Modern Living Room Design: Breaking with One Past and Recalling Another

Published: January 15th, 2013

Modern living room design is evolving as rapidly as the ways in which we live.  What was once a staid and predictable room  has in fact become  extinct.

The living room of my childhood was a sacred and formal place, a display of order and refinement. My spouse recalls that even his dog was not allowed in the living room with its plush pile carpeting, English reading table, fragile heirlooms and decorative accessories.  The room was often reserved for “company.”  Entertaining others was a more ritualized affair, and movement from living room to dining room and back was the prescribed course of an evening with friends. The buzz and hum of family life could be found in separate places;  in kitchens, family rooms and on occasion, of course, the “rec” room.

In our uniquely stressful age, time is more limited,  families more dispersed, and friendship is often as virtual as it is real.  When we are with others, we crave connection and relaxation combined.  Modern living room design blurs the boundaries and joins the functions of food, entertainment, and conversation in a much more casual setting.

Ironically, colonial homes in America often incorporated a similar approach, though for more economical purposes.  Small homes and cabins featured a “Keeping Room” where families and guests gathered around the kitchen hearth for warmth, food, conversation and sleep.  Today’s modern living rooms are perhaps a 21st century version of an 18th century design.

In modern living room design, we merge the functions of the living room, entertainment center, and kitchen.  Walls are eliminated, and options abound for seating.  Where once a breakfast table might be, there is now a seating area with sofa and lounge chairs.   Additional seating might be found on stools around a  large kitchen island where meals are prepared.  The fireplace may be nearby,  with a large flat-screen TV above the mantle for viewing from any place in the room.  The living room, family room, rec room and kitchen of my parents’ era now become one, multi-functional space.  Fabrics and finishes are highly integrated, with an emphasis on durability designed for frequent use.

This recent kitchen renovation for owners of a single-family home in Chicago demonstrates this move toward multi-functional informality.

Kitchen/Living Room
Kitchen/Living Room

 Notice the multiple seating options, the openness and flow of space, the casual yet durable furnishings, and the adjacency and integrated design of living room and kitchen functions.

Modern living room design may not be the Keeping Room of old, but it offers  a  sense of warmth and connection as vital to us now as it ever was then.