The death of the living room

Kristen Jordan Shamus

The grand shuffle is in full swing.

To make way for a new member of the family, a big change was in order.

My home office, which doubled as a spare room, was dismantled to become our older daughter’s bedroom. Julia got to keep the queen-size spare bed with the caveat that when we have overnight company, she’ll have to forfeit her digs for an air mattress in our room.

Our younger daughter moved into Julia’s empty bedroom. With a little paint and talking up her move from a toddler bed to a twin-size bed, Sarah was yet another happy customer.

The baby will inherit what used to be Sarah’s room, which was decorated with lacy curtains and a lady bug theme. Another trip to Home Depot and a few hours with the sewing machine transformed the space for our soon-to-be bouncing baby boy into a room with a safari animal motif.

The casualties: Not only did our spare room/office disappear, but so did our formal living room. It’ll be converted into a play room/office hybrid.

The radical change to our house made me consider just how few families have a formal living space anymore. It seems as if the living room is a dying place. The National Association of Home Builders confirms that theory.

The association predicts that a typical new home built in 2015 won’t have a formal living room at all. It’s part of a broader trend of consumers looking for smaller, more energy-efficient and practical space.

“The living room is just one victim of the revolution,” said Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research at the NAHB. “Consumers don’t have anything in particular against it, but it’s something that will merge into the great room, which combines the living room, dining room and kitchen in one space to allow for the illusion of volume. You get rid of the square footage and increase your energy efficiency.

“The living room is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In all, 52 percent of the experts, manufacturers, architects and builders surveyed for the NAHB’s “The New Home in 2015” report predict that the formal living room will give way to the great room, and 30 percent said the living room will vanish completely in new homes over the next four years.

It makes sense to me.

We couldn’t justify keeping an entire room in our increasingly packed house to entertain the occasional guest. Even when we do have company, everyone stands in the kitchen or clusters in the family room, anyway. No one gives a second thought to the orphaned living room on the other end of the house. Meanwhile, our family room is so loaded with toys and other stuff that there’s barely a spare inch of space to relax.

So, we figure we ought to pack up all those toys, give them a place of their own and reclaim the family room for grown- ups.

And why not give the kids a place to really play _ where they can make a mess without fearing a parental freak-out? My husband plans to build a craft table for them, complete with storage for all their beads and crayons, markers and pencils. The play room also will be the place for the easel, the princess castle and Matchbox car garage, puppet theater and all the other gigantic toys that seemed like such a great idea at Christmastime, but quickly got in the way as we realized we had no place to put them.

My desk and computer will take up a little more than a corner of that room. The kids can use the computer in the play room for homework, and it’ll be in a spot where we can watch while they use it.

I don’t think we’ll mourn the death of our formal living room, and I’m not sure others who take a similar route should either. The living room seems like a place for times gone by, back when ladies invited other ladies over for afternoon tea, and gentlemen retired to the living room after a hearty dinner for cigars and deep conversation about the news of the day.

We’ll have tea parties all right, but they won’t be on fine china and they’re likely to include some very little women. We’ll also have hearty dinners complete with chicken tenders, carrot sticks and pretzels. Our gentlemen visitors can then retire to the play room to race cars and do puppet shows.