What Is a Drawing Room?

Plus, our best ideas for creating a modern drawing room made for comfort and conversation.

sitting room with a green and brick fireplace and green furniture

Max Kim-Bee

A drawing room (also referred to as a parlor) is similar to a living room, but it has an identity and purpose all its own. Whereas a living room can be thought of as an informal space where dwellers can put their feet up, a drawing room takes a more formal, conversation-centric route.

Typically found near the front entrance of the home, drawing rooms have historically been places for receiving and entertaining guests formally. The drawing room was an essential component of large homes a few centuries ago. However, the phenomenon has fallen out of popularity in modern times due to the informal and casual way we use our homes today.

Drawing Room vs. Living Room vs. Den

With our penchant for casual living, we have—not surprisingly—ventured away from the drawing room lifestyle in favor of the living room—a space where entertaining can take an informal route. A living room might have a television, plush sectional, or well-worn loveseat made for curling up with a book. While many people choose to keep their living rooms informal, they can be slightly more elegant, particularly if your home also has a den.

If the living room is the humble cousin of the drawing room, the den is its easy-going granddaughter. It’s typically an even smaller space than the living room and might be used as a thoroughfare between rooms instead of a hallway. Again, entertaining is key in this space, but it’s most often a family gathering space, particularly when the home also features a separate, formal living room.

Living room with black walls

Annie Schlechter

Drawing Room Decorating Ideas

While the drawing room certainly heralds days of old, it’s a space worth honoring with well-selected decor if your home features this type of vintage bonus space. That said, it certainly needs to evolve for modern use, ensuring it’s a place where friends and family feel comfortable.

Create Separate Entertaining Zones

Depending on the size of your drawing room, there could be an opportunity for separate areas, or zones, for entertaining. A duo of armchairs paired with a cocktail table is an excellent spot for conversation. There’s something nostalgic about a game table, but give this zone a decidedly modern take with fun accessories like display-worthy playing cards or upholstered chairs with a whimsical pattern.

Make It Approachable

Think about how fabrics can play a part in creating a modern drawing room. This isn’t the time for heavy brocades and tasseled draperies if you’re after a contemporary feel. Rich velvets in unexpected pops of color, though? You bet.

To keep the space usable and up for our modern, informal lifestyles, go for performance fabrics and furniture that don’t feel too precious. The space should feel elevated and set apart from the more casual areas like the living room and the den without becoming so formal that it is never used. Even the furniture layout and design can help with this aim. Set up a bar, have plenty of spots to rest a cocktail, and, most of all, make it cozy.

Go Bold with Color

Because the drawing room is traditionally toward the front of the house, it can be a good place to make a splash, but it can also be a place where you might have certain misgivings about going bold.

One surefire way to ensure your color scheme melds with the rest of the home is to pull a color found throughout the adjoining room’s decor. For instance, if your drawing room is situated across from a dining room outfitted with persimmon accents, consider using the paint color on the drawing room’s built-ins, focal wall, or crown molding. Creating a dance between spaces ensures continuity even as you play up the drama.

It’s also worth considering the paint finish. If you’re working with a small drawing room decked out in a high-impact color, a finish with slightly more shine can add a luxurious, jewel box feel. Just remember, the glossier the finish, the more the inconsistencies and imperfections on the walls will shine.

Have Some Fun

Drawing rooms might once have been stuffy spaces meant for low voices where children and pets were persona non grata, but these days, anything goes. To create a thoroughly modern feel, consider ways to bring exuberance and life to the space. Maybe that means going after the maximalism trend with oversized furnishings, a bold piece of art, or texture galore. It can also just as easily be a place where your favorite collections are displayed. Finding a purpose for your drawing room beyond simply being a space to sit and visit can help determine the appropriate style and serve as a conversation starter.

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