Living Room vs. Family Room—How They Differ

Living room with colorful rug

Erin Williamson Design

Every room in your house has a specific purpose, even if you don't use it very often. And while there may be standard "rules" about how to use certain rooms in your house, we all make our home's floor plans work for us (yes, that formal dining room can be an office!). The living room and the family room are perfect examples of spaces that have a few defined differences, but the true meaning of each one will vary greatly from one family to the next.

If your home has two living spaces and you're trying to figure out the best way to use them, understanding what defines a living room and a family room can definitely help. Here is a breakdown of each space and what they are traditionally used for.

What Is a Family Room?

Cozy family room
Emily Everyday

When you think "family room," you typically think of a casual space where you spend the majority of your time. Appropriately named, the family room is where you usually gather with family at the end of the day and watch TV or play a board game. The furniture in this room should consist of everyday items and, if applicable, be kid or pet-friendly as well.

When it comes to form vs. function, we like to think the family room should focus more on the latter. A too-hard couch that was purchased for aesthetic reasons is much better suited to the living room. If your space features an open floor plan, you may want to use the living room off the kitchen as the family room, as it will often feel far less formal than a closed-off space.

If you have an open floor plan design, your family room may also be called a "great room." A great room differs from a family room in that it often becomes a place where many different activities occur—from dining to cooking to watching movies, your great room is really the heart of the house.

What Is a Living Room?

Living room with chairs and a fireplace
Cathie Hong

If you grew up with a room that was off-limits except on Christmas and Easter, then you probably know exactly what a living room is traditionally used for. The living room is the family room's slightly stuffier cousin, and is often far more formal than the other. This only applies, of course, if your home has multiple living spaces. Otherwise, a living room becomes your main family space, and should be as casual as a family room in a home with both areas.

A living room could contain your more expensive furniture and may not be as kid-friendly. If you have multiple rooms, oftentimes the living room is closer to the front of the home when you walk in, while the family room sits somewhere deeper inside the house.

You may use your living room to greet guests and to host more elegant gatherings.

Where Should a TV Go?

Now, on to the important stuff—like where should your TV go? This decision should be one you make with your specific family needs in mind, but if you decide to opt to have a more "formal living room" space, your TV should go in a den or the family room. That isn't to say you can't have a TV in your living room, just that you may want to reserve it for that beautiful framed artwork you love or more elegant pieces.

On the other hand, many larger families may opt for TVs in both spaces so the family can spread out and watch whatever they want at the same time.

Do You Need a Family Room and a Living Room?

Many studies have shown that families rarely use every room in their house. For example, the formal living room and the formal dining room are often seldom used, especially when compared to other rooms in the house. Because of this, a family that builds a home and picks their own floor plan may opt not to have two living spaces. If you purchase a house with multiple living areas, consider whether you have a use for both of them. If not, you can always turn a living room into an office, a study, or a reading room.

Your home should work for you and your family's needs. While there are a few traditional differences between a family room and a living room, the right way to use each room is really whatever works best for your specific situation.