Not-so-great room

Like many modern suburban homes, our house centers on a “great room” where the family does most of its living.

It’s an OK room, sure, but doesn’t “great room” sound pretentious? Seems like a real estate gimmick to me, though I suppose it would be hard to sell a house by advertising its not-so-great room or so-so room.

A great room performs the functions previously accomplished by a formal living room, family room, library/den/study and dining room. Today, we mush them all together, preferably open to the kitchen, which in newer homes is the size of a cruise ship.

The great room is a throwback to the “great hall” of the Middle Ages, the huge central room in a castle or manor house, with its feasts and fireplaces and animals underfoot. As homes got more complicated, the great hall gave way to collections of rooms with specialized functions: parlors, salons, drawing rooms, morning rooms, music rooms. This specialization continued until eventually, during Victorian times, there were rooms reserved strictly for fainting.

Today’s one-big-room model is great for entertaining, with easy kitchen access, open sightlines and high ceilings for the escape of noise and hot air, but the rest of the time, it presents problems.

For one thing, you’ve got to keep it clean. A visitor who walks in our front door can see at a glance everything from the living area to the patio to the kitchen. It’s readily apparent if we’ve left dishes sitting out or socks on the sofa. Ours has that “lived-in” look, with shoes and soft drinks sitting among scattered newspapers in the living room, and an array of battered pans on the stove. If we had a reception room or formal living room, we’d never use it and could keep it clean enough for visitors. Maybe.

The high ceiling lends a certain airiness, but all the heat goes up there instead of down by the furniture where we are shivering. And the whole area shares the same mingling aromas, which is fine until someone cooks cabbage.

It’s difficult to arrange furniture properly in an open room. Where do you put the reading lamps? How do you keep from snaking extension cords across the floor? Can you reach the end tables? Homeowners must rely on furniture “groupings,” which is a French term that means “take the long way around the sofa.”

Another problem with such floor plans is that kitchens tend to be too handy. Every time I look up from the TV, I see the kitchen. Look, food sitting right on the counter, just asking to be eaten! No wonder this country has an obesity epidemic. I, myself, currently weigh 723 pounds. At this point, I need a great room. A great big room.

Moms love the proximity of the kitchen because there’s a slim chance they might get help with the dishes if the rest of the family is nearby. At minimum, while Mom’s cooking supper, she can watch TV over her family’s collected heads.

A great room does give the family a wonderful place to congregate, if you like that sort of thing. Family members can multi-task -- cooking, eating, reading, watching TV, doing homework, clicking computers, sniffling, scratching, personal grooming, arguing, drinking, calling the police -- all in the same room at the same time. Until they drive one another crazy.

You can’t beat that kind of togetherness. It’s great.


Anonymous said...

So, you have a "living room" - one you actually live in!!! What a concept.

- a little more gin

poodleland said...

Now I remember why I didn't buy a house with a "great room"-too much cleaning!