House builders, TV manufacturers and homeowners have started installing televisions behind mirrors because it's a novel yet useful concept.
Inside the McNett household in Lee's Summit, Mo., ESPN "SportsCenter ," the "Today" show or a Nickelodeon cartoon is on display nearly every morning in the master bathroom mirror upstairs.
Kerri McNett thought her husband, Matt, would be the only one watching their television behind the mirror - the apparent pinnacle of guy gadgetry. To watch a home-run replay during a clean, close shave, all it takes is the click of a remote control. When the television is off, it seemingly disappears, and the mirror goes back to looking like any other mirror.
But she watches it probably more than he does.
"With three kids, it ends up that the best time I can catch up on my news is while I'm getting ready," says Kerri McNett, whose daughters Kailey, 6, and Riley, 4, and son Gage, 2, follow her from room to room. "I didn't think I'd use it much, but I do."
The McNetts got the idea as they were touring a model home several years ago. They saw a glowing screen that seemed to magically float in a mirror like something out of "The Jetsons." They asked how to duplicate the concept.
So when the McNetts were building a house, Kerri McNett indulged her husband by designing his bathroom vanity against a closet. "His eyes lit up like Christmas," she says. Since they've had a television behind a mirror, her parents, her brother and his wife and her uncle have copied the setup. And now those persons' friends are doing the same.
For the most part, all have installed the system themselves using televisions they already had - the McNetts used one with a 13-inch screen. The biggest expense is a two-way mirror, called mirror/pane glass by those in the industry. The material has a reflective coating fused inside and costs $11 to $16 per square foot compared to $4 to $6 for standard mirror glass.
The special glass usually has a slight amber or bluish tint to it. In the master bathroom of David and Sonja Mitchell's Independence, Mo., home, her two-way mirror is hung next to his standard-glass vanity.
"You can barely tell it isn't the same," says David Mitchell, a seventh-grade school principal. He and Sonja, who teaches second grade, paid $300 for the special-glass mirror.
When friends visit the Mitchells' new home, they compliment the rest of the house but go wild when they see the TV behind the mirror.
"That's the thing they notice first," says Sonja Mitchell of their system that's in perfect view from the sunken tub. "They say 'Oh, we're definitely figuring out how to do this in our house.'"
Televisions have made their way into the bathroom in many other ways - on counters and ledges and mounted to ceiling brackets. And as more bathrooms include dressing rooms and even fitness areas, people also are installing entertainment cabinets.
On the truly luxurious side, Dorfman Plumbing Supply in Kansas City sells a Jacuzzi with built-in TV for $10,476. Jacuzzi also makes a $31,000, 7-foot version with a 42-inch plasma screen called LaScala, inspired by the request of a professional basketball player whom a company spokeswoman would not identify.
"You're seeing more TVs in today's bathrooms - master bathrooms in particular - because they're huge," says Charlie Dorfman, owner of the supply company.
And although it may seem like a quirky, pie-in-the-sky notion, having a television behind a mirror is the configuration that makes the most sense in the bathroom, he says. For starters, it doesn't have to share space among all the toiletries on the counters.
"You're looking in that direction anyway, so you don't have to crane your neck," says Dorfman, who doesn't sell systems but has heard from customers who've installed them. "They're great for people who are always on the run while they're getting ready to go to work. I can see the latest financial news being especially useful to people."
Television manufacturers have run with the trend and upped the ante. This year, the Wisconsin company Seura introduced its television mirror at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas.
With Seura's version, people don't need a special room to make the concept work. A flat-screen liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor is already behind the mirror. A 13-inch- screen model starts at $2,700.
So far, the TV mirror has appealed to upscale working women, says Tim Gilbertson, Seura president. "They like that when it's off, they don't see it or any unsightly cords," he says. Hair salons and restaurant bars also have had them installed.
Home builders, who got the idea from the hotel industry, are starting to create space in new homes for televisions behind mirrors. SAB Construction, a Lee's Summit company that builds homes that sell for $150,000 to $1 million, gives customers the option. About one-third request it, says Kim Boswell, the company's design and operations manager. They charge at least $800 and up to $10,000 for sophisticated television and stereo equipment.
"We get calls all the time from people asking how to do it," Boswell says, adding that SAB owner Scott Bamesberger uses the concept as a marketing tool so potential buyers will remember the company's model homes.
The Mitchells, who hired a company to construct a wooden cabinet for their TV behind the mirror, have plans for their system. David Mitchell wants to wire speakers and headphones to it because the jets in the tub can be too loud to hear the TV. But other than that, they say it has been convenient.
Mitchell turns the TV on while he irons. Sons Trent, 5, and Cole, 3, pop in occasionally for "Dragon Tales." And Sonja looks for the weather report on morning programs as she multitasks, getting herself and the boys ready for their day.
"It's been nice," she says. "It helps me feel a little more connected to the world. And it's fun to have something new and interesting."