Do I Need a Formal Lounge in My New Home?
Once a staple of any new home’s design, formal lounge rooms seem to have somewhat fallen out of fashion. Over the last few decades, in particular, homeowners have increasingly been omitting these spaces from their plans.
Some experts believe this reflects a change in the way we now live, with open-plan spaces now far more popular. Others feel it symbolises the shrinking of the average Australian home, as internal space comes at an ever-increasing premium. And a few see it as simply a cost-cutting exercise for developers who want to charge more and deliver less.
While the last view feels a little too cynical to us, there is some validity in the first two thoughts. Over our 25 years of experience as a custom home builder, we have seen the priorities of homeowners change significantly. We have also witnessed a noticeable increase in focus on the efficient use of space, particularly for modern home designs.
This begs the question, is making space for a formal lounge in your new home’s floor plan really worth it? Here we take a closer look at this question, exploring the case for and against the formal lounge. We also share our top tips on getting the most from the space if you do include a formal lounge in your new home plans.
What is a formal lounge room?
Before we debate the potential value of a formal lounge, we want to define what this space is and does.
The form and function of the formal lounge have evolved significantly over the years as entertaining and interior design trends changed. Traditionally, it was a separate living space that was reserved for receiving and entertaining visitors. It was generally only used on special occasions and designed as a display of the homeowner’s taste and wealth.
As such, it was usually decorated with bespoke furniture pieces, high-end artwork, and prized family heirlooms. Despite only being used intermittently, it was generally kept in showroom condition, with everything cleaned and dusted regularly. To help maintain the sense of exclusiveness, formal lounges were also usually closed off from daily life and only opened when guests dropped by.
This history has largely been maintained in more modern home designs, where formal lounges are usually “nicer” living spaces. They are generally still located near the front door of the home, just off the main entry area. This makes them the ideal reception space, as guests do not need to pass through the rest of the house.
Formal lounges also continue to be used for quick catch-ups with guests who drop by and for pre-dinner drinks. Acknowledging this, they are generally set up with several different seating options, most often configured to support conversation. Depending on how the homeowner prefers to entertain, modern formal lounges often also feature a tea service or bar set up.
The case against having a formal lounge room
The main argument against formal lounges is that interior design trends have largely moved beyond the need for one. Most homeowners now prefer a single, larger living space where the family can congregate and guests can be received. And in many ways, the kitchen has become the heart of this space, with island benches becoming the new entertainment hub.
There has also been a move away from “formal” entertaining, with homeowners preferring their guests to be more comfortable. At the same time, homeowners have started taking a more holistic view of their home’s interior design. Combined, these trends have significantly reduced the need for a dedicated reception space, with most spaces suitable for guests.
There is also no denying that residential blocks are now much smaller than they used to be, particularly in urban areas. As such, it has become increasingly difficult to justify dedicating precious floor space to a room that is used intermittently. Even in properties designed to feel grand, like French Provincial homes, homeowners are still quite conscious of wasted space.
This is further exacerbated by the growing range of features homeowners want to be built into their new floor plans. From home cinemas and libraries to home gyms and spas, we are trying to fit more into less space. This means that wish lists need to be prioritised, and increasingly, formal lounges simply do not make the cut.
The case for having a formal lounge room
To us, the biggest reason you should make room for a formal lounge is the flexibility that it provides. While open-plan living areas are definitely here to stay, there is still value in having a separate secondary living space. This is particularly true in large family homes, as not everyone will want to be together all of the time.
A formal lounge gives parents a place to escape to at the end of a long, stressful day. It also allows individual family members to have some quiet time away from the noise of daily life. Whether they spend this time reading, listening to music, or just sitting quietly, a formal lounge is the perfect spot.
As design and build specialists, we also believe that every home should have a space that simply makes you smile. This could be an area that offers the best views, showcases your favourite furniture and artwork, or just feels especially comfortable. Whatever it is that will bring you the most joy, this will generally fit best in a formal lounge.
It is also worth noting that a formal lounge is a key feature of certain design styles. For example, in French Provincial homes, multiple living spaces are used to create a characteristic sense of generosity and grandeur. Having a formal lounge also allows the main living area to feel more casual, further reinforcing the sense of relaxed refinement.
As the above shows, there are valid points on both sides of this debate. Having an area that is only used intermittently can feel wasteful, particularly when space is so tight. However, having a separate secondary living space can improve the functionality of a home’s design, particularly for large families.
With that in mind, deciding whether you need a formal lounge really depends on your requirements and lifestyle. For example, if you entertain regularly and have the space for it, a dedicated reception area could be worthwhile. But if space is limited and there are other features you would use more, you can probably go without one.
If you do decide to have a formal lounge, you should carefully consider how you design and build it. Specifically, you should make the most of the space by:
Giving it a clear purpose: As with every other room in your house, your formal lounge should play a defined role within your regular routine. This could be the traditional guest reception space, an overflow living space, or an area for a specific activity (e.g. reading). Understanding how you plan the room will help you tailor the design to fully support that purpose.
Embracing flexibility: If space is limited, you could increase the usability of your formal lounge by giving it multiple purposes. For example, it could easily also function as a home library or even double as a home cinema room. Whatever the additional uses you choose, you should decide on these early and design the space accordingly.
Making sure there is enough seating: While the role of the formal lounge has evolved, it generally remains a social space for entertaining and conversation. As such, it is critical that there is sufficient seating for the number of people who will usually congregate there. It is also worth having a variety of seating options to suit different uses of the space and group sizes.
Making sure there is enough table space: Depending on how you like to entertain, beverages (tea, coffee, cocktails) are likely to be served in your formal lounge. Acknowledging this, it is important to have plenty of places for your guests to rest their cup or glass. It is also worth having a variety of different tables in different materials as this adds depth to the design.
Amping up the luxury: While formal lounges are generally not as “formal'' as they once were, they should still feel elegant and refined. Even if it is only going to be a secondary living area, you want your formal lounge to feel special. You can achieve this through the use of higher quality furnishings, a richer material or colour palette, and the choice of artwork.
Displaying your favourite pieces: Building on the previous point, many homeowners still choose to use their formal lounge to display their most prized possessions. This helps reinforce the sense of luxury and gives them a positive reason to use the space. It also allows them to show off treasured items that would otherwise be hidden away in cupboards.
If you are still not sure whether you need a formal lounge in your new home, Carmel Homes can help. As experienced custom home builders, we can work with you to tailor your new home plans to your unique lifestyle and requirements. We are also knockdown and rebuild experts and can help you make the most of your existing building footprint.