The living room is primarily the family “common room”. It is also in most households something of a family showpiece, since it is the room in which friends are entertained formally or informally. It may be a large open-plan room absorbing the dining area, partially open plan with a chimney breast or other feature dividing it or a quite small sitting room next to, or near, a separate dining room.
Here are some of the main questions to resolve when planning or improving the living area.
1 Do you prefer open-plan or closed plan? A spacious open-plan living area can give an otherwise small house an attractive dimension. But say you and your spouse are watching television, one child is trying to concentrate on homework, another is assembling a model kit on the floor and your teenage daughter has invited friends in. If such diverse activities typically take place in a single undivided communal area, tension is the likely outcome. The large area may be costly to heat too. Should you inherit or be disillusioned with an open-plan area, you could put up screens or storage dividers to sub-divide it into centres for sitting and conversing, for viewing television, for working, for playing.
What about a closed plan living room? It may be too small and enclosed for its communal function. If a dining room adjoins it, you could help to merge the two rooms simply by removing the door between them and perhaps arching the opening.
2 What are the family and individual activities that go on in the living area? Conversation, viewing television, meals, reading, sewing, homework, writing letters, children’s play, games of cards, entertairing neighbours and friends? In you’ family, do many of these activities go on simultaneously and is there conflict? How many of them can be diverted to other parts of the house? Many people find, for instance, that having the television set in the living room practically precludes doing anything else in the room — even casual conversation. Is there scope for a separate TV room or corner? Is the child’s bedroom suitable for homework? Is there space in the kitchen for’family meals?
3 Is the relationship of the living area to the front door, the kitchen, the bedrooms and the garden or patio satisfactory and, if not, can you improve it? Direct access to the living area from the front door, with no hall or lobby intervening, is likely to cause draughts and to bring in dirt. You need at least to partition off the entrance area. The kitchen should adjoin the dining room or dining area of the living room. A serving hatch can link them. Bedrooms in a large mixed-age household should be well away from the living area; otherwise when the children are in bed or somebody is ill conversation with friends or listening to music is inhibited. In the summer the garden or patio is an extension of the living room, which should have French doors or floor-level sliding windows to link the two.
4 As a multi-purpose place in which the family congregate, the living area is almost bound to be cluttered. It is also bound to accumulate a variety of possessions over the years — from trophies and souvenirs to books, framed photographs, prints, paintings — quite apart from the basic furniture. In planning or re-planning the area, try to keep some wall space in reserve to accommodate, perhaps, the hi-fi unit or drinks cabinet that you hope to acquire in a year or two.
Assess the storage potential of the room under three heads: objects that you wish to display such as ornaments; objects in everyday use — concentrate these on open shelving or in the front of cupboards: objects infrequently used such as Christmas game sets or family albums — deep-store these in other cupboards.
5 A multi-purpose room often involves changing the scene rapidly: a room littered with toys may need to be transformed within 20 minutes into a semblance of tranquility and elegance before guests arrive for a dinner party. Flexible furniture (e.g. nesting chairs that can be quickly deployed for special occasions and then stacked away), wipe-clean surfaces, an unobstructed run for the vacuum cleaner, dimmer switches that enable you to adjust the level of lighting to the occasion: all these help to change the scene in a room that, because it is in constant use, must, of course, be laboursaving and easy to maintain.