By Angela Lindsay
The living room is like the heart of the home — a symbol of love. The first room people often see when they enter a house — it’s usually decorated with things the owner loves the most such as paintings, pictures, mementos and other sentimental items. “As the receiving room for visitors, it sets the mood of the home and reflects the personality of its owners. It is also the space where family members spend time together to relax, share stories and create memories,” according to the SubNet Construction Blog.
The first evidence of humans decorating the interiors of their homes comes from ancient Egypt, but the concept of a living room from the Western perspective dates to the Renaissance period — specifically the 15th and 16th centuries. A few centuries later, the Baroque and Rococo styles rose in popularity followed by neoclassicism, art nouveau, beaux arts, neo-gothic, art deco and various iterations of modernism, according to interiordesignparadise.com.
Until the late 19th century, the front parlor was the room in the house used for formal social events, including where the recent deceased were laid out before their funeral. This room had only traditionally been used on Sundays or for formal occasions such as the ceremonies of deceased family members before proper burial; it was the buffer zone between the public and private area within the house. By the mid-20th century, living rooms became a place in the home where family members, and sometimes friends, go to relax and socialize.
Jump to the late 20th century to today, families use their living rooms to relax, eat and view shows TVs or other electronic devices. The practice of people watching football games on Sundays and other designated big games on large color TVs led to larger family rooms to become more popular, starting during the 1970s, according to a Tuscon Daily Citizen article from 1973. Within different parts of the world, living rooms are designed differently and are evolving, but all share the same purpose — to gather users in a comfortable space. We spoke with three different Charlotte-area residents to find out why they chose their particular living room designs.
The Porter living room
“I come from the traditional Black family where there was a living room you didn’t sit in and a family room where you could relax,” said Cheron Porter, senior vice president of public relations at INLIVIAN. “I remember only going into the living room for special occasions like Christmas. My Grandmother, God rest her soul, only had one living room, but never ever had a couch without plastic on it.”
Porter has three living rooms with artwork and pictures of her family occupying prominent positions throughout. The art reminds her of her worldwide travels, she said, while the family pictures remind her of “the great love in [her] life.” The main living room is the first room people enter from her front door.
“I have an open floor plan on the first level of my home, so two of my living rooms connect but have different vibes,” she explains. “The main living room was designed to be relaxing and reflective of my personality.”
This room is filled with décor such as African masks, a signed piece by Charles Bibbs, “Autumn,” statues from Thailand, books celebrating African American culture, a Howard Miller Chaplin Floor Clock finished in Black Coffee and family photos. There is a “structured but comfortable” grey couch with bright orange pillows she describes as her “energy all day.” In the more muted second living room is a light grey settee and ottoman with silver, blue and white pillows. Bright red flowers provide a pop of color with a clay vase from Wassi Art in tropical colors. There are more family pictures, and soapstone African eggs featured on a woven platter complete the look.
“(The second living room) faces my kitchen island, so it’s the perfect place for family and friends to enjoy beverages and listen to music while I cook. It’s more intimate,” Porter said.
The third living room is a family room in the basement which is also filled with family pictures and African American art as well as Italian leather reclining chairs and a couch. “It serves as the overflow and can double as my in-house gym when need be.”
The Benjamin living room
Striking color and design is also a theme in the family home of Dr. Shanna G. Benjamin, professor of African American Studies at Wake Forest University, where the living room has been transformed into a library.
“The room is bold in color and design. When I sit in the space, it feels like it has a personality all its own. That’s what makes it special to me,” she shares.
To transform the space, Benjamin had built-in structures constructed to store papers, games, a printer and a collection of books. She said the living room serves as a “distraction-free zone for reading, talking and the like.” Benjamin was inspired by interior designer Nicole White to paint the walls, molding and ceiling in the Benjamin Moore Van Deusen Blue shade. The room features a hardwood floor, antique gold hardware and lighting, and rotating club chairs in a silvery powder blue fabric. The white and black drapes mimic the lines and dots of African mud cloth fabric with windows that look out onto the front of her house.
“I certainly see formal living spaces falling out of vogue primarily because they end up being underutilized. That said, individual taste is key, and if someone wants a formal living room, I can think of plenty of reasons why they should have it!” she said. “After being inside for almost two years, I think folks want adaptable spaces that can be transformed to suit them and how they live their lives.”
Porter added, “I don’t like a home that you can’t be comfortable in. I don’t think I ever need to be formal at home.”
She comes from a family of beautiful homemakers, she said, with a mother and aunt who love designing rooms, furniture shopping and watching HGTV.
“When I bought my home, I brought the living room set from my previous home to the new one. I thought it was nice. They waited about 72 hours to tell me to move everything to my family room downstairs and buy a whole new set. They had already designed it, found the furniture on sale, and weighed in on everything from curtains to area rugs, to color,” Porter said. “They had a say in everything, but I did get the help of an interior designer to give it an elevated feel with different textures. Now I just start with them before I buy anything!”
The Evans living room
LaToya Evans comes from a family where living rooms are for sitting and entertaining formal guests, and dens are more for family time. Her family was also big on throwing Christmas parties, holding prayer meetings and family gatherings, so having well designed functional and private spaces is important to her.
When Evans, principal and chief communications officer of The LEPR Agency, initially laid eyes on what would become her South Charlotte home, she was “blown away by how regal the home looked,” but knew it still needed to be updated, she said. So, the house underwent a six-figure renovation and redesign.
“When it came to design, I knew that I needed something really out of the box that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with by myself,” Evans said. “I also knew I wanted a space that was ideal for family and also entertaining. I immediately envisioned Christmas dinners and political fundraisers. Fortunately, the space came together exactly like that with plenty of conversation spaces, ample bar displays and places for eating, whether formal or casual.”
The living room is located just through the foyer and reflects a concept the interior designers called, “Hollywood Regency.” It incorporates influences from the U.S. and Europe, including a combination of custom furniture and vintage pieces from New York. The living room also encompasses many smaller, unique touches like little busts and a golden dog.
“This living room is special because, while it’s mine, it is perfect for entertaining whether you’re having close friends over or those you just met. It has the personality but doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in someone’s private bedroom.”
A lot of life happens in the living room. So, no matter how you define it, it’s more than just a place to sit — it remains the central part that holds any home together.