The Fascinating History of the Living Room

Vintage Drawing Room

The living room has gone through some significant changes in the past 120 years to end up as we know it now. Join me on a voyage back through time…


I have memories of growing up at my Grandparent’s house and loving when guests came over because we would sit in the Living Room. It was never off limits to me, just not often used, so it was a treat to be able to sit on the ‘nicer’ furniture. Since the Living Room was typically saved for special occasions and visitors, we had a TV Room in another area of the house that was used for lounging, family time, and of course, TV!

These memories led me to wonder why some people use their Living Rooms for guests only, while others use theirs to, well, live. I came across some fascinating history on why this happens, and how the name Living Room came to be. Let’s start way back in the early 1900’s:

Receiving rooms/parlors/drawing rooms

If you are a fan of the show Downton Abbey, or really any other historical show or novel set in that timeframe, you have likely heard them refer to a Receiving Room, a Drawing Room, or a Parlor. These names are more or less interchangeable depending on the family’s class and the part of the world they resided in, but these all were basically what we consider to be formal Living Rooms today.

These formal rooms typically sat unused except when entertaining guests. Most dinner parties in those days started with drinks in the Parlor, before moving into the Dining Room. It was common around the turn of the century, and right up until the First World War, for the ladies of the house to have times scheduled during the week when they sat in their Receiving Room awaiting visitors

– THAT’S how formal people were back then!

Victorian era parlor

Receiving Rooms were typically decorated with the finest furniture and off limits to children. Families gathered in other rooms, such as the library, when company was not expected.

The death room

Influenza was rampant after World War 1 and many people lost their lives. Not having the means to bury bodies immediately, and wishing to take the time to mourn, bodies were often stacked in an unused part of the house – typically the Parlor, as most people were not entertaining during these horrible times.

Introducing the living room

When things started looking brighter after the influenza outbreak subsided it began to feel morbid to call this area the death room. Ladies Home Journal – THE magazine of that time – said that with the inevitable return to the socialization and happiness of the days before the outbreak, the death room should be ‘livened’ up and therefore the term living room came to be.

Modern day living rooms

Today, and for the last few decades, anything goes. Some people do still use their living rooms – now occasionally also referred to as lounges, or front rooms – as more formal areas used mainly for entertaining, while families gather in casual rooms now typically known as family rooms or rec rooms.


And others actually live in their living rooms making them a catch all room for casual family times, and more formal entertaining.

How do you use your living room?

Do you have a formal living room used only for special occasions or does your family use your living room for everything? Do you keep your nicer furniture in the living room or is it a casual area? Let us know the history of YOUR living room in the comments.

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