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The Evolution of the Living Room and Family Room

family on sofa watching TVMany homes today have a formal living room and a family room, the latter an informal setting for leisure activities such as enjoying TV with family and friends. Spin back the centuries and today’s formal living room is much like yesteryear’s parlor.

Up until the late nineteenth century, the parlor was a place for formal socializing and greeting visitors, designed to impress guests. Because there were no true funeral homes at the time, the room was also used to display the body of a deceased family member prior to burial. This was especially true during the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 when the virus claimed the lives of an estimated 30 to 50 million people worldwide.

Fortunately, the pandemic passed and health conditions improved. Combined with the advent of professional funeral homes, the parlor was no longer used for mourning. It is said the Ladies Home Journal was the first to suggest this room be redubbed the “living room.”

The term resonated with people of the era and spread quickly. Homeowners were encouraged to move away from the staid and formal décor of the past and decorate the room in a manner reflecting their personal taste. By the time the 1960s rolled around, and the majority of the population had at least one television set, the living room became the central place for gathering.  Today, our informal relaxing is done in the family room where we’re most likely to gather around a flatscreen TV or the DVR, our living rooms reserved for more formal entertaining.

When it comes to trends, they say the pendulum often swings backward. Perhaps we’re not sipping tea in the front parlor, greeting guests who arrive with an elaborately-detailed calling card, but our living rooms and family rooms are oddly reminiscent of the roles parlors and living rooms played in the past. However you choose to use these well-established rooms, there is no denying they remain an intricate part of every home.

Candy Ortenzio
Executive Administrator
Brownstone Real Estate Co.