Death of the sitting room as screens take over

The sitting room is in danger of extinction as media steals a march on our homes. Sharon Dale reports.

Cinema room with upholstered walls and day beds
Cinema room with upholstered walls and day beds

Just like the wig room and the parlour before it, the sitting room could soon be obsolete.

It is being gradually taken over by tellys, screens, remote controls and gadgets, and in the most fashionable homes, it has been renamed “the media room”.

For those who despair that traditional sitting room pastimes of putting your feet up, reading a magazine, playing board games and watching University Challenge could disappear, there is good news.

Simon Mathieson, co-founder of Leeds-based home technology experts Finite Solutions, says: “What is happening is that people are creating big living kitchens as relaxing family spaces and they are turning what was the sitting room into a media room for watching movies and gaming.”

If you want to make the switch, you can DIY for a couple of thousand pounds but if you covet something more sophisticated with great sound quality, hidden wires, a projector and a dropdown screen, expect to pay between £5,000 and £9,000.

A dedicated cinema room starts from £15,000 and £20,000, which will buy you a projector, a big screen, seven-channel surround sound with speakers around, above and below, including subwoofers (for the uninitiated these enhance the low pitch bass sounds) and four cinema seats.

While the outlay is considerable, even owners of more modest homes are investing in them.

Not all the cost will be recouped when they put the property on the market but media and cinema rooms that have been well designed are becoming big selling points.

“They are really good for bringing people together and they are fun. You can watch a movie with family or have friends over for a film night,” says Simon, who has just revamped the cinema room at the Finite Solutions show home in Yeadon, which shows just how discreet and sophisticated technology can be.

He used a Dolby Atmos sound system, which “makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the action” and laser and anamorphic projectors that can stretch to a wider, movie theatre-style screen and still give a sharp image. Blacked out windows are essential and soundproofing and acoustics are of paramount importance.

“You can spend £15,000 on a cinema room with surround sound but if you have a tiled floor and bi-fold doors the sound it will bounce off these surfaces and it will be horrible,” says Simon, who suggests carpet on the floor and an upholstered wall. Specialist cinema seating is also important and there is an array of choice that features everything from rows of reclining chairs to daybeds and extra-long sofas, which are billed as “perfect for cuddling up with loved ones”. Finite’s room has all this and a sliding wall that shifts to reveal a snacking station and a wine and whiskey cupboard.

The tech-phobic may quiver at the thought of multiple and complex remote controls and apps needed to work all this, but there is a solution.

“Making this kind of technology easy to operate is one of the most important elements for us,” says Simon. “We condense it into a single app and a single remote and we make sure all the key elements are on one page. The key to success is working with a client to design the kind of interface that makes sense to them. Simplicity is everything.”

As most movies are now streamed, a good wi-fi signal is important. If yours is patchy, there are various plug-in boosters that can help, though the best solution is to have a hard-wired connection. “You can do a lot wirelessly now if you are retro fitting a home but hard wiring is still the best option if you are renovating or building a property,” says Simon.

Other technologies that are starting to make an appearance in British homes include Amazon Echo is a voice-activated system that can be linked to everything connected to the internet, from your music player to household appliances. It’s wake word is “Alexa”, so you can say, “Alexa, play ‘Happy Birthday’ and she will find it on your playlist. She’ll also turn on the washing machine, though she can’t load it.