With the endless number of options available when you’re shopping for a home, one easily overlooked detail is the distinction between a family room and a living room. They may sound like the same kind of room, and there are some definite overlaps, but the terms actually refer to different types of spaces that serve different purposes.
Depending on the style and size of a house, you may either choose between having a family or living room, or have the option to have both. To understand the important differences between family rooms and living rooms, and how you can get the most out of them for your specific needs, let’s break them down into their core components.
Size & Location
Living rooms are usually one of the largest rooms of a house, located either in the middle of a house or in the front (where they’re often called ‘front rooms’). The reason living rooms are more spacious is to accommodate large couches, TVs and entertainment centers, and other ornamental storage units. The living room is often a place to put large art pieces, such as sculptures and paintings, so it needs room to fit everything without feeling crowded.
Family rooms also tend to be large, but instead of being located toward the front of the house, they’re set farther back. Family rooms often lead into the kitchen and have doors opening up to a deck, patio, or other outdoor area at the back of the house.
Depending on your personal style and preference, your living room can be a more or less formal meeting place. If you like to use your living room to entertain guests, watch TV, or relax as a family, you can easily set up your living room to fit those needs. With the right furniture layout, a living room can be an inviting place to hang out.
However, many choose to use their living rooms more formally, and this is perfectly acceptable too. By picking out the right art pieces, beautiful tables, light fixtures, and rugs, as well as higher-end couches, you can give your living room an elegant quality. While it’s not so common anymore to have all white living rooms, you can definitely achieve a similar effect with the right setup.
Family rooms are almost always less formal than living rooms. They are a space to both gather in large groups and relax individually, so their layout and furniture options need to have good variety. And while you can show off your tasteful art collection in the living room, the family room is a space to share family photos and memorabilia. Having those kinds of images hanging on the walls or in standing photo frames will signal the room as a welcoming, casual space.
Family rooms are also spaces where children can play. So in addition to having child-friendly couches and tables — usually meaning fewer sharp edges and less exotic materials — there needs to be a good amount of open space in the middle of the room for running around.
As the name suggests, family rooms serve many everyday purposes. Whether you’re playing board games or watching TV as a family, getting some quality alone time with a book, or testing out a new RC car, the family room is meant to accommodate all these activities and more.
It’s also not uncommon to set up a computer or small desk in your family room to use as a home office space. Even if your house has a separate, dedicated home office, you can use a corner of the family room for a change of pace or more casual working environment.
Both family rooms and living rooms are well-suited for couches or sofas. But that doesn’t mean they use the exact same kinds of furniture.
Living rooms generally have nicer looking, more elegant couches that make a statement or set an aesthetic tone. Couches are often placed away from walls with space to walk around them. While this uses up a little more floor space, it can signal a feeling of luxury or formality.
If you want to splurge on a beautiful coffee table or elegant lamp, the living room is the perfect place to let these pieces shine.
Conversely, because family rooms benefit from a more open floor plan, they tend to have a larger variety of seating types and more casual-looking furniture. To open up the space, family rooms keep couches and sofas up against the walls. They’re also a great place for sectional and/or convertible furniture, which fits large groups and can even be used as an extra sleeping quarter if needed.
And if you have a favorite recliner, the family room is the perfect spot for it.