Do You Need a Formal Living Room or a More Casual Space?

The terms “living room” and “drawing room” were often used interchangeably in the world of interior design, but now there are even more terms for the social spaces of a home: “family room,” “den,” “study” and “great room” have sprung up in recent years.

Whatever you choose to call it, this is a stunning example of a formal space entertaining space. The bold animal prints, combines with a lacquer table and luxe leather sofa some together in one unique room. It's also a good lesson in how art can elevate the look of a space.View in gallery
Whatever you choose to call it, this is a stunning example of a formal space entertaining space. The bold animal prints, combines with a lacquer table and luxe leather sofa some together in one unique room. It’s also a good lesson in how art can elevate the look of a space.

So what are the differences between these spaces? Although they all designate a type of seating area, they don’t all mean the same thing.

The Drawing Room

The drawing room is a designated space for social activities, but the dated term is not commonly used today. According to Quora, the origins of the drawing room are in the 16th & 17th century “withdrawing room.” “It was a room where the owner or distinguished guests could withdraw to enjoy some privacy. During the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods it was where the ladies went to relax after dinner. The men generally stayed in the dining room and did things like smoke cigars and drink port.”

A sofa that is upholstered in a pastel colored velvet is destined for a more formal space in the home. The style of the pieces in this setting dictate a more reserved feeling.View in gallery
A sofa that is upholstered in a pastel colored velvet is destined for a more formal space in the home. The style of the pieces in this setting dictate a more reserved feeling.
Anytime a grouping includes a curvy cabriole sofa, a bench and armchairs, it's a more formal arrangement. This drawing room is contemporary and definitely not stuffy thanks to its nontraditional color combination.View in gallery
Anytime a grouping includes a curvy cabriole sofa, a bench and armchairs, it’s a more formal arrangement. This drawing room is contemporary and definitely not stuffy thanks to its nontraditional color combination.
Upholstered armchairs, paired with a set of drawers like these would be perfect for a drawing room. The pieces are available at Jalan Jalan in Miami's Design District.View in gallery
Upholstered armchairs, paired with a set of drawers like these would be perfect for a drawing room. The pieces are available at Jalan Jalan in Miami’s Design District.
A white sofa, accented by the icy blue glass tables and rug, may seem a bit more casual than most formal settings. In this case, the space looks more suited to entertaining guests than supporting everyday family activities. The grouping is available through internum.View in gallery
A white sofa, accented by the icy blue glass tables and rug, may seem a bit more casual than most formal settings. In this case, the space looks more suited to entertaining guests than supporting everyday family activities. The grouping is available through Internum.
A mid-century modern style sectional and a stylish grouping of small tables could serve a drawing room or a family room, depending upon the accessories and other furnishings in the space.View in gallery
A mid-century modern style sectional and a stylish grouping of small tables could serve a drawing room or a family room, depending upon the accessories and other furnishings in the space.
A mid-century modern style sectional sofa would be perfect in a drawing room or formal living space. The bold color of upholstery also makes it useful in a casual living room.View in gallery
A mid-century modern style sectional sofa would be perfect in a drawing room or formal living space. The bold color of upholstery also makes it useful in a casual living room.

A drawing room is typically situated near the entrance and close to the front door so guests can go directly inside without having to pass through other rooms. By contrast, the living room, is often found at the center of the house.

What is a living room?

This stunning Connecticut farmhouse by interior designer Shawn Henderson features today's style of great room. Spaces like this do double duty, both as a family gathering space and as a space for entertaining guests.View in gallery
This stunning Connecticut farmhouse by interior designer Shawn Henderson features today’s style of great room. Spaces like this do double duty, both as a family gathering space and as a space for entertaining guests.
The farmhouse is very large and Henderson created this living room in an open floor plan are for everyday family living. Compared to the great room, this would be called a family room.View in gallery
The farmhouse is very large and Henderson created this living room in an open floor plan are for everyday family living. Compared to the great room, this would be called a family room.

This term first appeared in the 18th century and was used to designate a space that is mainly used for entertaining the guests. It’s not a room where homeowners spend their free time but more of a space to receive guests before and after dinner. Particularly in the United States and Canada, as homes got larger and lifestyles less formal, the formal living room has been disappearing.

According to a study from the National Association of Home Builders, more than half of the participants expect the formal living room to merge with other spaces and another 30% expect it to vanish all together.  Instead, great rooms (more of an 80’s term) and “open concept living” are taking the place of a separate formal living room.

