It's on every homeowner's wish list, and it's the interior designer's dream. The flat-panel TV—plasma or LCD—has become both status symbol and style statement. Those that are thin enough to hang on a wall eliminate the need for awkward furniture and free up precious floor space. Even so, to many, a TV is still a visual intrusion, no matter how thin it may be. The custom electronics challenge facing today's designers: how to hide the plasma TV?

TVs measuring 4 inches to 5 inches deep offer woodworkers and entrepreneurs possibilities that never existed in the tube-TV world. Innovative lifts can store a flat-panel TV in the ceiling, beneath the floor, or in customized credenzas. A roll-down canvas can unfurl to cover a plasma TV and then morph into a framed painting when the TV isn't in use. A hutch with a revolving center section can store a flat-panel TV on one side and bookshelves on the other.

“People don't necessarily want to show off their flat-panels,” explains Dave Tovissi, president of Criteria, an upscale electronics and interior design firm in Naples, Fla. “They want to get rid of their big TV and the bulky piece of furniture that used to hide it. I don't care if it's a high-gloss Pioneer Elite or a standard Fujitsu model—it's still a black box. When the TV is on showing a stunning 1080p [high-quality resolution] picture, it's beautiful, but when you turn it off, it's a piece of metal and glass hanging on the wall. There's nothing attractive about that.”

curtains up Discreet concealment solutions abound. Vutec Corp.'s ArtScreen is one such option. Sold by Criteria and other authorized dealers, ArtScreen is a masking system for plasma and LCD TVs with screen sizes of 32 inches to 65 inches diagonal. When triggered by remote control, artwork descends to cover the TV screen and retracts again for viewing. Vutec maintains an image library of more than 280 reproductions from a variety of artistic periods and styles, and consumers can also choose their own custom artwork or photographs. A wide selection of frames and liners can be speced to match any room's décor. Frames can be mounted to the surface of the wall or installed recessed.

For interior designers, solutions like ArtScreen and Solar Shading Systems' VisionArt complete the cycle started by the flat-panel TV. Marcia Van Liew, managing director of Lawrence & Scott, a Seattle-based interior design firm, says a product like VisionArt frees the designer from having to deal with the TV as an appliance. “We can basically make it go away,” she says.

Such systems, she continues, free designers “to think in terms of the traditional tools of interior design, and that's art.” Specifically, the VisionArt masking system allows designers to fit the plasma device into any style of frame, so the TV no longer dictates the overall size of the mounting solution. “Because you don't have to conform to the size of the plasma, you're completely free—as you were before television entered the picture—to design the interior with a work of art,” she says.

VisionArt offers several features that appeal to Van Liew as a designer. The system doesn't require a separate remote control, for instance, but has power circuitry that's triggered by the TV's on/off button. “You turn off the TV and the artwork automatically glides up to cover the screen,” she explains. Despite the repeated wear and tear on the canvas, Van Liew says the giclée technique used to reproduce artwork is top-quality and professional. She has speced artwork from the VisionArt collection, as well as original artwork from clients.

Art frames from both companies also come with sound provisions for TVs without speakers. Vutec's solution is the SoundScape 360 option—a bar-shaped speaker compartment that's positioned near the base of the frame. Installers can then specify their own speaker options to fit the compartment.

Solar Shading Systems recommends that installers who want to offer clients more dynamic sound opt for a larger-size frame—a 60-inch frame for a 42-inch TV, for instance—and use the extra space for custom-mounted speakers. A masking system and acoustically transparent fabric can then cover the remaining space and speakers.

scene-stealers The shallow depth of plasma and LCD TVs has helped installers with built-in solutions as well. “We're doing everything from hiding them with paintings and dropping them out of ceilings to popping them up out of floors and pieces of furniture,” says Marc Leidig, president and CEO of Ambiance Systems in Clifton Park, N.Y. “We love hiding plasmas. We're in an area that's pretty conservative, and we serve a large number of clients with second homes. The architectural styles of those houses are very traditional. We love being able to put in a system that's going to let the architecture speak.”