While the general structure of a western home – floor, roof walls – haven’t changed much in the past several hundred years, the internal spaces continue to morph and evolve over time.
From one- and two-room structures, to homes that had formal parlors or outdoor kitchens, the living spaces included between a home’s four walls are directly related to the period in which it is designed and built. Leaving some to wonder, family room vs great room, what’s the difference and which do I have?
Open floor plans affect the way we think about our living spaces
In an era where energy efficiency and automated heating and cooling are the norm, we no longer need to divide houses up into small, easily heated or shut off spaces. Instead, we have the opportunity to open things up, build bigger for cheaper and have access to other conveniences that free up our home’s interiors.
The open floor plan is a prime example of this. Within the open floor plan concept, you may notice that living spaces are noted, or named, differently on different sets of plans or in various real estate listings. Knowing the difference will assist you as you design – or re-design – your living spaces, and especially if you plan to list your home in the near future.
Is there a difference: family room vs great room?
Yes, there is a difference when it comes to a family room vs great room. One is very specific, and the other is a more all-encompassing space, often comprising the totality of the communal living spaces in a home.
A family room is a casual space designed for the family who lives there
Before we had the addition of “great room,” larger floor plans started dividing common area living spaces into two different spaces: living rooms and family rooms.
The former is a more formal space, one that has the newest, nicest and highest-quality furniture and furnishings, and where important or less familiar guests are directed upon their arrival. The idea of a formal living room is a luxury because it offers a place that is always clean and “put to rights,” since – in most cases – kids and pets aren’t allowed in there as often.
Family rooms, on the other hand, are designed to be casual. Perhaps the family uses the old couch from the living room in the family room. The television lives in the family room, as do some toys and the scuffed coffee table that can handle spilled snacks or the inevitable art projects. Kids and guests alike are a little less reserved in the family room, which makes is a more comfortable space overall if you’re going to spend any amount of time there.
Often, the family room is located adjacent to the kitchen because it provides close proximity to refreshments and allows parents to keep an eye on the kids while adults prepare for, or clean up after, mealtimes. In an open floor plan where a kitchen connects to the family room (a common design feature), homeowners need to be thoughtful about their kitchen colors and finishes, likewise with the family room’s, because there are clean lines of sight from one to the other.
A great room is all encompassing
And that brings us to the great room. The great room is the heart of a home built with an open floor plan, where a single space contains the living room/family room as well as the dining room. Obviously, there will be free-flow and continuity between the various living areas, so you’re relying on furniture pieces and area rugs to define spatial boundaries.
Also, as you can imagine, the formal living room area (if there even is one) will not be quite as formal in a great room belonging to a family with three kids because it’s nearly impossible to isolate it from the other living areas. Other features you may find – or choose to include – in a great room include a home office space, the household library or a child-friendly play corner that houses the children’s favorite toys or arts and craft supplies.
Of course, the entire great room is exposed to itself, so the overall backdrop is typically more neutral, with different, complementary colors and patterns being used in the various sections within the whole. Accent walls can come in handy here to create more definition between spaces, as do thoughtful furniture arrangements.