What is the origin of the term ‘living room’?

” ‘room set up for ordinary social use,’ 1825 (as opposed to bedroom, dining room, etc.); from living + room “

In the late nineteenth century, decorative literature suggested a  living room to be a reflection of the personality of the designer, rather than the Victorian conventions of the day where there was a formal room designated for receiving guests. The rise of the living room meant the end of such a room that had been common in the Victorian period.

The term ‘living room’ was known since the mid 19th century.  This word was mainly coined to give a word to a space where the general social activities are performed. As there was a name for each room dedicated for specific activities like the bedroom, the dining room, the kitchen, et cetera, a name was supposed to be given to such a space which was a common place for all the members of the house where general living activities were performed. Thus, such a space was termed as the living room.

However, this term was not extensively used until the early 20th century. The use of the term by the common people started after the end of the World War I in 1918 prior to which it was called ‘The Death Room’. It was interesting for me to know the reason for which this front room of the house was given such a name and how things stacked up later so that this space was called the ‘The Living Room’.

It so happened that after the end of the World War, influenza was widely spread across the globe and millions of people lost their lives. There were deaths all around and the bodies were kept in the front room of the house for mourning before taking it for funeral. Thus, this room was then started to be called as ‘the Death Room’.

With the improving conditions and decrease in the number of deaths, the Ladies Home Journal suggested that this room was no more a death room. As it was used for various activities of the house and was more a lively place than a mourning room, it should be called ‘the Living Room’. Thus, the use of the term spread in common people.

  Before the late nineteenth century, this space of a house was called a ‘parlor’. The term parlor was derived from a French verb ‘Parle®’ which means ‘to speak’. The term was given to the space because it was mainly a place for sitting and talking to various people. They may be the members of the family or guests. The function of this space was to carry out various formal or informal social functions of the house. With the advent of the term ‘living room’, the use of the term ‘parlor’ subsided.

“1175–1225; Middle English parlur  < Anglo-French; Old French parleor,  equivalent to parl ( er ) to speak (see parle) + -eor -or”

 There are some other terms associated with the naming of a similar space but have minute differences on the basis of the functions being performed in this space.

The term ‘Drawing Room’, can be synonymously used for ‘parlor’. This is also a space which is used for entertaining visitors. This name is derived from the sixteenth century terms ‘withdrawing room or withdrawing chamber’ . A withdrawing room was a room to which the owner of the house, his wife, or a distinguished guest who was occupying one of the main apartments in the house could “withdraw” for more privacy.

In larger homes in the United States and Canada, the living room may be reserved for more formal and quiet entertaining, while a separate room—such as a ‘den, family room, or recreation room‘ is used for leisure and informal entertainment. A ‘great room’ combines the functions of one or more of these rooms.

A ‘family room’ is an informal, all-purpose room in a house similar to a living room. The family room is designed to be a place where family and guests gather for group recreation like talking, reading, watching TV, and other family activities.

A ‘recreation room’ (also known as a rec room, rumpus room, or ruckus room) is a room used for a variety of purposes, such as parties, games and other everyday or casual use. The term is common in the United States and Canada, but is less common in the United Kingdom where the preferred term is games room. Often children and teenagers entertain their friends in the rec room, which is often located in the basement, away from the main living areas of the house. Usually it is a larger space than a living room to have the ability to serve multiple purposes and entertain moderately large groups.

 The term ‘Sitting Room’ is often used in place of a living room, although sitting room is also a space that can be seen in other public buildings such as hotels and public libraries for waiting or ideally sitting. The term living room is dedicatedly associated with residences.


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