Living Room vs. Family Room: What's the Difference?

Many of us confidently use these terms when talking about our homes, but what’s the difference between a living room and a family room?

Photo by Amy Bartlam. Design by Kate Lester Interiors.

Photo by Amy Bartlam. Design by Kate Lester Interiors.

Photo by: Amy Bartlam

Amy Bartlam

Within every household comes a different set of needs and an interior designed around the homeowner’s priorities. With that in mind, there tends to be some gray area when referencing different rooms in the home. Sure, kitchens, bathrooms and even dining rooms leave little room for interpretation, but what about living rooms and family rooms? It only gets more confusing when designers mention bonus rooms, media rooms and – what exactly is a formal living room? So, we’re here to set the record straight on the living room vs. family room misunderstanding.


One of the major differences between a living room and a family room is the function. Oftentimes, if a household has both a living room and a family room, the difference is found in the owner's specific use of the space. The living room is more proper than the family room, though this isn’t always the case. It's probably reserved for guests or conversation, sometimes without a TV in sight. The family room is a more relaxed, designated spot to kick your feet up and enjoy a movie. Oftentimes, you may hear a family room referred to as a “media room." Essentially, this is a spot to watch TV, play video games and maybe even house the family computer.

Rustic media room with wood ceiling and beams, large flat screen, rustic table, rug, and comfy seating.

Rustic Media Room

Rustic media room with wood ceiling and beams, large flat screen, rustic table, rug, and comfy seating.

Photo by: Alex Fenlon

Alex Fenlon


It goes without saying that no blanket statement can be made on what defines the aesthetic in everyone’s living rooms and family rooms, but there are some consistencies to note. You’ll often find that the living room is the more formal, aesthetically pleasing of the two rooms. This is where the white sofas, antique furniture and prized art pieces are displayed. The family room’s aesthetic, however, is often more focused on comfort and practicality. Deep, comfortable sofas with plenty of room to snuggle up make movie nights cozy, plus you don’t have to worry about drink spills. This is why you sometimes hear the two spaces referred to as the family room and the formal living room.

Modern Cape Cod Living Room With Fireplace

Gorgeous Formal Living Room With White Finishes and Matching White Furnishings

This gorgeous living room is from a stunning modern Cape Cod-style home in Malibu, California. The centerpiece of the room is the massive fireplace stretching to the high ceilings. Massive stacks of chopped wood flank the fireplace and serve as a warm decor piece in the space.

Photo by: Pinnacle Estate Properties, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Pinnacle Estate Properties, a member of Luxury Portfolio International


In many houses, the living room is one of the first rooms one comes across when entering the home. It’s often a space adjacent to the kitchen and dining room that serves as a gathering point for the family as well as guests. Though, with an increasing number of houses with open floorplans, the lines are slightly blurred. Additionally, the modern home utilizes the kitchen as a gathering and entertaining space, leading to the kitchen taking up a much larger portion of the home’s square footage. Because of this, the living room is somewhat of a separated, established entertaining space for cocktail parties or holiday gatherings.

Lounge in Duane and Devi Brown’s Home in Bellaire, Texas

Lounge: Duane and Devi Brown’s Home in Bellaire, Texas

The couple transformed the space designated as the formal living room into a comfy cool lounge. The highlights of the room are the intricate hookah pipe, Venetian masks and liquor bar. “We were on a Mad Men kick and I decided we had to have a Don Draper-style bar,” Devi says. The ceiling serves as an accent wall, which is painted in a deep teal that complements the velvet chairs.

Photo by: Jill Hunter

Jill Hunter

This is where the family room comes into play. With living rooms being at the front of the home and functioning as mentioned, the family room requires a less formal space. Naturally, this space is placed in areas that are further away from the heart of the home. Sometimes, family rooms are found upstairs or in basements, making them feel separate. This is likely why these spaces are often called “bonus” rooms. In new construction homes, a bonus room can be found in a variety of places, often upstairs or in the basement. Basically, the space’s use is not designated and is up to the interpretation of the homeowner. As every family has different needs, the bonus room can be used as a bedroom, a gym, a playroom, a family room or anything that might suit the unique needs of the homeowner.

White Eclectic Loft

White Eclectic Loft With Bamboo Sofa

Converted attic space now serves as an eclectic loft for kids and guests to relax. Beautiful pine wood floors warm up the all-white space. A bamboo sofa with white seat cushions nestles perfectly against the sloped ceiling.

Photo by: Halstead Property, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Halstead Property, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

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