Is the Formal Living Room Obsolete?


Recent social and economic developments in the country have been changing what Americans are looking for in their homes, regardless of whether they are remodeling or buying a new home. Read on to learn more about this trend:

The sprawling McMansions of several years ago are no longer so popular. Rising energy costs have increased the consumer’s desire for smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Builders and remodelers are carefully taking note of this trend.

According to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), builders expect new homes to average 2,152 square feet in 2015, 10 percent smaller than the average size of single-family homes built in 2010. In addition to floor plan changes, 68 percent of the builders surveyed said homes in 2015 will include more green features and technology

One result of the new direction toward smaller homes is that homeowners are re-evaluating how the interior spaces of their homes are organized. Given today’s more casual lifestyle, certain rooms — such as the formal living and dining room — are only rarely used. In contrast, the kitchen has become the central gathering area for a majority of activities. To make the best use of limited space, a large open area that encompasses a kitchen, dining room, family room and living room is becoming more common. In our hi-tech society, where individual family members tend to keep busy with their own laptops or cell phones, this is a favorable arrangement since it is conducive to bringing families together. Each member may be doing something different, but the fact that everyone is together in that same space creates a welcome sense of family bonding.

Increasingly, homeowners are choosing to stay in their familiar neighborhoods and remodel, rather than build a new home. A professional remodeler can skillfully re-configure existing spaces, safely removing walls to provide the open, airy home environment their client desires. Often, this can be achieved without the necessity of enlarging the home. Remodelers can also help their clients gain energy savings in an older home by, among other things, adding new insulation; upgrading the HVAC system; installing energy-efficient windows; purchasing Energy Star qualified appliances; and replacing outdated incandescent lighting with fluorescent or LED.

The Dinosaurs

“Mom, were the dinosaurs still alive when you were born?” I credit my twisted sense of humor as the reason the child who asked me this question is still alive and that I was able to formulate an answer without slugging him — “No honey, all of them had died out by then, only the mastodons were still alive.” Similarly, the living room and dining room are on their way to becoming dinosaurs but, unlike being struck by a comet or asteroid, it is a slow and painful demise. Decedents from a time when people lived more formally, the living room was one of a progressive series of separate rooms starting with the front door entry, designed to conceal private areas, such as the kitchen (and the help) from view. As such, the dining room was the primary eating area for the family.

Today, the kitchen not only serves as the primary place for dining but as the social center of the house. They are much larger and more open — often incorporating a family room. John recently served as a judge in a remodeling competition and noted that the kitchen/family room/great room combination was evident in most of the entries.

And yet, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Buildings Energy Data Book shows that the average American house still incorporates both a living room and a dining room. In a 2,500 square foot home, these two rooms represent about 15% of the total living area — area that owners spend money and energy to heat, cool, and maintain, only to walk around them like an elephant in the proverbial, excuse my pun, living room.

So why are we so hesitant to let go? Is it because of our “Bigger is Better” cultural mentality or the fear that our home will be perceived as less valuable if these rooms are missing? Whatever the reason, rather than plodding further and further into quicksand, check out the links in the left hand column for inspiration on how turn these rooms into space your family will enjoy.

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