Is the Formal Living Room Dead or Dying?

janralixSeptember 30, 2011

Taking off on a question in the Kitchen Forum about the death or dying of formal dining rooms, I wonder the same about formal living rooms.

The reason I ask is because we're thinking about converting our formal LR to a formal DR, and expanding our kitchen to take in our present formal dining room space.

Here's what we now have (viewing the front of the house from the outside, or from the street): Starting from the left front corner of the house, we have a 12' W x 13' D formal DR; to its right is a 20' W x 14' D formal LR; and to the right of the LR is the 7' W x 10' D entry foyer. These are all separated by some walls with open passageways (no doors). In other words, as you enter the foyer, you can see into the formal LR to your left through a 5' W open passageway, and then into the formal DR 20' away through another 5' W open passageway.

Directly behind the formal DR is the 12' W x 18' D kitchen. There is a wall separating the formal DR & kitchen with a 3' W passageway (no door). Directly behind the formal LR (and adjacent to the kitchen) is a 21' W x 14' D den/family room, with 3' W passageways (no doors) between the den/family room and kitchen (on that end) and the den/family room and foyer (on the other end). There is also a 12' W x 13' D sunroom behind one end of the den. These areas comprise about 1/2 of the total square footage of the house, with the foyer roughly at the midpoint.

At this point, I'll point out a few things: The house is a basement rancher (garage and big den with a fireplace and 1/2 bath in the basement) built in 1973 and is all brick (so exterior expansion is not an option given our budget for what is basically a kitchen remodeling project); we are a couple in our early 50's without children or grandchildren; we plan (as plans go, of course) to stay in this house for the rest of our functional days; and we are planning this remodel with the main objective being the creation of spaces in which we can entertain other adults, either for casual parties or more formal dining events.

Also, I'll point out we have lived in this house for about 15 years; have never in that time had any furniture in the formal DR or formal LR (sad, maybe, but true); and we use the den/family room (with a fireplace, picture window with a view to the back yard, adjacent sunroom, and separated from the front of the house and the street by the formal LR) as our main living area.

Now, our plan: We want to enlarge the kitchen to incorporate the present formal DR space. The result would be a 12' W x 31' D kitchen (with an island, peninsula, and some seating and/or casual/breakfast eating area at either or both ends) and the elimination of the present formal DR. Then, we plan to convert the formal LR to a formal DR, thereby eliminating the formal LR. I should point out here that we envision filling the 21' W x 14' D "new" formal DR with a DR table that can seat 12, a china cabinet/hutch, sideboard, etc., so filling that space should not be a problem. Also, if resale should ever be an issue, we believe this "new" formal DR could easily be used as a formal LR if desired (although, of course, at the loss of a formal DR).

Sorry for the length of this post...I got carried away a bit and likely gave you way too much information...but I would like to hear opinions about doing away with a formal LR when one has ample other living areas.


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We're a family of six and in eighteen years in three custom homes we used the formal dining and living rooms exactly once. Other than as alternative hiding places far from the madding crowd for mois. They'd call me by cell, "Where are you?"

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 11:02PM
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I guess the biggest question is: What are you hoping to accomplish? Get some use out of unused spaces? Or have a larger kitchen?

If you entertain a lot, formally and informally, why not simply furnish the living and dining rooms so you can use them while entertaining?

Rather than totally reconforming the space, wouldn't it be easier to simply cut a larger opening between the kitchen and the dining room so the spaces flow better? Then you can use the room as either a sitting area or dining area. You could also open up the kitchen to the den. This would give you and subsequent owners more flexibility than getting rid of the dining room.

Where have you been seating these twelve-person dinners before now?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:04PM
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worthy: We're just like you. Glad to know we're not the only ones.

