? With most flat-screen TVs starting at about $1,000, almost anyone can make "Murder, She Wrote" a high-culture event. Who needs theater tickets when you've got a 63-inch Fujitsu?

"I don't think it's an embarrassment to watch TV," says Alison Palevsky, co-owner of Santa Monica-based Shetter Palevsky Interiors. "There are a lot of great shows on. And in Los Angeles, where so many people work in TV, why would you pretend you don't watch it?"

Specializing in high-end residential and commercial projects, Palevsky and partner Sarah Shetter have watched the TV come out of the closet--literally. "In living rooms, most people are doing the 50-inch screens," Palevsky says. "If I were building a house I'd also put in a kitchen-countertop flat screen on a wall-mounted bracket. With the Food Network and all the cooking shows they have out there, you want to be able to follow along."

Shetter says she's also seeing bathroom TVs: "If you're shaving or getting ready in the morning you can watch the news."

Unapologetic TV-watching hasn't been this vigorous since televisions first appeared in well-heeled households in the 1940s. One reason may be that we have less to apologize for. No longer synonymous with laugh tracks and breathless soap opera dialogue, television now is widely considered to be as sophisticated a medium as film. And you don't need HBO. Network shows such as "The Office" and "Friday Night Lights" are as smart as anything on cable. Meanwhile, digital recording devices can stack up programs as though they were homework assignments.

Granted, those bulky, double-doored media cabinets are now hopelessly outre. But does that mean the days of hidden TVs are completely over? Not exactly. Turns out, there's status in that too.

"There's a 'wow effect' in terms of how it's hidden and revealed," says Aaron Guttman, owner of Sound Environment, a custom audio/video integration company at West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center. "Then it becomes about automation."

A visit to Sound Environment's showroom finds a reproduction of Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" recessed inside a wall and surrounded by a sleek black frame. Via remote control, the painting slides up inside the frame to reveal a 42-inch plasma display. Accommodating TVs of up to 65 inches, the "art screen" allows you to choose from a variety of designs scanned by computer onto the retractable screen. The price is $4,000 to $8,000, not including the TV, plus $750 if you want your own art scanned.

Too steep? A simple frame around the wall-mounted flat screen is about $1,500. Too meta? There's always the home theater option. Starting at about $100,000, you can get a wall-to-wall-width screen mounted above a stage with theatrical curtains, a drop-down Roman shade, reclining chairs with cup holders, surround-sound audio and a mini-bar.

"It used to be that the husband wanted his big screen and his big speakers, and the wife wanted it hidden," Guttman says. "But now, especially in non-common rooms, women want to show off too. It's like the wife will say to her friends, 'Come up to my bedroom and look at my big TV.' "

No wonder you can pick up a media cabinet on Craigslist for $100.

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