Do You Live In Your Living Room?

The living room has come to have varied functions.  One type of living room is used for entertainment and front, while another type of living is the gathering place for the entire family for purposes of rest, conversation and the entertainment of friends. ~ Elizabeth Burris-Meyer, Decorating Livable Homes, 1937.

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, our neighbors called their living room the “front room.”  It was only used on special occasions.  My husband’s childhood home–a Civil War era farmhouse–had a “sacred room” that The Mister and his brothers were basically forbidden to enter without permission. In addition to this formal room for visitors, my neighbors and in-laws also had family rooms where the real living took place.

She's not going to be able to sit through the Perry Mason marathon sitting in that straight backed chair!

Mrs. Burris-Meyer tells us:

  • If the living room is for entertainment only, another room is needed for relaxation and study (what we would call a family room today)
  • The family room can also double as a guest room since (hopefully) most of the time it isn’t occupied with a guest
  • The combo family-guest room should be furnished with a convertible couch or love seat
  • Living rooms used for entertainment purposes only should have a feeling of lively formality. ” The more interesting the room, the more interesting the parties will be.”
  • Any room for social purposes should be decorated with contrasting colors (though they don’t always need to be intense).
  • Furniture for the formal living room should be selected and placed to encourage general participation rather than huddle formations
  • Color schemes for family rooms should be welcoming and restful–primarily hues found in nature.
  • Family rooms should have comfortable furniture and plenty of light–natural and artificial– for reading and other activities
  • Although couches are common in family rooms, they aren’t essential.  Overstuffed chairs placed in groupings can replace couches in “space challenged” rooms.
  • In addition to comfortable chairs, a few straight chairs are needed (she doesn’t elaborate on why this is necessary…is it to discourage guests from staying around beyond their welcome?)
  • Too many small tables and stools make a room feel cluttered and small.  A coffee table and a couple of end tables are all that are needed.
  • Books add a great deal of liveliness to a family room and the covers should be considered part of the color scheme.  Don’t be afraid to create book jackets that will harmonize with the room’s color scheme.

    Family relaxing in the living room of a Lustron House, ca. 1947-1950. Lustron homes were prefabricated, single family homes constructed of porcelain steel. They were manufactured in Columbus, Ohio. Image courtesy of

We don’t have a formal living room and a family room.  So, our living room has to double as the family room, too.  When guests come, we use the fold-out couch in the front room and let them stay in our bedroom so that they can have a little more privacy in our small little house (that is just the right size for the two of us).  I personally prefer the blue family of colors but the living room’s color scheme is in the brown family.  It has a rather masculine feel to it but that is primarily caused by all of the cowboy, Native American and Revolutionary War sculptures created by The Mister.  What I do like about our living room is that the television set is not the focal point of the room.  Our couch faces the fireplace instead of the TV.  We can see and watch TV from the couch but it isn’t what we immediately see when we sit on the couch.  I love looking at old shows and ads and noticing that the TV is in the corner as almost an afterthought rather than the main event for the room.

What about you?  Where is your main living space?  Do you have a “sacred room” that is only used when company comes?  What is your color scheme and what, if anything, needs to be rearranged.

Next lesson, we’ll talk about dining rooms and what to do about a living-dining room combination situation (that is what I have).


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Dr. Julie-Ann

I'm Dr. Julie-Ann, living life in its Technicolor finest by channeling my Grandma, Donna Reed, and June Cleaver with a bit of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly glamour thrown in for good measure, too. I work outside of the home full-time as a university administrator but I nourish my soul and find my greatest happiness by trying to be the "perfect" 1950s homemaker.

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  1. 1


    In downsizing, we determined that we did not want two living areas or two eating areas. My husband insisted on a small house because he thought the housekeeping would be easier. That’s true, but I regret that in retirement, I don’t have a designated sewing room.

    In shopping for a modular home, I discovered a lack of options. We could use an extra bedroom, as I just explained, but once you get four bedrooms, then you have the family room and the two eating areas, making the house larger than we wanted.

