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The Difference Between a Living Room and a Family Room

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Photo: Africa Studio (Shutterstock)

In most homes, the kitchen’s clearly the kitchen, bathrooms are identifiable by the presence of a toilet, and bedrooms are places to sleep. But what do you call the room with couches and chairs, meant for sitting, lounging, or entertaining? The living room? The family room? The den? The great room? The sitting room? The parlor?

The answer depends on a number of factors, including where the home is located, its size, when it was built, who lives there now, and perhaps most importantly, how the room is used. Here, we’re going to focus on the living room and the family room, including the difference between the two, and what they mean for the value of your home.

The differences between a living room and a family room

Housing comes in a variety of formats and sizes, and very often contain a single room dedicated to sitting, relaxing, and media consumption—where the TV and couch goes. When then is only one such room in a home, it is typically referred to as the “living room” in real estate listings.

But in larger homes, there may be two (or more) of these spaces: One referred to as the “living room,” and the other as the “family room.” Here are some of the factors that, at least traditionally, have set these categories of rooms apart:

Living room

  • May also be referred to as the “formal living room,” or, in older homes, the “parlor” or “sitting room.”
  • Typically located at the front of the house, positioned to be the spot where you welcome and entertain visitors.
  • The decor may be more formal than a family room, possibly containing the “nice” furniture and tchotchkes that you may not use on a daily basis, but rather, save for when company comes over.
  • May or may not contain a television; either way, furniture is likely positioned to facilitate conversation, rather than centered around a TV.

Family room

  • Also known as the “den” or “media room.”
  • Can be located anywhere in a home, but tends to be towards the back of the house (possibly a converted back porch or sunroom) or the basement.
  • The decor and furnishings are meant to be used, and to maximize comfort: Think cushy (but not necessarily attractive) couches, recliners, carpeting or rugs, etc.
  • Usually contains the home’s main television, and is where any sort of entertainment or media center—including gaming equipment—typically lives.

Living rooms vs. family rooms: Some caveats

First, a few caveats—starting with the fact that these are only the traditional functions and descriptions of living rooms and family rooms, and today, the terms are often used interchangeably. Plus, there’s no right or wrong way to refer to the rooms in your own home, so call them whatever you want. The same goes for the design aesthetic: Your home, your rules.

Also, the confusion over the difference between the two rooms is thanks, at least in part, to the rise of open floor plans. When the main floor of a house is one large open space, the rooms—and their functions—tend to blend together, creating various “living areas” instead of dedicated, differently named rooms.

What living rooms and family rooms have to do with a home’s value

When it comes to your home’s value, having a second living space (in other words, both a living room and family room/den) can make it more desirable to potential buyers—especially those with kids who may want a room where they can relax without the sound of their child’s favorite annoying TV show or video game on repeat.

One of the most popular ways to add this type of space to a home without building an extension is to create a family room/den/media room in the basement (which may also mean finishing the basement).

Though that itself is no small investment, finishing a basement of 400 to 1,500 square feet has a potential return on investment of up to 75%, according to HomeAdvisor. Plus, adding more heated square footage bumps up your house into another price bracket, Atlanta real estate agent Leighann Russell told HomeLight.