What's the Difference Between a Family Room and a Living Room?

We're setting the record straight, once and for all.

Comfort, connection, and a cornucopia of entertainment. Let's face it: There's a reason why we feel most at home in the living room. Or, is it called the family room? It's a little confusing, right? For years, the terms "living room" and "family room" have been used interchangeably. Thanks to the rise of city apartments and tiny homes, many people no longer reside in sprawling spaces, complete with separate rooms for each title. So, the family room and living room often falls within the same four walls.

But, after referring to the living room as the family room, and vice versa, we've wondered if the two are really so different after all. According to Karina Lameraner, senior creative stylist at Modsy, the answer is yes.

"There definitely is a significant difference between a living room and a family room," she shares. "In the traditional interior design sense, living rooms are often more formal by nature, while family rooms are more relaxed."

To help enhance your interior design IQ, Lameraner is breaking down the key differences here.

River House living room with white walls and blue accents
Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

Living Room vs. Family Room

So, why are living rooms and family rooms different in the first place? According to Lameraner, it all boils down to their intended use.

"Living rooms have served as a place for formal entertaining, or special occasions," she explains. "Family rooms are spaces designed for the everyday; they're family-friendly, accessible, and comfortable."

You can also tell the difference between a living and family room based on how often they're used. More times than not, living rooms are used for holidays and fancy cocktail hours. The family room, on the other hand? That's where you stream your favorite television shows.

Another way to tell the difference? Where they're located.

"Living rooms are usually designed towards the front of the home, often right off of the entryway to serve as a place to showcase the 'best of the best' of the home," Lameraner says.

Alternatively, family rooms are considered "personal spaces," and are often located in the back of the house.

How To Decorate a Living Room

Since living rooms are known for their formality, give your space the lap of luxury. For Lameraner, that starts with the layout.

"It's common to see two facing sofas in a living room, or even two chairs directly facing a sofa, to create a conversational layout," she says.

If you want to make your living room feel even more luxurious, opt for a fancy assortment of materials like velvet, marble, glass, or satin.

"Living rooms are definitely spaces in which we see decor take center stage," she says. "You can also consider decorating your living room with pieces that aren't necessarily used everyday, or are reserved for special occasions."

From family heirlooms to antique finds to Grandma's prized china, go ahead and pack your living room with rich history.

How To Decorate a Family Room

Family rooms, on the other hand, have a casual reputation—and should be decorated with that relaxed mentality in mind.

"Often, the layout of a space gives insight into its function and purpose," Lameraner says. "A family room layout will often be centered around the TV, with ample space for activities."

Instead of luxurious layers, fill your family room with hearty materials like wood and steel, as well as easy-to-clean performance fabrics. (Since you're spending more time here, you're more likely to encounter spills and stains.) When it comes to decor, it's important to find that happy medium between form and function.

"Family rooms tend to be high-traffic areas, meaning that on a daily basis these rooms tend to be used quite frequently," Lameraner says. "This also means that the pieces you choose for the family room should be comfortable and practical."

For example, modular sofas, storage coffee tables, and floor pillows can adapt as your family's needs change.

"Decorative books, approachable art, and objects with softer edges are often styled within the decor of a family room," she adds. "It's fairly common for decor to be more restrained or toned down in this space."

But, just because your living and family rooms technically serve different purposes doesn't mean they should look that different. In fact, that disjointed look is one mistake Lameraner sees her clients make time and time again.

"While your home doesn't need to be unified perfectly in one single style, there should be repeating elements throughout the entire space to create a sense of unity," she adds.

Instead of treating the rooms as two separate entities, it's important to create some cohesion. For example, if you have a strong color scheme or defining pattern in your living room, consider repeating it in a subtle and complementary way in your living room.

The Future of Living Spaces

Though living rooms and family rooms have historically had their differences, Lameraner says formal spaces are slowly fading into design oblivion.

"We're seeing people adopt a 'full-use' ideology when it comes to different rooms in their home," she explains. "It's becoming more rare now that most people have a whole room in their home designated to only special occasions or the odd formal entertaining event."

At the end of the day, what is important is taking full advantage of every room in your home—and making it completely your own. So, if you accidentally call your living room the family room, or vice versa, don't sweat it. All that matters is that you're living your best life under your roof.

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