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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: 3 Classic TV Sitcom Living Rooms

November 18, 2010

Sitcom furniture arrangements bear little resemblance – for better or worse – to the way real folks actually live and occupy their spaces. Many classic sitcoms boast a frou frou secretary’s desk, which the audience is to understand is used to run whole corporations, households and provide children adequate space to do homework. Generally speaking, no matter how affluent the family, there never seemed to be enough cashmoney to afford more than one couch, one lamp and one table – usually a coffee table that’s too small for the couch. Given that the living room is usually the most important room on many sitcoms, why wasn’t more thought put into balancing both the realities of shooting and some thoughtful, realistic set furnishings? And for the love of Xena, working class folks don’t = a floral or corduroy or skirted couch!

The Good: The Jeffersons

Throughout the ten year run of the show, The Jeffersons tried various combinations of living room furniture, eventually settling on this configuration, which balanced function, form and fabulousness with elegance and ease. The coffee table was a striking choice and works well with the sturdy chairs at either end of it. The whole crew – Weezy, George, Florence, Helen, Tom and Bentley – could enjoy a healthy round of trading barbs and still have room for Jenny and whatever actor playing Lionel if they happened to stop by. The desk pushed against the wall (unseen in photo) proved an attractive and functional space for Weezy to draft beg letters for the Help Center and George to verbally abuse callers before slamming the phone down in disgust. The only thing missing would be a sleek console behind the sofa, which would attractively house all the magazines Florence so often pretended to read, while eavesdropping on George and Weezy.

The Bad: The Cosby Show

For all the wealth, refined tastes and entertaining, Cliff and Claire Huxtable had a terrible living room. Five kids and one lumpy, fugly couch. Where was the comfy chair or additional setting options; no, I’m not talking about those silly dining room chairs, hauled out whenever a famous jazz musician or set of grandparents stopped by. Or that raggedy looking “antique” pink number nobody ever sat in. Where was the coffee table, substantial enough to withstand the punishment of five kids (and their friends) who were often seen horse playing? What about the cozy afghan made by some famous black artist, who were the only kinds of artists Cliff and Claire seemed to know? And that sad little desk in the corner. Please, you couldn’t even clip coupons, much less write legal briefs, which Claire was often seen doing.

The Ugly: Three’s Company

You’d think between the three of them, someone would have enough sense to figure out that hideous sofa needed to be flanked by some distracting end tables. No wonder they spent so much time at The Regal Beagle; there was no place in the living room to set down a beverage! And where was all that light coming from; the one tired ass lamp on the table with the phone? Their living room was lit up like a stadium with one overhead fixture and a lamp? I want to shop for lightbulbs where they got theirs! And what is with the idea that wicker = cheap, attractive design element? Wicker is pricey and unless you’re living in a retirement community in Florida or merchandising a Pier One store, it never looks right. Couldn’t they go back to the same curb where they found all their other furniture to get some side tables and a plank of wood to use as a coffee table? Please, I’m not feeling sorry for nobody renting on the beach in Santa Monica.

I know you have your own opinions, so let me have ’em! Which classic (or current) sitcom living rooms make your teeth itch or fill you with joy and envy?

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 3:36 pm

    I’ve wanted to live in Bob’s apartment from the original Bob Newhart show for a long time. And I’m starting to appreciate the Brady Bunch’s living room after seeing this guy’s paintings: http://www.stevenvolpe.ca/tv_series/

    Also, it’s not a tv show (can you imagine?) but who didn’t love all of the apartments in All About Eve?

  2. amanda permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:18 pm

    Although I have never wanted to live in it (I am fairly certain that sunken in living rooms would kill my clutzy ass within days and I was too devoted to wanting to live in the My Two Dads loft), this post immediately made me think of the Bob Newhart Show, too, specifically the episode that revolved around remaking the living room: http://www.hulu.com/watch/25298/the-bob-newhart-show-the-new-look. It’s rare when sitcoms base the plot on interior design like that.

    Full House also suffered from the so-many-people-so-little-seating thing. When I see clips like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpXj7SDAoJY I am distracted (thankfully for sure) by how any real family would not be content with this perching on arms of loveseats, sitting on end-stools (?) and standing up all of the time. Were the living rooms in Just the Ten of Us or Eight is Enough this ill-suited for their title-role large families? I can’t remember.

  3. Regina B permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:43 pm

    As a setting for a young, single associate producer, Mary Tyler Moore’s bed-sit seemed perfect to me– the dropped living room with the bookshelves at floor level, the convertible couch, the little kitchenette with shuttered doors that could be opened to facilitate talking with guests in the living room or closed to hide the breakfast mess when she was running late for work, the simple little dining table for 4, the big living room window as a source of natural light, the (I think) walk-in closet… and the place was big enough for parties! When I was looking for my first solo place after college, I wanted that apartment.

