RESEARCH SUMMARY DETAIL

Various Functions for the Living Room

Author's Title: A Room for Living: Private and Public Aspects in the Experience of the Living Room
Author(s) Name: Tayla B. Rechavi
Year of Publication: 2009
Search Related Keywords: Middle Class  Personalization of Space  Privacy  Proxemics  Quality of Life and Well Being  Resident/Occupant  Residential  Social Interaction and Neighboring  Stress 

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Design Issue
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This study investigated the function and meaning of living rooms and objects within living rooms through interviews with middle-class residents living in the metropolitan New York area.


  • Previous research has identified the living room as a place to communicate self and identity and has investigated the meaning of “home” to residents; however, few studies have investigated the meanings present in the living room. Additionally, few studies have systematically analyzed how objects found in the living room may be associated with how it is used.
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Design Criteria
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Author Identified:
  • Recognize that the living room can be used as both a private (sharing intimate moments with a partner) and public (hosting parties with friends) space. Create living room spaces that foster comfort, relaxation, and refuge.
  • Recognize that memories of time spent with family or friends in the living room may affect the connotation they have with the space during moments of solitude in the same space.
  • Understand that hosting guests in the living room may include both formal (e.g., entertaining) and intimate (e.g., sharing personal stories) scenarios.
  • Recognize that objects placed within the living room may create a connection to family, friends, or experiences during moments of solitude.

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Key Concepts
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  • All living rooms included a sofa; most had additional seating placed diagonally to the sofa (87%) and a table placed in front of the sofa (75%). All had artwork displayed on the walls and objects of meaning (knick-knacks, photographs, gifts) on display. Most had books on display, included a television, and collections or decorative items. Decorating style (e.g., color schemes, certain types of objects) varied between living rooms.
  • All but one subject reported spending a large amount of time alone in the living room using it for activities of solitude and privacy (e.g., reading, writing, watching television, exercising, looking at the outside view, contemplating).
  • Most subjects attributed the comfort they experienced in their living room to their sofa, indicating that physical elements in the space may be used to foster solitude and privacy. While there were other spaces in homes for these activities, they occurred in the living room because living rooms were open to other rooms with family nearby, allowing subjects to enjoy time alone without feeling lonely.
  • Many objects that subjects chose to display within the space elicited meaningful memories and created a sense of connectedness to a loved one or event.
  • subjects hosted small groups to large parties with varying frequency (weekly, once a year) within the living room. Hosting was at times intimate (e.g., intentional sharing of an experience that is significant to at least one person in the group), even with large groups of people.
  • Of those with partners (9), six subjects used the living room to spend time with their partner in varying degrees of intimacy (e.g., dinner, trivial and serious discussions, physical intimacy). These intimate moments occurred in the living room even though most dwellings had enough space for them to take place in other rooms (e.g., kitchen, bedroom).
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Research Method
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  • subjects (16; 11 female; 8 renters; aged between 20-30 years old; no young children; 9 with partners) were middle class Manhattan, New York area residents who lived in a variety of dwelling types (i.e., apartments, house, loft, and brownstone) of differing sizes (e.g., one-, two-, and three-bedroom), though most were apartments and one-bedroom dwellings. The study was advertised at the university the researcher was affiliated with and at social groups the researcher was involved in.
  • In each home, subjects completed a questionnaire relating to their socio-economic and residential status. The researcher sketched (including notations of objects indicated by subjects) and took still photographs of the living room prior to interviewing subjects. Tape-recorded, semi-structured interviews lasted approximately 1.5 hours per subject and were conducted with an interview guideline. A “tour” of each living room was taken during the interview so details could be noted. Additional documentation and observation of the living room was conducted during each interview. A follow-up interview (lasting between 15 to 30 minutes) was conducted by phone to clarify issues discussed during the face-to-face interview. Following further analysis of the data, follow-up interviews were conducted as needed.
  • Categories emerging from the interviews were identified for further analysis.
  • The study was guided by the grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
  • descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data.
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Limitations
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  • The small, homogenous sample size may limit the generalizability of the findings.
  • volunteer bias may limit the generalizability of the findings.
  • Only one of the dwellings included a family room, potentially requiring the subjects to engage in activities in the living room they would otherwise use the family room for.
     
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Commentary
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Living room photographs and a sample sketch of a living room were included. Future research on living room use comparing different demographics (socio-economic status, age, household composition), comparing different cultural and social groups, and considering the experiences of those who feel negatively about the space and additional research on other discrete areas within the house was recommended. A previous manuscript (Rechavi, 2004) details the methodology used in the study. 



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Adapted From
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Author(s): Tayla B. Rechavi, environmental psychology, Program in Psychology, City University of New York
Article Title: A Room for Living: Private and Public Aspects in the Experience of the Living Room
Publisher: Elsevier
Publication: Journal of Environmental Psychology
Publication Type: Refereed Journal
Date of Publication: 2009
ISSN: 0272-4944
Volume: 29
Issue: 1
Pages: 133-143