The Living Room Is Dead, or Is It?

By Ryan Siebert

In a recent consultation with a buyer looking to build a customized new construction home our client was content with giving up the living room on the main level to maximize the open layout on the main level.  It got me thinking, is the living room really dead?  In fact I was so curious to see if this was a trend or something that other builders had already removed from their speculative home plans.  What I found out was very interesting.  

When I first started in real estate nearly 10 years ago I would often confuse the living and the family room.  To me what was one was the other.  However, I develop a few one liners to describe the difference between the two.  My favorite description I still use today is that the living room is, the place where you put your fancy furniture, you know the plastic covered couches like your grandma used to have.  It gets a laugh every time.  However, as our company moved into customized project and building new construction homes I started to realize that the use of the family room was pretty much useless.  The living room didn’t just go away, builders didn’t simply get rid of the square footage, so what has happened?  

  • Combined with Family/Dining Room – One of the easiest ways to eliminate the living room was to simply remove a wall.  In fact many walls have came down over the years when it comes to layouts.  People like the openness and are no longer serving formal meals.  Even those that like to serve guests are incorporating their kitchens into their entertainment areas with big islands and open space combinations to allow for many people to be a part of the entire dinner party.  This article from Katherine Salant of the Washington Post is a great example of this type of activity with the use of the 11 ft island top as a way to entertain and prepare a big meal.  She goes on to mention the use of the front room as an office, but is it really?  After reading the article about the smaller lots I looked at a few of our recent layouts in Chicago with 25-30 ft wide lots and found myself grinning at the layout.  Yes, we have a “living room” and “dining room”, but let’s be honest, with the open space it is nothing more than an extension of one another.  

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  • Changed Names – Some layouts and lots require the use of the front living room to hide beams and columns that support the structure.  Removing the living room would then cause an entire redesign of the structure, or cause the cost of the home to be so high with the use of steel framing that the value of the home would not keep up with the cost when complete.  However, some architects and builders got smart along the way and decided to call the living room another name.  The use of offices, studies, great rooms, foyers etc started showing up on plans.  Some plans come with a “flex” meaning you can choose the room to be what you want, I’d go with disco room personally.  The truth is the space is still the same, but builders are selling the home with different benefits to you the buyer.  That is what sales is all about right, making sure the buyer has all of the benefits, and they don’t have to use any of their own imagination.  

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The truth is that the living room has been dying a slow death for a long time.  In fact during my research I found an article that was perfect to back my theory of the dying living room up, until I realized it was from 1993, thank you Todd Savage from Chicago Tribune.  If you really want to get rid of the living room you without a doubt can, but I would bet there are still enough home buyers out there that will choose to keep it for cost purposes, or maybe with a glimmer of hope they will find a way to utilize the space.  For the sake of the living room, I hope someone figures out a way to make it popular again.  


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