What Is a Great Room?

great room with built-in shelving

 Amy Leferink at Interior Impressions

If you're wondering whether a great room is the right fit for you and your family, we gathered insights from three architects who are used to evaluating and designing these multipurpose spaces. Great rooms have been in existence for quite some time—we will explore there history further below—but have become increasingly popular over the past several decades. Find out what a great room is and whether it's a good fit for your home and needs.

Meet the Expert

What Is a Great Room?

Essentially, great rooms are combinations of several different rooms in a home, like a living room, dining area, and sometimes a kitchen or bar area, says Kevin Harris, founder of Kevin Harris Architect.

"The goal of a great room is to create an open and inviting space for family and friends to gather and enjoy each other's company."

Great rooms have an extensive history, having originated from multi-purpose spaces in medieval castles, explains Michele Rudolph, the founder of Riverside Design. She says that great rooms or great halls were once the center of daily activities in a castle, which reflects their use today. "In present times, a great room often opens to a kitchen, dining, and outdoor spaces for a vibrant living space that is the heart of a home," Rudolph says.

If you love to host, you'll definitely want to incorporate a great room into your home, as it can contain a multitude of desirable features. According to Rudolph, great rooms can include features like fireplaces, patio access, entertainment systems, and plenty of lighting, making them useful for a range of activities.

Great rooms are especially appropriate for today's way of life, says Lisa Pickell, president of Orren Pickell Building Group.

"As eat-in kitchens became more expansive, formal dining rooms became dead spaces rarely used," she says. "In the same way, family rooms made formal living rooms obsolete. Joining these spaces together in a single or adjacent spaces made them more useful to families."

great room with stone fireplace

Riverside Design

Benefits of a Great Room

Great rooms and guests go hand in hand. Pickell says that great rooms can make entertaining easier and more informal, since there's no barrier between the kitchen and the living area.

Harris agrees, noting that a great room allows everyone to be in one location and can interact as a whole, rather than having smaller groups dispersed in a separate kitchen, living room, and dining room. And gone are the days of cramped living rooms that can only accommodate a handful of visitors at once.

Great rooms are also light-filled spaces, making them a pleasant space in which to unwind, whether solo or with a few loved ones. Pickell notes that this is because most great rooms are open-plan and have plenty of natural light with fewer interior walls.

neutral colored great room

Design: Charbonneau Interiors / Photo: Texas Home Photo 

How to Make the Most of a Great Room

To make the most of a great room, you'll want to sure that it's decorated and furnished in order to accommodate a large group and a range of activities. Rudolph recommends a combination of a large sofa and an area with smaller seating for reading or playing board games.

Additionally, take into account flow when designing a great room. Consider how your family uses the space and make your decorating choices around that. "The architectural design will also help create subtle definitions among the spaces within the great room," Pickell says.

Sounds and how they carry should also be taken into account, since most great rooms have large, vaulted ceiling which allow acoustics to travel, Pickell says. So be cautious about where you put your TV. However, there are a handful of clever ways to mitigate this in case it is an existing issue, with the addition of sound-absorbing materials, fabrics, and architectural features. "Cabinetry and millwork can help absorb sound as can carpets, window treatments and wall coverings," Pickell notes.

great room in modern home

Riverside Design