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Living, dining rooms look to be on endangered list

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bill Campbell has turned into a pub-like “parlor” in his Wexford home. The parlor is shown on Friday January 25, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The eating area of the Campbell's Wexford home shown on Friday January 25, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

When Bill and Brandy Campbell moved into their Wexford home, they saw what he says stood out “as a really bad waste of space.”

The dining room they didn't think they would use then or ever led them to start thinking about a better use for the space. It has become what he calls “The Parlor.”

“We have a poker table where the guys can come over and play cards, a wet bar where we can have parties and a TV where we can watch games,” he says.

The elimination of the living and dining room has become a steady move in house design or purchase, professionals in the industry say. In homes with family rooms or eating areas linked to kitchen space, living rooms and dining rooms that once were staples in home design now are being changed. They are being made into first-floor master suites, apartments for parents who have moved in with their children, playrooms for kids that will grow into study halls as their users age.

“I cannot remember the last time someone came in looking specifically for a living or dining room,” says Amanda Druschel, a sales and marketing representative for Heartland Homes who works generally in the northern suburbs.

Michael Ruefle, owner of Suncrest Homes in Murrysville, says the lack of interest in the two areas is strong enough it is making home-design plans out of date.

“There is no demand at all for them,” he says, adding clients begin discussing ways of changing the plans almost as soon as they see them. “It's been going that way for five, six, seven years.”

Architect Scott Moore from Latrobe agrees living and dining areas have faded in interest in most homes of 3,000 square feet or less, but in larger, more formal homes, they still are needed and wanted.

Owners of those homes still are looking for defined entertainment areas away from the preparation or cleanup area, he says.

More formal attitudes lead to the addition of the more traditional designs, he says. While hosts don't mind guests mingling in the kitchen as food is prepared for informal get-togethers, hosts at formal events don't want that sort of action, he says.

Builder Rueflle also says parties by members of some Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures often break up into genders, leading to the inclusion of dining or living rooms.

But the popularity of open household design and the informality of entertaining have made living and dining rooms less popular than they once were.

Elliot J. Fabri Jr. from EcoCraft Homes says the change can be made easily by knocking out walls in the modular homes his company builds.

“It can be a little challenging, but it makes a place that is more useful,” he says.

Campbell says the openness of the area around his kitchen makes it a good place for the center of most get-togethers. The eating area in that space can be used for informal, family meals or bigger settings for guests, he says, making the dining room unnecessary.

He says they decided when they first looked at the house to eliminate the dining room as a meal space and turn it into another, more specified area for entertainment.

While most of the guests at a party can be centered in the kitchen, those interested in playing cards or watching a game can take their interests elsewhere.

Fabri says home buyers often are caught up in the traditional legacy of those rooms.

“Some people think they want them, but then discover that they really don't need them,” he says.

Many homebuyers use living rooms as “flex space” that can be adjusted for use or age, says Angela Walker, a northern area sales manager for Heartland. Many will maintain the separate nature of living rooms, she says, and make them play rooms for children. As the kids grow up, the toys are replaced by desks, bookshelves and computers to help in academic chores.

Similarly, she and Fabri say, those rooms can become office space, sites that are more a must these days.

The elimination of living and dining rooms is a reality of many purchases, she says. Still, she adds, the designs of the homes most often include them. She says only two of Heartland plans come without them, and both are modern, open designs.

Fabri says their designs most often include one or the other, but the elimination is simple. The dining room in a model home at EcoCraft's site in Newburry, South Fayette, has an integral look in that house, but Fabri says the walls could be taken down easily to open the space into the kitchen.

“It requires a little redesign up front, but it can be done,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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