Flat Screen TV Placement

By Dan Wallace

Flat screen TV placement depends on frequency of use, screen size, and viewing distance.

Determine the focal point

In most traditional homes, a fireplace is centered in the family room, and it serves as the primary focal point. This placement, however, doesn’t always make sense. If the fireplace is used only a few times a year, it shouldn’t be the center of attention.

Similarly, the amount of time that the TV is used should determine how central it is to the room’s furnishings. The role of the television in family life has changed a lot in the past 20 years. If the TV is used daily, it should be the primary focus within a space. If it’s used infrequently, the television can be a secondary focal point. Of course, choosing the focal point doesn’t have to be so definitive. If the fireplace and television both receive regular use, they can both be primary focal points.

Consider room size and furniture layout

If I’m designing for a remodel, the room size and the furniture layout may already be determined. If I’m designing an addition or a new home, though, I have a little more control over a room’s dimensions and proportions. The room size and integration of sofas and chairs within it determine whether a U-shaped or L-shaped seating arrangement works best. By extension, this layout influences the amount of wall space available for the TV and bookcases.

When it comes to TV size, many people think bigger is better. However, room proportion and viewing distance from the TV should dictate television size. You don’t want to watch a 15-in. TV if you will be 16 ft. away or watch a 70-in. flat screen if you will be 6 ft. away. Many people are surprised to find out that they would be better served with a smaller television screen than they were considering. If they are adamant about having the largest TV screen on the market, I adjust the proportions of the family room and/or sitting area accordingly or suggest a dedicated media room.

Emphasize the TV with strategic layouts

The most common television and fireplace layout is the horizontal layout, or what I call the “next-to” configuration. In a horizontal layout, the TV and fireplace are side by side, allowing for three possible primary focal points: the fireplace; the TV; or a combination of the two. The biggest benefit to this layout is the vertical freedom it allows the two pieces. Both the TV and the fireplace can be set at comfortable viewing heights for people who are seated. However, in smaller rooms, the width of this layout can make it difficult to arrange seating properly. Often, the next-to configuration is more conducive to an L-shaped seating configuration (floor plan above right).

With flat-screen TVs, a vertical, or “on-top-of,” configuration is possible if the fireplace is flush with the floor. Given their stacked configuration, both the fireplace and the TV share the primary focal point of the family room. If I am dealing with a skinny family room, I can use this layout to include a TV and fireplace and still have room for seating on both sides. The biggest downside to an on-top-of arrangement is that neither the TV nor the fireplace is at an ideal viewing height.

Comfort by the Numbers

Ideally, the TV is at eye level when you are seated. Divide the screen into thirds vertically, and set the lower third at 38 in. above the floor. That’s about eye level when you’re lounging on the sofa. In the on-top-of layout, the TV must be higher. As a rule of thumb, keep the TV at eye level if viewing distance is less than 10 ft. Beyond that distance, you can raise the bottom of the screen to accommodate a fireplace.

The relationship between TV size and viewing distance can vary somewhat. However, viewing distance for flat-panel TVs should fall between 2 to 3.5 times the diagonal screen size. For example, a 30-in. TV should be between 60 in. (30x2) and 105 in. (30x3.5) from a chair. As a starting point, I use the chart below, remembering to keep in mind the scale of the TV and the fireplace.

TV Size (diagonal)     Viewing Distance Flat Screen (16:9)
Up to 19 in.                  Up to 7 ft.
20 in. to 29 in.              6 ft. to 8 ft.
30 in. to 39 in.              8 ft. to 10 ft.
40 in. to 49 in.              10 ft. to 12 ft.
50 in. to 59 in.              12 ft. to 14 ft.
60 in. and above          14 ft. and up


Originally Published in Fine Homebuilding

01/10/2014