Chibimimi: (1) Our main objective is a larger kitchen. (2) We don't entertain a lot, although we hope to more after the remodel. Part of why we want a bigger kitchen is that when we do entertain, the women tend to congregate in the kitchen and we want space there for them to sit and chat and prepare more food than we ever need :). BTW, we never entertain "formally", hence the desire for a larger kitchen that will double as congregating space. Also, one of us (you guess) really wants more cabinetry, a peninsula, an island, and a large pantry in the kitchen, and the current space is neither large enough for all that nor easily re-configurable (due to fixed windows and a doorway to the den that can't be easily moved). (3) One of us (guess again - same answer) wants more and larger dining furniture than could ever fit in the present dining room space, hence the desire to use the larger LR space as a dining room. (4) Opening up the kitchen to the den could conceivably be done, but we really want to isolate the kitchen from, rather than integrate it with, the den. We know more open spaces seem to be the thing these days, but we want to isolate kitchen noises from the den, where folks gather to watch TV (usually ball games) and we don't want all the competing sounds of talk, laughter, and the TV. (5) We've had just a few twelve-person dinners over the years, and then we borrowed large tables with fold-down legs, placed them in the empty LR, and used a various mixture of chairs - far from ideal and a PITA to borrow, haul, set up and break down, and haul again. That's one reason we're considering converting the LR to a DR with a full ensemble of DR furniture.

Basically, once a larger kitchen was a done deal, our choice was to eliminate either a DR or LR, and we decided (jointly, this time) we would use a formal DR - even if rarely - more than a formal LR.

Thanks for both your answers!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 6:14PM
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Dying with good reason but will never be dead. It can be argued as wasteful to have a room dedicated to .001% of a families time.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 8:34PM
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I agree. We are remodeling our cape and eliminating formal areas. We just do not use them.
If you haven't already I would read The Not So Big House by Susanka. It really helps you envision a home that is designed for the way we really live.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 8:59PM
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Sarah Susanka does sometimes keep the formal living room, but she usually makes it an 'away' room or library. It's usually a quiet area, separate from the open space concept, in the rest of the home.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 3:29PM
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I've been thinking about this question, over the last few days. As well as whether the formal dining room is really dead. I'm not so sure....

Yes, the great room concept, open kitchen, etc. has been very popular, but one thing the 'formal' rooms have done over the years, is bring focus to the family. They're spaces where family/friends converse before or after dinner and eat together, without the distractions of every day life.

I've been planning to not have separate spaces, but now, I'm starting to rethink that idea. Maybe a formal living room/library/parlor (whatever you want to call it) is something we should be including. A place where the TV does not rule, people come together to talk...not text or tweet. Kids have to actually converse in the dining room, no Ipads/Ipods/Iwhatisitnow allowed! Having a family dinner, if only one or two nights a week, may need a more formal setting, to help families establish a few ground rules.

Maybe not necessary for everyone...but formal spaces may be making a comeback, rather than dying out. They can serve other uses, such as a library or dining room can be great for crafts/homework, etc. but to not have them at all, may be a little short sighted.

I know, I'm surprised by my answer, too. Maybe I've been watching too many Big Valley reruns lately...but there's something really nice about a family sitting down and eating together or sitting together talking before dinner, and choosing to make family time together, a priority :)

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 7:14PM
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Lavender Lass makes the best of family time.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Big Valley, not Leave it to Beaver. If you're going to go with that era, at least find me a Father Knows Best picture :)

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 10:11PM
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It's up to a family how they use the spaces, not what the spaces are labeled.

I'm no 'entertainer', but our traditional style house demands a formal DR. Ours is beyond a 12'-wide archway off the LR, so the space is 'used', if only by our eyes. It's rarely used for dining, while our 'Breakfast Room' is! Go figure.

Our LR isn't some off-limits 'parlor'. We use it -- live in it, read in it, listen to music, relax, talk, look out at the terrace and yard from it. The fireplace is there. Our TV is built into bookcases in what our house plans call 'The Library'.

We are contrary, aren't we? We even park our cars IN the 'Garage'. (What is it with newer houses dwarfed by HUGE garages, and all the cars are on the driveway?)

    Bookmark   October 8, 2011 at 12:22PM
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