What happened to... Home Futures

The television

To mark the Home Futures exhibition, guest authors take stock of some of the changes that the contemporary domestic interior has endured in the last two decades. What happened to the TV, the telephone, the bed? Explore more of these essays in the official exhibition catalogue.

Television’s arrival in the 1940s transformed our homes for the next three quarters of a century. Not only did it monopolise the way in which millions spent their leisure time, it also configured our living rooms in a highly prescribed manner: a centrally positioned TV ‘set’ with a sofa facing it. This was the only arrangement that allowed the family to bask in the warm glow of visual broadcast media. It is no wonder, then, that this central messaging device aspired to the condition of furniture. How to introduce a machine into a refined domestic interior? By setting the screen in a walnut-veneer cabinet on legs. The artist Donald Judd wrote of trying to buy a TV in the 1970s: ‘All were made of plastic imitating wood, some like your Anglo grand-mother’s sideboard, some like your Italian grandmother’s credenza, some like your Latino grandmother’s aparador.’ The idea that the machine had to disguise itself as a family heirloom was, says Judd, a product of ‘the myth of the old home’.

In the twenty-first century, however, two things happened in relatively quick succession. First, television-as-object was replaced by the fat-screen. Now the question of design was redundant, superseded by the fetish of resolution (HD, UHD, 4K UHD, etc). Every year, fat-screens got thinner and thinner, and bigger and bigger. Samsung’s 9000 series, for instance, was 75 inches across – the equivalent of a shortish basketball player stretched diagonally across your wall – and only one third of an inch thick. Once the proud hearth of the home, the ‘gogglebox’ was now trying to replace the wallpaper.

The second, more important, thing that happened was that televisions started to disappear. The TV’s aspiration to pure surface was consistent with the dematerialisation of objects in our lives more generally: the disappearance of diaries, cameras, calculators and so on behind the black glass of the mobile phone. But it was really the internet that killed the TV. We now consume media on a multitude of mobile devices: laptops, tablets, phablets and phones. Media has been decentralised in a watch-anything-anywhere culture. Television has lost its hearth-like status, and the living room furniture is ready to be rearranged again.

—Justin McGuirk

Related exhibition

Home Futures

Explore today’s home through the prism of yesterday’s imagination. Are we living in the way that pioneering architects and designers throughout the 20th century predicted, or has our idea of home proved resistant to real change?

Find out more

Home Futures

Alongside original essays by leading voices in the field, this richly illustrated book features more than 200 colour images, organised in six thematic sections exploring privacy, the smart home, compact living, self-sufficiency, nomadic lifestyles and the idea of the home as an idyllic landscape.