Formal Living Spaces: Are They Necessary?

July 11, 2018
George Washington's Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, United States
Photo: Unsplash/Matt Briney

A new study reveals that formal living and dining rooms are going unused, and households typically spend most of their time together in the kitchen and informal living rooms or dens. 

Rather than an actual need, the desire for such formal spaces emanates from emotional need to impress others and prove oneself, posits Kate Wagner, writing for Curbed and creator of McMansion Hell. In fact, she says, the homeowner want that feels like a need comes from an uniquely American ethos that space offers us the life we want, "That we can solve our problems (or at least feel better about them) by simply buying things, and that the best social lives are ones that involve hosting grand parties."

Elite houses, from the domus of a Pompeian politician to the Palace of Versailles, from Biltmore to McMansions in subdivisions named Biltmore, have always maintained a separation of formal and informal space. The absence of all that extra space (combined with the standardization and mass production of building materials) is what made detached single-family housing inexpensive and accessible to different classes in the first place. One of the simplest reasons so many clamor for formal spaces is because they are a signifier of wealth and prestige, a sign of having “made it.”

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