What's the Difference Between a Family Room and a Living Room Anyway?

living room vs family room

Design: Christine Markatos Lowe of Christine Markatos Design

Do you often find yourself evaluating the purpose of certain rooms in your home and brainstorming the best ways to make them feel their most functional? That's totally normal. Sometimes the lines of home layouts and floorplans can get blurred. Dwellers are often faced with the questions, is this a mudroom or a foyer? Is this a powder room or a half bathroom? Is this a family room or a living room?

While there are technically no hard and fast rules, the difference between living room and family rooms could be the most confusing of all. Knowing the design distinctions between a living room and family room will make the difference between a room that thoroughly serves its purpose and one that just works.

To help you distinguish whether your central gathering space is, in fact, a family room or a living room, we tapped Manuel Munoz, production designer at Living Spaces, a furniture company, for the insight we need to make the most of these areas. Ahead, the differences between the two, how to tell the difference, and why knowing matters. 

Meet the Expert

Manuel Munoz is a production designer at Living Spaces. Previously a visual manager, Munoz has been with Living Spaces for 7 years and has 20 years of experience in the visual styling field.

Everything You Need to Know About Family Rooms

living room vs family room

Courtesy of Michelle Gage

As the name suggests, a family room is a place you spend time with family members, roommates, and friends. Often situated off the kitchen, it's much more of a casual and comfortable setting that encourages all to kick their feet up, relax, and binge the latest Netflix series. This can also be called a TV room or game room, depending on your interests.

What Is a Family Room?

A family room is a more casual sitting area that you can use to gather with friends and family to watch TV, relax, and eat.

"The family room layout is all about comfort," Munoz tells us. "Sectional sofas are often more useful in family rooms because they provide enough space for the entire family to spend time together."

When furnishing a family room, comfort and utility come first.

"Sleeper sofas can create a useful space for overnight guests and slumber parties while reclining chairs might be used to facilitate television viewing, napping, play, and informal snacking," Munoz says.

Everything You Need To Know About Living Rooms

living room

Design: Jonathan Rachman, Photo: Douglass Friedman

Contrary to its name, the living room is a space you typically do the least actual 'living' in. It's the space usually placed at the front of a home, specifically reserved to welcome and entertain guests. As it is a more formal setting, a living room is an opportunity to use less-family friendly fabrics and plenty of accessories, like antiques or breakables, as you won't have to worry about it getting ruined by high traffic.

What is a Living Room?

A living room is a more formal sitting area used to entertain guests rather than an everyday living area, with a greater emphasis placed on décor and accessories over comfort and utility.

"A living room layout typically facilitates conversation, so think about arranging sofas to face each other and removing the TV," Munoz says. "The living room is a good place to showcase your style with the use of art and accessories."

What's the Difference Between a Family Room and Living Room?

difference between living room and family room

LAVA Interiors

If you have both of these spaces in your home, here's how to tell the difference between the two.

"The family room is typically in the back of the house and connected to the kitchen, while the living room is in the front of the house and creates the first impression for guests," Munoz explains.

The living room is usually the area you spend the least amount of time in, which allows for fancier décor and furniture ready to impress guests.

"As family rooms typically are used heavily by children and pets, and are often situated next to the kitchen, you need fabrics and furniture that hold up to heavy use," Munoz adds. "If you do not have a family room, you can make your living room into a family room with more casual, relaxed furniture."

At the end of the day, these two space serve very different purposes but you certainly don't need both. If you only have one, get the best of both worlds by make it a comfortable space perfect for tuning into your favorite shows and playing games, and don't forget to display your best décor for when guests stop by.