New furniture lets you conceal --or flaunt--TV, stereo equipment

ELECTRONIC HIDE AND CHIC

November 11, 1990|By Linda Lowe Morris

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes time to finding a place to put the television and the stereo and all that goes with them. One group wants to banish it all from sight, to hide it in the nearest armoire. The other group wants to glorify it, to create an electronic shrine for all to see.

"Some equipment is terrific-looking. Some televisions are like sculptures," says Ted Pearson, director of design with Rita St. Clair Associates Inc.

"But it depends very much on the style of the home," he continues. "If it's contemporary, a lot of times the electronic equipment is exposed. But a lot of people in traditional homes want the whole feeling of that era, and they find something like a television to be intrusive."

Both groups, the hiders and the seekers, are being courted by furniture manufacturers who, after a slow start (it was decades before they produced something more than the basic metal television stand), have now filled the marketplace with all kinds of furniture for the home entertainment center.

According to Diane Gaither, an interior designer for Papier Design Group, furniture pieces, like armoires and hutches, that hide their electronic contents are very popular.

"Not as many houses have club basements any more," she says. "Now people live in condominiums where the living room is also the family room. They want the television or stereo in the room without having it sitting out."

All of the major traditional furniture companies have made armoires, wardrobes, hutches and highboys that are designed to hold television or stereo components. At Gardiner's in Towson, as at many local department and furniture stores, there are a number of entertainment units disguised as more traditional pieces of furniture. Many of them come with slide-out trays for VCRs, swivel bases for televisions, pocket doors that slide back into the unit, holes to thread wires through, and electrical and cable outlets. A Victorian oak highboy is $985; a large Shaker wardrobe (which could also be used for clothes) is $1,149.

There are many other pieces made in differing traditional styles that hide only the television and display the stereo components behind glass doors for $499 to $912. TV carts hold the television on top with storage below for VCR and videocassettes for $200 to $300.

The Bartley Collection of Easton, which makes high-end antique reproduction furniture kits, has outfitted a reproduction of a 1780 cupboard from the Isle of Jersey with a large top shelf for the television set, drop-front drawers below for the VCR and standard drawers for storage below.

When you're planning to shop for entertainment units, it's important to measure your components -- in particular the depth of the television -- before you start. Because there is such a wide variety in sizes and shapes of televisions, there is no standard sizing in pieces that hold them.

Many large pieces of furniture (including lesser quality antiques) can be easily adapted to hold electronic equipment. With new, very small, but still powerful, speakers available, even these can be hidden away.

"Sometimes a cabinet has to be modified," says Mr. Pearson. "The center stile [post] can get in the way, but the stile can be cut out and attached to one of the doors.

"You can also add a pull-out shelf with swivel to aim right or left for the seating area. You may have to attach a cabinet to the wall to keep it from tilting. You also may need to reinforce a piece of furniture because of the weight. These things, of course, aren't something you'd do to a really fine antique."

A swivel base made for televisions may help you adapt a piece of furniture you already have. Gardiner's, IKEA and Scan all have swivel bases ranging in price from $40 to $89.

Care should be taken to leave room around the components for heat to escape, and you should never operate your stereo equipment with the doors closed unless there is ventilation in back of the piece of furniture.

Those who want to display their electronic equipment have an even wider range of possibilities. And as televisions in particular have gotten thinner and sleeker in their designs, the overall effect is more elegant.

"Equipment can be a piece of art," says Ted Pearson. "As long as you don't have wires hanging out, televisions can even be placed on a pedestal for a minimal look."

Wall systems are another popular way to display electronicomponents. According to Peter Keys Fender -- an interior designer who lives in Canton Cove, but whose company, Erik Contemporary Design, is in York, Pa. -- "A wall system is a tremendous opportunity to do something creative. And you've saved all that floor space."

Many people, he adds, like to combine their electronic equipment with their favorite decorative pieces. "People still like to consolidate their things," he says. "They might have stereo gear or a CD collection and also have neat glass sculpture or African art, so the idea is to put them together."

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