This morning, Dustin asked for the difference between a Living Room and a Family Room. Before The Great Depression, and long before homes had attached garages, “grand” homes were often built with a “center hall”. To one side of the center hall, in the front of the home, was the “Parlor” or “Formal Living Room”. Directly opposite on the other side of the center hall was the Dining Room. In the Northeast of this Country, that was a typical “Center Hall Colonial”. The Grand Staircase was in the center hall, the Kitchen was behind the Dining Room and often separated by a “Butler’s Pantry” where the butler would stand between the Kitchen and Dining Room (hidden from view) and step out to fill water glasses and wine glasses,etc.
See the first floor plan below, which while modern, emulates the Tradtional Center Hall Colonial with the Kitchen taking up 2/3rds of the rear of the home, the dining room and center hall in front of the Kitchen. The entire left side of the hall in this floorplan is the Living Room, but that huge space usually had french doors or pocket doors. If only one set of doors, then the front portion was “the parlor” and the rear portion was “the study”. With two sets of doors dividing that left space, you could have a “Formal Living Room” or “parlor” at the front, a library in the center, and a “den/study” at the rear.
This modern floorplan has access from the rear of the living room into the kitchen, but original floorplans would have had a solid wall there, with NO ACCESS to the rest of the home from the right portion in the rear, making it quiet enough for a den or study. Hence the Butler’s phrase, “Master, will you be retiring to the study?” where “master” might be in the parlor, grab a book from the library and retire to the far rear end, usually dark recessess, to read it in “the study”.
So now to Dustin’s question regarding Family Rooms. Often the Family Room, if all on one floor as in the floorplan below, is “where the TV goes” and is the “Informal Living Room”. Of particular note is that often the rest of the first floor is built over a basement or at least a crawl space, but the family room is more often built on “a slab”. So if there is a crack in the slab, it is right under your rug, which is glued to the slab. Family rooms on the main level (vs. in basement) came in by the eighties, along with the “master bath”, which at that time was just a sink toilet and shower accessed from inside the bedroom and separate from “the hall tub bath” for the kids who “bathed” rather than “showered”.
In opening, I talked about The Great Depression. Homes built before that time when money was aplenty and homes were getting grand and grander. After the depression and up through the war, there were not as many homes built. At the end of the war and through the fifities, boxy cheap houses were built for the “men returning from the war” and the homes were mostly three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen, living room and dining room ONLY. Today we call them “small ramblers” here, large ramblers generally being built into the sixties.
Most notably in this Country, built for men returning from the war, were huge sections of these “little boxes” in neighborhoods in NY, NJ and PA known as “Levittowns” and the homes referred to as “Levittowners”. [photopress:mslevitteen1955_03.jpg,thumb,alignright]
There was even a “Miss Levittown” of 1955. You see many such 50s ramblers all over the Puget Sound, and Bellevue has tons of the larger, grander rambler with daylight basements built as income grew, long after the war and into the early and late sixties.
When I hear “The Bubbleheads” call these homes POS homes, I think of the soldiers and how happy they were that the Country cared enough about them to build these modest homes that they could afford after serving their country well and proudly. The term was so foreign to me, that Jillayne had to privately email me and tell me what POS meant. I hope some poor old soldier isn’t reading that nonsense.
You rarely see the above “center hall” version anymore. The L shaped version below is more readily available all over the Country in both large and small versions. Those that are not flat full stories on the second floor are bungalows, or cape cods, or center peak and slope down aka “Dutch Colonial”. You don’t have to know all this in Seattle because everyone just calls them all “Craftsmen Homes” unless they are “tudors”. Mt. Baker and Magnolia Bluff have some absolutely fabulous tradional post depression “specimens”.
Yes, I AM a housegeek! My favorite are “the eyebrow windows” readily found in Green Lake. This is all off the top of my head, and hopefully fairly accurate. Of course I have been in all kinds of homes, dating back through the 1500s. So “my recollection” goes well beyond my years as an agent.
So what the heck is a Great Room? First let’s take the bathrooms up to speed. A half bath is a “powder room” and usually exists on a first floor that has no bedroom on the first floor, so guests don’t have to go upstairs. Puget Sound says “half bath” but most of the Country says “powder room” where guests go to “powder their noses” and not to pee. It is rude to suggest that guests do anything there except powder their noses.
If you want your children to have big bedrooms vs. your having a “huge master suite”, look for homes built in the late seventies into the eighties. By the late eighties and through today, the master suite gets bigger and bigger, and the children’s rooms get smaller and smaller…so we give them The Bonus Room which is that big extra space at the top of the stairs with no doors.
OK – Great Room. There are two styles of Great Room, one is a “true” Great Room and it is two stories tall and you enter it from the main entrance hall and it is great and grand. There is a tiny formal living room/parlor off to the right or left of the front door and a tiny “man’s study/office” off to the other side of the entrance hall, but dead center in front of you and massively two stories tall is “The Great Room”, often with a grand circular staircase and “bridge”. You can go up the stairs from left to right, and on one side is “the master wing” and the other side “the children’s bedroom wing” and a bridge aross the center of the second floor looks down into the great room at one side and the staircase and foyer from the other.
The OTHER version of a Great Room is a small home where the Family Room and Kitchen are combined with no wall between them. That is called “A great room concept”, and not an actual “Great Room. Back to the Family Room. It’s “Where the TV goes” when people didn’t want toys and TV trays all over the formal living room, they invented “The Family Room” to keep the Living Room clean. “California Splits” have “sunken Family Rooms” and I’ve seen several of them in Kirkland and Juanita/Finn Hill. Not a “tri-level” but a grand, side to side, “California Split”. (The only place I have not seen a “California Split” is IN California) Grand Ramblers, like the view homes in Lochmoor on Lake Sammamish have “Daylight Basement Family Rooms” often with grand views. Lochmoor is a very interesting neighborhood whose “time has come” with one older rambler recently selling for over a million dollars. The Family Room is, quite simply, the INFORMAL Living Room.
It’s painfully obvious that I am the only freaky, house-junkie. So, I wrote this for myself, to revisit “all the homes I’ve loved before” to take a page from Willy Nelson. Someone will have to rewrite that song for me using the lingo from this post, but you’ll have to speed up the tune if I’m going to DDR to it 😉