It’s hard to imagine a time when homes didn’t have family rooms, but a hundred years ago, that was the case. The first family rooms became a part of home design about 50–60 years ago. The harbinger of many changes in America, World War II changed the way we viewed our homes.
This room was different than any other in the home. Less formal than the living room, the family room was designed to encourage conversation and connection. It was first considered an adjunct to the kitchen, the heart of the home. The introduction of the family room coincided with the introduction of the television, and as more homes had a T.V., Americans started demanding family rooms.
Initially, the room’s purpose was multifunctional, but by the 50s the room became used solely for leisure activities. In addition, housewives began to desire more physical separation from their household tasks and the general family activities. Magazines in the 60s and 70s referred to the family room as a place for gathering and the introduction of sliding glass doors gave access to the outdoors, making it even more of a family gathering place. Increasingly it became a place where the family could relax together, unlike the more formal sounding parlor.
During their introduction and subsequent popularity, not much has changed about living room furniture: comfortable seating arrangements, either L- or U-shaped and sectionals are still favorites for this homey, comfortable space. Most of the innovations have been around electronics and entertainment, and living room furniture has evolved to accommodate these developments.
Family rooms became the perfect place for game night, listening to music, and watching TV. Giant, self-contained TVs and stereos that were pieces of furniture in their own right have made way for smaller, sleeker versions such as flat-screen TVs. Furniture pieces have evolved with them, allowing places to discreetly store a TV, such as the development of the custom wall unit and armoire, keeping the TV out of sight and out of mind until needed.
As with anything, the family room has continued to evolve and, according to some, is disappearing. This depends on how you look at it. Newer homes now feature the great room rather than a family room. This area blends the functions of the dining room, family room, and even the kitchen into one continuous space. However, they still need functional family room furniture to encourage family gatherings and interaction.
Family rooms are designed to be casual and comfortable. Upholstered or leather furniture, multi-functional lighting, cozy rugs, and cushy pillows and throws create the ultimate comfortable family room. Some fancier family rooms these days also have a nearby beverage center or snack bar.
I often wonder what future living rooms will look like. Furniture that doubles as exercise equipment? Sofa turned leg press machine? Who knows. Most likely we’ll have smart living rooms that anticipate our every need as we direct it while lounging on a comfortable couch.