    In our big house, we had a formal living / dining area. It was a lovely area, but on a daily basis, it was my study area while family living occurred in the family room. However, we came to see it as wasted space. Drop-in visitors and entertaining are a rarity for us.

    I’m really surprised at these ideas coming out of 1937 when many were lucky to have a roof over their heads.
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  2. 2

    Dr. Julie-Ann says

    I’m really surprised at these ideas coming out of 1937 when many were lucky to have a roof over their heads

    Kathy, my source is a home ec textbook for the interior decorating thread so that probably accounts for some of it but we also have to remember that “only” 25% of the population was unemployed (still huge, I know) which means that 75% of the population had jobs/working farms and made it through the Great Depression “okay.”* I’ve read many, many biographies by people who say that they had to cut back but otherwise the depression didn’t really affect them. I’m guessing it is for that population that this textbook is geared toward.

    *After my paternal grandparents left the Dust Bowl, they were able to live a comfortable working-middle class life out here in Los Angeles.

  3. 3

    Dr. Julie-Ann says

    I want to add that I am not trying to dismiss or minimize the hardships that people went through during The Great Depression. It was a very tough period. I just remember reading an article by an historian who pointed out that it wasn’t hard for everyone and, in fact, some people actually thrived during that time period. My point is that we can’t generalize that life was rough for everyone in the 1930s…it is just like today. The economy in the U.S. isn’t wonderful but people are still out there buying houses and cars, etc.

  4. 4


    I am no student of the Depression but only thought of my own family. My maternal grandparents did survive handily; he owned a Ford garage and was very conservative. The “shoulds” in this article would not have impressed him. My paternal grandparents (Ina and Julian) began to struggle during the Depression and never recovered. She would love to have improved her home.

    The posts from this book are delightful and certainly thought-provoking. I just wonder, though — these ideas seem to be set forth in the tone of a standard that some retro housewives — possibly even most — couldn’t achieve. I don’t remember a single house with a family room until maybe the ’60s. I had assumed the development of the family room came with television, but here it’s discussed in 1937.
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    • 5


      “I don’t remember a single house with a family room until maybe the ’60s. I had assumed the development of the family room came with television…”

      This is actually quite a curious pattern we’ve seen in our house hunting. Oak Forest (one of Houston’s first Post War Suburbs) you see the standard 3 bedroom, one bathroom post war houses, with living room, dining room, kitchen, and one car garage. HOWEVER, if you go to Spring Branch (a suburb built about 5 years later, 1952-1958ish), one sees the advent of the 2nd bathroom (usually a master en suite), and, frequently, a 4th bedroom. The Spring Branch house have a family room, 9 times out of 10.
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  5. 6

    Dr. Julie-Ann says

    Well…my grandparent’s house was built in the late 1930s and it had both the front room and the family room. Their house would be considered small by today’s standards because it was only a two bedroom home. When my great-grandmother moved in with them when Dad was in high school/college, the family room became my father’s bedroom until he moved out.

    That said, don’t most magazines, home decorating books published today and HGTV shows set an unattainable standard…especially the ones produced by Martha Stewart? But “we” (used in a general sense) still gobble that stuff up or else they wouldn’t be created.

    I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing as long as it is kept in perspective.

  6. 7

    Lisa says

    In New England, the formal living room (AKA the Child Free Zone) was called the parlor (pronounce pahlah). I don’t recall ever having a “parlor” in the houses we lived in though. When we had guests we just did the quick clean up-magazines stacked neatly on the coffee table, ashtrays cleaned etc… But I do remember some of my childhood friend’s homes with a formal parlor. It usually had ornate furniture (usually victorian)and oriental rugs. Of course, we couldn’t go in there, but we used to peek inside to see what it looked like.

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    “That said, don’t most magazines, home decorating books published today and HGTV shows set an unattainable standard…especially the ones produced by Martha Stewart?”

    I think this is where the Internet has filled that gap. Lots of highly attainable ideas out there.

    That being said, we have to Live in our Living Room. Ideally, when we have a house, I would like a seperate TV/Gameroom/Den . But I imagine, we will still use our living room.
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