Where’s My Living Room?

A builder client asked me the other day, “Do people still want Living Rooms?” And in another recent conversation with a building remodeler, he noted that Living Room conversions into bars and Billiard rooms has become big business. Is the Living Room dead or more to the point, are we just livingdifferently? What is in a name anyway? The living room is perhaps the most mislabeled space in the home because so little living is done there. In fact, the living room is a byproduct of the parlor where, ironically enough the dying took place. As Jeremiah Eck has smartly noted, we need to rethink how we label spaces in our homes to better reflect who we are and how we live. Formal living rooms have persisted and ultimately have far outlived their place in modern homes.

I cannot count the number of times custom home clients have questioned the utility of this “standard” feature. The conversation usually references the fancy couch that no one ever sits on, visits to Grandmother’s house, and the prohibition (and associated stress) of the kids entering this hallowed space. But for years, the discussion ended with the admonition to keep the space no one uses because the client grew up with a Living Room, they already have the furniture and, most importantly, they fear they won’t be able to resell the house.

Well these concerns are losing their power as this vestigial space gets re-imagined. The social factors influencing this change start with, of all things, the television. Living rooms predated the television and even after TV’s advent, the Living Room remained TV free. As TV became more central to daily living so too did society become less formal, more casual. And the living room crossed a threshold from occasional and necessary utility to the room with no reason to go into. Meanwhile kitchens grew, became central to both daily life AND entertaining. The same client who bemoaned the Living Room’s lack of purpose routinely referenced the fact they cannot get anyone to leave the kitchen during a party. The answer right in front of the architect and the client was to listen to these two interdependent observations and eliminate the Living room, redistributing its square footage to the kitchen or casual gathering space. This is happening in plan after plan we are designing for homebuilders and custom home clients alike.