The history of the living room from its first naming, until today. On this little journey through time, of course, every country had its own twist to it, but some movements and wars affected all parts of the world and were essential in the historical development of today’s living room. Let’s see how it went:
What exactly is the living room?
In most homes the living room is the focal point of the house. This can differentiate from home to home, as for example farmhouses have the kitchen as the typical focal point. Depending on the size of the home, some people use their living room as a room to entertain guests, while they use another room as a family room. This is different from home to home, but most people use the living room as a space to relax and spend time with their family and friends.
It often is the biggest room of the house, or combined as an open concept, with the dining or kitchen area. Back in the day, the main focus of the room was on a nice fireplace, nowadays the focus is mainly on the TV area.
When did the living room become a designated room?
The birth of the living room was somewhere around 1815, during the so-called Biedermeier period.
The Biedermeier period was the time between 1815 and 1848. After the war against Napoleon, a large part of the public was disappointed into their leadership, as they were hoping for more rights and to be part of the political discussions. When this didn’t happen, a lot of people were resigned and began to focus more on their private life.
Family, home and self-containment became the most important things in life. A comfortable home was all they wanted.
Before the Biedermeier period, during the Victorian age, the typical middle/upper class home was separated into one area that was used to receive guests, and one area where the family actually lived in. The receiving room usually showed off the expensive furniture and kids were not allowed. It was the buffer zone between the public and private area within the house. When the family didn’t have any guests over, the so-called front-room, parlor or receiving room was rather useless. The family spend their gatherings in other rooms, like their bedrooms or the library.
After the war, the people began using the receiving room more casual and used it to gather with their friends and family, to read, have drinks together or any other social activities.
Due to the industrialization, people were moving into the cities on a large scale and living spaces were very limited. The Living room was made to meet with the family. During this time, the beloved Biedermeier furniture was born.
Biedermeier furniture became the most trending design style. It had no clear forms, as it was inspired by nature. It was elegant with beautiful curves and made of darker woods like walnut, mahogany or cherrywood.
A typical living room was equipped a little different from what we use today. A secretary to sit and write on, a sideboard, a bed or chaise lounge to sit or lay down and some sort of plant set the base.
How did the living room change over time?
In the 1920s, the gramophone became affordable to the public, so music became an inherent part of the living room. People started spending their time there to relax, knit and embroider or just to listen to the music. Since the focal point of the room was usually a fireplace and nobody needed a good view, armchairs were randomly placed and typical sofa’s rather rare.
The furniture design evolved from Biedermeier to art nouveau, which characteristics are floral ornaments and organic shapes. At the same time the longing for a rather straight form language started to slowly evolve, as well as industrial manufacturing that started growing and largely formed the furniture industry. In 1919 the popular school Bauhaus opened their doors in Weimar. This school influenced the design of architecture, art and furniture on a large scale.
Bauhaus students were the visionaries of the golden 20s. Their designs were progressive and future oriented but almost nobody actually had Bauhaus designs in their homes. Glas, steel and white modernity were too futuristic and too large of a step away from the organic forms of Biedermeier or art nouveau designs. Today Bauhaus is more popular than ever, as they set the base for the pioneers of modern design.
From wreckage to glamour, in the 50s the world started to rebuild. The second world war was over, and the living room went from still a little formal, to todays typical comfort space. While the older generation was eager to go back to their beloved Biedermeier furniture, the younger generations were ready to take on the world with American modernity. This divided the living rooms into two main design styles:
- Old-fashion: Very heavy, dark and rustic Oak wooden furniture.
- Modern: Pastel colored furniture in futuristic forms, made of organic shaped wood.
Radios were the center of the room and the main source of news, entertainment, sports. Towards the end of the 50s, the typical living room was given a makeover. The television moved in and changed the whole layout. While seating used to be faced towards each other, for easy conversation, it now faced towards the TV.
In the 60s the mass production directed the looks of the living room. While the innovative shapes slowly went out the door, long lasting and massive furniture was seen everywhere. Large sofas were introduced into the living room and the practicality of storage came very important, which resulted 1968 in the first modular storage wall by Hülsta.
Orange was the color of the century, standing for the future and progress. The public tried to escape the fear of the cold war, that was going on between the US and Russia. This resulted in the hippie movement, with bright colors and flower power mentality.
The rustic oak furniture went to the recycling center and was replaced by a bright green flokati area rug. Organic Shapes, patterned wallpaper, green flower sofas and plastic lamps in bright red conquered the living room.
Shag carpeting was very common. One of the most known design classics from this time period was the full foam sofa „Togo“ by Line Roset, in bright orange.
Towards the end of the 70s, the color-palette moved towards more earthy tones. Dried flowers, pinboards and DIY-Projects were an absolute hype, which we see a a great revival of within the past few years. Boho was trend. Upholstered furniture had a low profile and was used to sit and sleep on and modularity became an important aspect of furniture design.
When the late 70s were so Boho, the 80s were Eclectic. The public largely wanted to set an optimistic statement and break out of the grey everyday life of the cold war. Neon replaced natural colors, and the Memphis group designed colorful, odd looking furniture. While the walls mostly stayed white, storage walls and media systems became a must-have in the living room. Black leather sofas, veneer showcases and tiger textiles were just as common as the Billy shelving system from Ikea. Video-games gained popularity and made the living room even more to a space to relax and entertain.
Beige and bland. After the colorful outburst of the 80s and the end of the cold war, whites in every shade took over, combined with rather „adult“ shapes. In the 90s, the living room had to be practical. One of the most practical items was the ivory leathered sofa, that could easily be cleaned or the introduction of click laminate. Flatscreen TV’s helped to spread the furniture layout a little wider, as the TV’s were larger and the whole family didn’t have to sit right in front of it, to get a good view.
While the shapes were rather organic and airy, the 60s were reliving a revival. Retro was trendy.
How does our living room look today?
Reflecting a greater need for space, individuality and flexibility, our living room has come a long way from the victorian receiving-room. Climate change and digitalization are influencing our life and living room. Digital products, home systems and little cleaning helpers are moving into our homes, while we bring back nature through natural materials and plants. The typical bookshelf has turned into a decorative space with home decor and DIY-projects.
Several different design-styles have formed over the years and are dominating our living rooms. The bohemian living room is celebrating a comeback, just as much as the Industrial design. Styles are being mixed and combined and nature brought back into our homes. Besides these styles and the overall shift to sustainable living, there are two color styles that are very present:
- Bright pastel colors with traditional forms.
- „New elegance“ with deep blue and green tones. Rooms painted from floor to ceiling, combined with light wood.
The living room is becoming more open than ever, as you can see a lot of them turning into a living-area combined with the kitchen and/or dining space. This is far from the original receiving room, when people only wanted to show off their status. This is the heart of the house. This is our comfort-zone.
And now? Is history repeating itself or are we still in the middle of it all? Of course, we see many styles from past eras again, however, we think that the history of the living room is far from being written. In times of pandemic, our home has become the most important place of all. It is where we live and now where we work as well. With the growth of remote work, we’re also realizing that home doesn’t always have to be a fixed place, home can also come on wheels. Digitization and globalization are far from over, so we’re excited about the future and looking forward to what’s to come.
How do you think the living room will develop? Will a sustainable lifestyle prevail? In which time would you like to get a sneak peak and which time did you not like at all? Feel free to write your opinion in the comments or write us on Instagram. We look forward to hearing from you!