There is a bit of confusion surrounding the difference between a family room, a living room and a great room. At Hoskins Interior Design, we define a family room (also called a hearth room) as the place used for family relaxation, TV viewing and together time. A living room (also referred to as a parlor or sitting room) is a more formal space, mainly used for entertaining guests. A great room is a mixture of both a family room and living room, and is usually found in homes that have just one large room dedicated to both functions – family time and guest entertainment.
Our focus for this article is on designing around the need to entertain guests, both in the living room and the great room. As each space has different functionalities, it makes sense to start with how you plan to use the space. Both are gathering areas, but understanding the other activities that will take place in your space will help you create a better design.
Designing A Living Room:
At the center of guest entertainment, you will want to begin your living room design by creating multiple intimate gathering spaces. When you are hosting parties, people tend to move off into small groups for conversation. Forcing everyone to interact in a big circle is more of a meeting than a party! At the minimum, you will want a vignette that includes a sofa and two chairs, centered around a coffee table. If your room has enough space, you can create one or two more conversation areas; perhaps two chairs with a lamp table between them, and an occasional chair with an ottoman or footstool and a small lamp table. While there may be a fireplace in the space that acts as a focal point, there is rarely a TV in a living room.
Living rooms offer a wonderful opportunity to share the more formal part of your personal style with your guests. Furniture should be chosen for scale first, as you are trying to fit many vignettes in one room. Consider the atmosphere you would like to create for your guests, and choose your fabrics, window treatments, accessories and finishes with that goal in mind. Lighting will be important since you will not want your guests sitting in dim space during the evening hours! Bring in pieces from a collection, or special artwork that reflect you and your family, as accessories. Finally, make sure you give your guests a spot to place a drink or plate – no one likes balancing either on their laps!
We also suggest including a comfortable chair and ottoman along with some good lighting for yourself in your living room, creating a place to escape the business of the rest of the house. By crafting a space for reading and reflecting, you are allowing your living room to double as a sitting room which you will use with or without guests.
Designing a Great Room
Designing a great room can get tricky due to the many functions it is meant to serve as well as its larger size. Space for entertaining guests is mixed with room for family time, TV viewing, game night and homework. As the main TV viewing area, the media center tends be the focal point. Depending upon the size of your family, you will need a comfortable seating area for the TV for at least 4-5 people. Conversation areas are still important in a great room, so make sure to include a small table and chairs vignette which can double as a homework, snack or paperwork area depending on who is using it. Many times you will find a fireplace in a great room, which will serve as another focal point for gathering spaces. Balancing these elements with the functionality you need is where an experienced interior designer comes in handy!
With the larger size of a great room, many homeowners are inclined to push all of their furniture against the walls all the way around the space. This design does not lend itself to comfortable conversation or to a balanced look. Create intimate spaces in a large area by arranging seating vignettes just like in a large living room. It will be important to purchase furniture that fits the multi-functional nature of the space and is comfortable for you and your family. Remember to create a peaceful space to land outside of your kitchen, breakfast room or study. Bringing this versatility to your great room means you will use it more, and your family will be more likely to gather together in one spot rather than spreading out to other spaces of the house.
As in all interior design schemes, understanding how you are going to live in a space will allow you to take full advantage of all opportunities the room offers. If you are building a new home or remodeling, bring your interior designer in during the blueprint stage, so they can ensure you are creating a space that truly suits your needs. After the build or renovation is finished, consider having your designer find custom furniture crafted around YOUR body and YOUR needs, not those of the average person. You are guaranteed to be more comfortable in your space with the personalized touch.
We are always happy to help homeowners create the perfect space for themselves and their family. Reach out to us via email, or give us a call at 317.253.8986 to schedule a consultation.