The neutral colors of this sectional with with attached wood end tables is versatile enough to be used in either a drawing room or living room. It is also well suited for an open concept floor plan.View in gallery
The neutral colors of this sectional with with attached wood end tables is versatile enough to be used in either a drawing room or living room. It is also well suited for an open concept floor plan.
While the eclectic chairs in this grouping from Moroso might be great in a formal space, the texture and the coziness of the sectional sofa make this a perfect setting for a living room. All the pieces can be found at 4141 Design in Miami.View in gallery
While the eclectic chairs in this grouping from Moroso might be great in a formal space, the texture and the coziness of the sectional sofa make this a perfect setting for a living room. All the pieces can be found at 4141 Design in Miami.
Another eclectic grouping is this one from internum. It is a casual grouping that would work in just about any living room.View in gallery
Another eclectic grouping is this one from internum. It is a casual grouping that would work in just about any living room.
A sofa made for lounging, casual chairs and an unusual ottoman for for extra seating -- all excellent pieces for a living room for your family. These can be found at Luminaire.View in gallery
A sofa made for lounging, casual chairs and an unusual ottoman for for extra seating — all excellent pieces for a living room for your family. These can be found at Luminaire.

Given today’s lifestyles, and the popularity of open concept homes, the family room has become the main living space that serves both family and guests. It’s generally connected to the kitchen and one space flows into another without walls and doors to divide the areas.

Also from Luminare is this sectional sofa and large coffee table, both built for comfort and utility in your living rom.View in gallery
Also from Luminare is this sectional sofa and large coffee table, both built for comfort and utility in your living rom.
This cool collection could really go either way -- it could easily be a masculine formal living room. The leather sofa is durable enough for everyday use, so perhaps with a different cocktail table, it would work well for a family room.View in gallery
This cool collection could really go either way — it could easily be a masculine formal living room. The leather sofa is durable enough for everyday use, so perhaps with a different cocktail table, it would work well for a family room.

In today’s larger homes that still have a formal living room, it has become a bit less stuffy than it used to be, with slightly relaxed – but still special – furnishings.  It’s the room that’s always clean and ready for guests, as opposed to the “family room,” which sees higher wear and tear from pets, children, and constant family traffic.

Furniture and design

Whether you call it a drawing room or a living room, the more formal entertaining space in the home is typically furnished with higher-end sofas and chairs, and usually a coffee table and other occasional pieces. The décor can be more understated than other areas and tend toward traditional tastes.

A white sofa and high-end accessories, paired with a dramatic wall color, are appropriate for more a formal living room or drawing room.View in gallery
A white sofa and high-end accessories, paired with a dramatic wall color, are appropriate for more a formal living room or drawing room.
This sofa, ottoman and patterned rug are best for casual spaces.View in gallery
This sofa, ottoman and patterned rug are best for casual spaces.

The room where a family spends all its time – the living room or family room – generally has  comfortable chairs, sofas, recliners and often includes a fireplace and a media center for the television and video games. Décor intros area may include elements such as artwork, bookshelves or storage units, and family mementos. Overall, it’s the more casual living space in the home.

A leather sofa in a style that includes lounges is made for a living room where you spend lots of time. Perfect for curling up in to read or watch TV, the sofa's adventurous color adds to the casual look.View in gallery
A leather sofa in a style that includes lounges is made for a living room where you spend lots of time. Perfect for curling up in to read or watch TV, the sofa’s adventurous color adds to the casual look.
Lots of pillows and an extra wide chaise make a cozy setting for a living room. The chaise is available through 4141 Design.View in gallery
Lots of pillows and an extra wide chaise make a cozy setting for a living room. The chaise is available through 4141 Design.
A more utilitarian sofa style like this one is exactly what you need in a multipurpose area like your family's living room.View in gallery
A more utilitarian sofa style like this one is exactly what you need in a multipurpose area like your family’s living room.
Casual and slouchy furniture belongs in the non-formal living space in your home, whether that's the living room or the family room.View in gallery
Casual and slouchy furniture belongs in the non-formal living space in your home, whether that’s the living room or the family room.
Lots of wall shelving is a hallmark of a family or living room. The storage unit is too casual for a formal entertaining space. That said, however, it is very stylish and would be appropriate in an open concept living area.View in gallery
Lots of wall shelving is a hallmark of a family or living room. The storage unit is too casual for a formal entertaining space. That said, however, it is very stylish and would be appropriate in an open concept living area.
Comfort is king with this sofa from 4141 Design. Its pillow back means it's best used in a casual living room. The colorful and whimsical coffee table is not formal either.View in gallery
Comfort is king with this sofa from 4141 Design. Its pillow back means it’s best used in a casual living room. The colorful and whimsical coffee table is not formal either.
This sitting room design by Shawn Henderson is a marvelous example of how great a multipurpose space can look. The space could easily serve as a small family room as well.View in gallery
This sitting room design by Shawn Henderson is a marvelous example of how great a multipurpose space can look. The space could easily serve as a small family room as well.

Living room, drawing room, family room, or something else entirely — choose the one that fits your family’s lifestyle.  Don’t opt for a formal living room if you tend to host guests in the kitchen or fame;y area — or if you don’t really entertain much at all. Today’s designs offer so many options that you can easily make the most of the space you have, whether it;s big or small.