Is the living room still alive?

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The living room has long been thought of as the pride and joy of any home. But with open plan living and the prominence of the kitchen vying for supremacy in the home does the living room still have what it takes?

The origins of the living room as we know it is simple to trace and were covered extensively in the BBC’s recent ‘If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home’. With England in the late 15th century enjoying something of a period of peace, many households wanted to make the most of two key aspects of family life: the deifying of the man of the house and the celebration of possessions to impress guests. For the breadwinning man, a comfortable seat was a must and this notion of the ubiquitous armchair is one that remains in modern living room design today.

Separation anxiety

A significant development in the life of the living room was the increasing desire to separate food from relaxation – nowadays, a cheeky TV dinner is seen as entirely acceptable but for Britons in the 17th century it was considered unseemly to mix food with relaxation and a real divide opened up between dining and living.

But although this may seem surprising to us modern living room dwellers, the 1600s did introduce much of what we recognise in front room decor today. Take colour co-ordination, soft furnishings and tasteful textiles for example; it was the living room of the 1660s that first recognised the importance of style and fashion in creating warmth and comfort.

living room

Fast forward two hundred years to the Victorians and it is this idea of intimacy that came to the fore. In fact, for those living in the 19th century these rooms were actually designed and decorated to look more petite than their real proportions. Unthinkable from a current point of view perhaps, but far from appearing dark and dingy the Victorians managed to create colour palettes, furniture decisions and design techniques that resulted in truly welcoming spaces.

True period features

Though the Victorians were not blessed with the rich selection of paints we can choose from nowadays, they made the most of the olive greens, light purples and salmon pinks that were at their own disposal and contrasted them with the rich tones of leather in their often ornate armchairs and sofas. Replicating this warm yet elegant look is easy with traditional leather sofas by Thomas Lloyd and the inclusion of other period features such as cornicing and coving.

In addition to the above, skirting boards and dado rails also found their feet in this period, with textured wallpaper covered in gloss paint on the lower half. Originally intended as a safety feature to stop furniture from scraping the walls, these dado rails were matched higher up by picture rails. An idea that remains now in our desire to display photos of loved ones and treasured memories in our living rooms.

As many house builders move away from open-plan living to the separation of home life seen in the past, it could be that the living room is about to retain its crown as the king of the home.


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