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Home Design - Not Your Mama's Living Room

Feb 11, 2017
Free yourself of preconceived design ideas.

Sometimes it pays to break the mold. It is not written in stone that a living room must have a matching sofa and love seat, or a sofa and two matching armchairs. For those who live with tiny rooms, adhering to the matching ideal can become frustrating.

In Europe, where a great many more antiques are floating around, matching furniture was never the design standard. Contemporary foreign design models revere that unmatched concept.

We've all noticed how the concept of a formal living and dining room has begun to fade over the most recent generations. Obviously, much depends on where you live and your social life -- whether you are expected to host sit-down dinners for family or more casual, buffet-style meals, for example.

The option of formality is often related to having enough space in the room, but the lifestyle of many Americans has shifted to being more casual.

The floor plan of many newly constructed micro-units reflects how people are currently living in urban settings. We find spaces designed for maximum use in buildings of four to six stories high on up to high-rise structures in major cities.

In general, there is one living area that is used for television, workspace, meal preparation and dining. Sometimes the bedroom is isolated from this main space. The bathroom is obviously separated off. Such buildings often provide common entertainment rooms that would suffice for a larger gathering or family event, as well as exercise rooms and media rooms.

In rural areas, on the other hand, a living space might entail a one- or two-bedroom farmhouse, cottage, bungalow or regional versions of a shotgun house. A shotgun house is a narrow, rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than about 12 feet wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at each end of the residence.

You can break the rules in any of these small households, arranging your living room in a way that suits your lifestyle.

For example, a musician might prefer to have a baby grand piano in the living room, and an artist might convert that area into a workspace that's artistically arranged to inspire and provide surfaces for creating art. Young families often allocate the main space as a play area for their children, complete with toy cubbies, bookcases, craft tables and empty space to run around. In parts of the country where there is snow and heavy rain, little ones must have a safe indoor play area.

A home without a basement leaves little option but to convert the living room into a playroom.

There are other options for entertainment. If you are an avid bridge or poker player, consider a game table and chairs coupled with a petite loveseat and armchair.

If you have a little money to invest, find a cocktail table that can be converted from coffee table height to dining height, so you can play cards, eat, etc. If you have a nice view out of a front window, place a tall table (bar height) and bar stools in front of the window. If your living room has a charming fireplace, put the dining table in front of the fireplace and then create a reading area in the dining area. I've seen it done.

Free yourself of preconceived design ideas.

Photo Credit: Brabbu Design Forces

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at


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