  4. November 18, 2010 7:14 pm

    I always thought the Gilmore Girls living room (and in fact, whole house) was lovely. Plenty of comfy seating options, and it seemed lived in. However, I was always baffled as the whether there was a bathroom on the ground floor. And how, eventually, did the upstairs bathroom become the master bathroom?

    I don’t pay much attention to tv homes, generally (which is funny for a real estate junkie like me), but I did always want the GG’s house.

  5. November 18, 2010 10:27 pm

    Some really and truly excellent selections above!

    I guess the one apartment I always wanted was the one shared by “Kate & Allie,” back in the 1980s. It was a funky West Village Duplex street level apartment with a great lived in living room good coffee table and sofa combo with hardwood floors and throw rugs around, good working kitchen off to the side and upstairs, 4, count ’em, FOUR Bedrooms! Keep in mind, that Kate and her daughter Emma had that place to themselves until Allie and her kids Jennie and Chip arrived! I’m still trying to figure out what the rent was there for that era!

  6. November 19, 2010 7:30 am

    OK, so this is probably an artifact of having been a child, one easily absorbed into stories at that, when Cosby aired. My first reaction to your observation that they were undercouched was “we’re sitting on the other couch facing theirs.” I don’t think I ever believed that literally. Something about the camera angles and built for a live audience, never seeing the other wall made it feel that way. I wonder if that’s intentional that TV does family sitcoms that way.

    My own family living room had dark brown paneling, a brown/orange/white plaid raised fabric couch, and a mixed-green shag carpet all of which my parents hated. So pretty much everything on the shows we watched looked like a step up.

    Last year I watched the Roseanne series and I really liked the messy, lived-in feel to their living room, not that it was necessarily super attractive. They even talked about the couch in an episode or two. It felt more real than any perfectly clean LR you usually see on TV.

    I like

  7. November 19, 2010 10:44 am

    Last year I watched the Roseanne series and I really liked the messy, lived-in feel to their living room, not that it was necessarily super attractive. They even talked about the couch in an episode or two. It felt more real than any perfectly clean LR you usually see on TV.

    Their living room was one of my favorites. It felt comfy, lived in and like a real family might occupy the space. Dan had a chair; I liked that. He was a hard working, loving husband and damn it, he should have a chair.

  8. November 19, 2010 3:41 pm

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the afghan that is thrown over the sofa in the Roseanne living room!

  9. hsofia permalink
    November 19, 2010 4:29 pm

    Your description of the Cosby’s living room is too funny for words.

    I never paid much attention to sitcom living rooms, but soon as I read this post, I thought about the set of Designing Women. I like the spacious living room concept. But I didn’t like the kitchen area because it was bland.

  10. Q.V. permalink
    November 20, 2010 12:29 am

    I could totally smell that afghan in the Conner’s living room. Like it had been slept on, made out on, spilled on, and possibly never washed–just like every afghan in every home in my hometown. No matter how clean the rest of the house was, God help the person who was crashing and needed that for warmth.

    I could only think of Roseanne because we had a floral fold-out couch (some kind of synthetic velvet fabric) that makes an appearance in most family living room photos. When it started to sag, Mom just put an old closet door under the cushions to even it out. It was Connertastic.

    Another living room I think of now and then is that on Married With Children. The whole stairs into the living room thing was such an upstage feature.

    Anyone remember Cybill? That was one impossibly large living room, but possibly Christine Baranski needed the space for her gestures and her glances.

  11. evmaroon permalink
    November 20, 2010 2:34 am

    Living rooms I’ve liked:
    Family Ties
    Frazier
    Kate & Allie–well, I didn’t like it so much as it reminded me of my own house
    My Three Sons

    Fugly living rooms:
    Married with Children
    All in the Family
    Mr. Belvedere

  12. November 20, 2010 9:28 am

    Family Ties had a great living room. Though a lot less hippified given the past of two of its occupants.

  13. November 22, 2010 9:14 pm

    Late to chime in, but had to also give some love to the Roseanne set, especially the Afghan throw. I was also fascinated by the kitchen shelf near the phone–I liked that it seemed to house the same canned items throughout the show’s entire run (seen here next to Crystal’s red cardigan).

    When I was a kid, the Cosby Show set confused me. I wondered how Dr. Huxtable would make a left at the staircase and end up at his office, which I thought was a whole different location. And then the kids would pop in and I’d get really confused! It took me a few seasons before I realized that he was just going to his office downstairs.

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