Your living room has evolved and the story it tells is fascinating
We're willing to bet you don't give too much thought to your living room beyond it's comfort and function but did you know, the living room only really began to be a staple about 100 years ago? As such an important room in our home, so entrenched in our daily lives, it comes as quite a surprise to hear the tale of this humble room's long forgotten secrets…
The concept of a living room didn’t exist before the mid 1800’s
It might come as a shock to find out that the living room was not yet an actual space or room by standard definition in the early 1800's. It's closest cousin was "the parlour." Restricted mainly to wealthier home owners, it's main purpose was to entertain guests, showcase possessions and display the intelligent books of it's owners. Furniture was artfully placed in these rooms and served form rather than function. The Victorian Era (from 1830 - 1890) was all about displaying your wealth and furnished masterpieces.
The middle class and their effect on Art Nouveau
In the mid to late 1800's there were more homes built for the middle class and the parlour became a luxury that the middle class could also indulge in. With less cash to invest in furniture, the style for the masses became more functional and simplistic to furnish the homes of the time. This overly simplistic, mass-produced furniture spurred the Art Nouveau style. Furniture and furnishings began to mimic plant life and organic shapes that are much more artistically difficult to reproduce using machinery. For those who wanted something ornate, artisans began to create elements that could be more adequately described as art pieces in order for home owners to prove that their home was not furnished with anything made by a machine.
Above: The interior of the Horta House in Brussels where the famous architect and designer Victor Horta lived with his family.
The Industrial Revolution leads to uncomfortable spaces and the search for solutions
In the early 1900's homes were getting smaller. This decrease in living space within cities and the cramped life of the industrial streets sought to bring the socialization that once took place on streets, indoors and away from the hustle and bustle of traffic and business goings on outside.
Moving ever forward in the evolution of the living room, the 1920's - 30's saw the room shift forward to the front of the home. At the same time the kitchen and food preparation space was moved to the back, away from the comings and goings of dirty boots. A rise in consumerism lead to larger homes being built to meet the demands of the populous and the Art Deco style arose. A more simplified version of Art Nouveau, it's more geometric and streamlined shapes were more easily mass produced by more advanced machines. It's in this era that the radio becomes the main piece of furniture in peoples' homes. Bauhaus design, with an emphasis on clean design and the elimination of unnecessary flourish and ornamentation surges in popularity.
War-time makes the living room a more functional and family friendly space
In the 1940's many household items were in short supply due to the war and so furniture was kept and cherished. The radio brought the family together and children used the living room as a play room while their parents used it for leisure. In Europe mainly, women often used the space for hand-making items they needed that were rationed or unavailable, knitting and sewing clothing and working on refurbishing other items. The backyard took on the role of extra living room, and became an escape from the tediousness of daily work life.
The 1950’s onward sees a more familial space we recognize today
The 1950's saw the advent of television and being indoors together was once again an important aspect to socialization. Functionality of furniture was important and many furniture items were made of plastic as they were easier to clean. Exposed walls of brick or wood accented spaces as a contrast to the non-natural plastic textures within the room.
In the 1960's and 70's the merging of the interior living room with the backyard/outdoor living room became a focus. Having more privacy for family time in growing suburbs was important. Psychedelic patterns and overwhelmingly bright colours became the norm and many living rooms brought the indoors in and included an indoor garden.
Ferns and plants still adorned the living room well in the 80's and today. The 80's colour schemes were traded for dusky pinks and soft shades of colour paired with florals. Heavy wooden furniture with curving shapes made their way into our homes. Geometric patterns, chinoiserie and pastels all became hugely popular.
A journey through the way we socialize
No matter whether you love these trends or hate them, there's no denying the huge visual shift from decade to decade and how inextricably linked our living rooms are with the goings on of the times. Here is a great advertisement by Philips Lighting that shows the evolution of style...
What it means for your home today
In the 21st century you're open to draw on inspiration from any of these decades! Neo-vintage pieces are available for purchase and your style can be endlessly eclectic. The main overwhelming trend however is combined spaces. If you've ever been in the market for a house or even a rental property, you've put a few things on your "want list." Having the kitchen merge with the living room and/or dining room is usually one of those things.
With both parents working, and a premium put on family time, being able to cook and socialize with your family has never been more important. How will the living room continue to evolve? We can only wait to find out.