The kitchen might be the stomach of your home and your bathroom might be your own private spa, but when it comes to where you spend the most time, it's probably the living room. Wait, scratch that. Is it the drawing room? The two rooms can seem so similar that you might think a living room and drawing room are synonymous. But, truth is, there are small, nuanced differences between the two. So, how do you know if you're working with a living room or drawing room? To help, Havenly's Heather Goerzen is breaking down the difference below.
Meet the Expert
Heather Goerzen is the managing editor of design content at Havenly, an online interior design service.
What a Drawing Room Is
Let's be honest: It might've been a minute since you heard the term drawing room, but they were all the rage a few centuries ago. A shortened version of the phrase "with-drawing room," the drawing room was typically where families would spend time with their guests in the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, some research suggests the drawing room is where women would retreat from the dining room, which was then viewed as a male space.
"The drawing room—or parlor, as it is sometimes referred to—is typically found near the entrance to the home, and is a place where you would 'receive' guests," Goerzen says. "A bit more formal design—and certainly no TV. Fancier folks might even serve cocktails or tea [here]."
While many have traded in a drawing room for a family room, this space is still present in homes that are blessed with some generous square footage. And, more times than not, this space is all about being fancy.
"My grandparents had a drawing room, complete with French doors, a provincial-style sofa, crystal chandelier, and all kinds of china," Goerzen says. "It was only used on holidays and special occasions."
What a Living Room Is
What about a living room? As Goerzen puts it, this space is all about...well, living. "We believe in a home that is to be loved and lived in—partners, pets, kids, guests, messes, and all," Goerzen says. "For that reason, we’re all for the living room."
Living rooms might currently be a home's go-to space, but it was decades in the making. According to the BBC's research on the modern living room's evolution, it all started with the Industrial Revolution. Since the rise of machines made the work day a lot easier, people suddenly had a bunch of free time to kick back and relax—and needed somewhere to do so.
Fast forward to the New York World's Fair of 1939, which predicted that living rooms would be filled with of-the-moment technology. During the following years, those once-lofty design dreams turned into a reality. The introduction of the television into the home reshaped how residential spaces were utilized. Shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Brady Bunch depicted the living room as the epicenter of the house. And, thanks to the rise of open-concept layouts, the living room eventually became the room for just about everything.
"This is a space for all of life: resting, spending time with the family, binging your favorite shows, reading, working, and yes, even entertaining," Goerzen says.
Unlike the drawing room—which is typically situated near the front door—a living room can be located anywhere. However, Goerzen says living rooms are most commonly found next to the kitchen.
How to Decorate a Drawing or Living Room
Whether you're team drawing room, team living room, or you have enough square feet in your home for both, it's important to decorate your space with care. (Regardless of how your room is defined, there's a good chance you'll be spending a lot of time there.) The biggest priority? Creating a room that actually meets your needs.
"If you are a fan of entertaining, make sure you have ample seating for your guests and an easy flow of space for people to walk about," Goerzen says. "Maybe even add a bar cart if that’s your thing. If you’re more of a homebody whose idea of a great Friday night is pizza and a movie on the sofa, opt for a lounge-worthy sectional with deep seats where you can truly kick up your feet."
And, if you do choose to give your living quarters a drawing room edge, Goerzen recommends rethinking those fancier, for-special-occasions-only pieces.
"Sure, it can be beautiful and put together and a wondrous display of your unique style," she says. "But, the idea that it’s so precious that it’s only to be used for special occasions, or [if] you’ll be on-edge every time a guest drinks wine in fear they’ll spill—[that] just isn’t what home is meant to be!"
Instead, deck out your drawing room with cozy performance fabrics, a washable area rug, and a great sound system. (After all, just because a drawing room forgoes the television doesn't mean it can't be a party-ready pad.)
Hamlett, J. The Dining Room Should Be the Man's Paradise, as the Drawing Room Is the Woman's’: Gender and Middle-Class Domestic Space in England, 1850–1910. Gender & History, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 576-591, 2009. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0424.2009.01561.x
Kuijer, Lenneke. Watson, Matt. That’s when we started using the living room: Lessons from a local history of domestic heating in the United Kingdom. Energy Research & Social Science, vol. 28, pp. 77-85, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2017.04.010