Trend Report: Great Rooms
The great room we grew up with is adapting to a new generation. Here's what's next for these anything-goes spaces.
For the past 25 years, if you walked into a brand-new home — whether single-family, condo, or townhouse — you’d most likely step into a great room. Living rooms, formal dining rooms, and TV dens were scrapped in favor of these multipurpose spaces. And voila! The open-concept house was born.
We Americans still love our great rooms, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t tinkering with the original model. Rachel Stults, Deputy Editor at realtor.com, has her ear to the ground when it comes to what’s happening in home construction and design. She shared her insider view of where the great room is going.
No end to open season
According to Stults, large, open spaces are going to be with us for a while. The reason? “Their versatility, the way they foster community and bring family together, and the fact that they are ideal for entertaining. Every trend has a lifespan, but we don’t see the great room going out of favor anytime soon.”
And yet, there can be such a thing as an excess of togetherness. Says Stults, “It can sometimes feel like too much. Where can you go to escape? I’ve heard some designers tell me that homeowners are finding a way to separate the space, creating a psychological separation with bookshelves, ceiling beams, columns, and accent walls. It’s not necessarily an inexpensive alteration, but it’s a beautiful way to separate the space.” Another charming way to give a great room a dose of intimacy: window seats. “It’s a way to create a little nook for mental space and privacy.”
Taking it upstairs
One downside to a wide-open space is keeping it neat when it’s being used for everything from a playroom to hosting your dinner club. Enter the pajama lounge. Stults explains: “We’ve seen a growing number of homeowners create a second-floor living room — sometimes called a pajama room or a healing chamber — where the kids can sprawl out on Sunday morning, and where spouses can put up their feet, watch TV, and read the paper. It’s a very European thing that’s made its way over to the U.S. It’s a way to keep the clutter away from the big entertaining space downstairs.”
Formality: the comeback kid
Another surprising trend resulting from the great room’s open sightlines: the return of the formal dining room. “The one space a great room doesn’t seem to have completely replaced is the dining room,” says Stults. “We’ve seen suggestions that it’s coming back—not just as a place to celebrate the holidays and to make every meal more special, but to keep the kitchen mess away from your guests’ eyes.”
The big sellers
Stults notes that one of the primary features buyers are looking for in a great room is a connection with
what’s outside. “People want a seamless transition between indoors and out. That’s not terribly new, but builders are putting more emphasis on creating a continuous flow,” she says. And how are they doing it? “Tons of lights, lots of windows, plants, natural-style furniture, even skylights, if possible.”
Speaking of windows, energy efficiency is a major selling point for buyers, as are the smart home features that can control lighting, temperature, and security. “Smart home features are increasingly important,” says Stults.
As far as dedicated spaces such as wet bars, game areas, and crafts centers? Stults is somewhat skeptical about their long-term value, questioning how much they’re used on a regular basis. On the other hand, she says one blast-from-the-past feature is coming back, big-time: the conversation pit. “They’re making a comeback! It seems to have something to do with a movement toward socializing. We crave a time when we all sat down and talked.”
Other elements sure to please home shoppers are fireplaces (“always a big seller”), along with the eternally popular hardwood floors (dark is generally safer than blonde, which can look dated). But flooring doesn’t have to conform to traditional tastes. Stults says that popular alternatives include concrete, which is super-trendy at the moment, along with terrazzo. “It’s that stuff we know from commercial and hospitality spaces, but is making its way into our homes, in part because it’s just so gosh-darn durable.” She adds that cement tiles also feel current. “We’re seeing homeowners install them to add a bit of drama and color.”
Having said that, Stults cautions would-be sellers from doing anything too trendy. “Chalkboard paint, textured walls, Venetian plaster — it’s probably better to be neutral. And although it’s very popular, I might not get on board that shiplap train.”
Finally, look up
It might be the last place you’d think of, but it turns out that great room ceilings are becoming the ultimate place to inject some personal flair. “People are adding statement ceilings with wild murals, a coat of bold color, or sculptural lighting. It’s something dramatic that grabs your attention,” says Stults.
While the kitchen may be the heart of the home, according to Stults, the great room is your home’s face. And although it is designed for practical purposes — to be used in multiple ways, every day — it does make a big first impression. As she says, “It’s the wow factor.”