How did living rooms look before TV and what was the central element?

Think of the TV as the source of a low, flickering light, around which everyone sat and talked. The difference is ... you can't warm your hands on a TV!

I don't know if you've ever sat around in conversation and looked into a flickering fireplace and ‘seen things' or imagined things, or just was absorbed in the flames, the smoke, the sparks. I can casually or intensely gaze at a fire for quite a while, and really enjoy it as a ‘resting point' during conversations. If you simply replace the TV with a fireplace, you'd pretty much have the picture.

There is another variation, particularly in rural southeastern USA. It may vary in other locales:

The transition to TV occurred just before I was born, during my infancy, and when I was younger. I can recall no TV out our house, and in particular, at both of my grandparent's houses. This was also about the time central heat came of age in our neck of the woods. So in their particular homes, before the TV or central heat, the central feature of the living room was either a large wood-burning stove or, more likely, a large kerosene (or oil?) heater.

It functioned very much like the fireplace, except didn't require all the cutting and chopping wood. They might have a pot of coffee sitting on it, or just a pot of water to humidify the air. Some kerosene (or oil) heaters had a little window where you could see the fire. Entertainment!!!

Otherwise .. .the rooms looked pretty similar, if one makes allowances for style differences and maybe some differences such as oil lamps, gas lamps, vs electric lighting.

There was also some transition with radios & phonographs (if one could afford these luxuries) as significant 2ndary focal elements. When the first TVs came out they were about the size of the early radios, so just replaced them.

Just substitute a fireplace or a large wood, kerosene, or oil heater for the TV!


How did living rooms look before TV and what was the central element?

I can remember back to the early 1950's. But since we lived in a rural area and were not well off, I think my memory would be accurate for the 1930–1950's. Living rooms really didn't look too different. There were comfortable places to sit. Sometimes that meant a rocking chair or easy chair or sofa. I don't recall any lounge chairs or recliners. My sense is that there were fewer "things" in the room. There might have been a rug and floor pillows because I remember lying in the floor listening to radio programs. If the house did not have central heating (as one of my grandmothers did not), there would be a small wood burning stove like one sees in a rustic cabin today. There might have been a magazine rack because people read more for entertainment then. That included magazines, newspapers, and books. People also played cards and games for entertainment, but that was mainly done around the kitchen table. My grandmothers also did needle crafts like tatting, embroidery, and knitting. So their sewing materials would be in the living room. I don't know if this was recreational or something they needed to do. All of my grandparents had radios that were large and in wooden cases. This pretty much took the place of a TV. Sometimes the radio was freestanding or it was on a small table. So the style and taste has changed, but fundamentally it is not much different.


The central element or focal point used to be the hearth or fireplace. From the moment man discovered fire it has been an important element for life and living. Imagine primitive man staring into the flickering flames, roasting meat in it and warming him or herself before it. Not much has changed.


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