Allen Norwood

Some homes are so big they run out of room names

Charlotte architect Don Duffy laughed when I asked him about the differences among keeping rooms, morning rooms and hearth rooms.

He confessed that he wasn’t sure. A keeping room is close to the kitchen, he said. Beyond that, well.... “We seldom get asked for a keeping room. If we did, we’d ask the clients exactly what they meant.”

All three of those terms show up on today’s house plans – especially plans for large, elaborate homes – and reflect the changing ways we describe the spaces in our homes.

The parlor long ago morphed into the living room, and then the walls came down to create the great room.

More recently, the master suite became the owner’s suite.

What are the details that differentiate keeping, morning and hearth rooms? I’m guessing, like Duffy, that there aren’t always lots of differences. Often they’re in the eye of the homeowner (or the salesperson selling the home).

Some spaces come in endless variation.

Consider, for instance, the home office.

Today’s homes must have space for a computer or three. Beyond that, though, the office can be large or small, downstairs or upstairs, off the kitchen or just inside the front door. Basically, it’s an office if there’s room for a laptop. The wireless printer doesn’t even have to be in the same room.

If the office space is off the kitchen, and used mostly by mom or the kids, it might be labeled a “planning center.” I’ve seen that on floor plans. Duffy said he wasn’t familiar with the term.

If it’s dad’s work space, and off the foyer, it might be the den or the study.

So, I asked Duffy: What’s the difference between a den and a study? He suggested: The study has a desk? Sounds right to me.

These days, an exercise room is a spare bedroom with a treadmill.

A bonus room becomes a media center when you add a BIG television set.

I’m guessing, again, that many of these room labels are marketing terms. The bigger and more expensive the house, the more likely it is to have a morning room instead of a pedestrian breakfast room.

Real quick now: Which costs more, a house with a drop zone or a mud room? The two spaces are basically the same.

Duffy and I agreed that the drop zone costs more than the mud room. I forgot to ask him about the “friends’ entrance,” but that sounds a little more elegant – and costly – than either of the other two.

(What’s the difference between a pantry and a larder? Oh, about $10,000. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)

Duffy said that some of today’s homes have so many rooms that builders and architects run out of familiar names to call all the individual spaces. “Sometimes we talk about it in jest,” he said. “There are so many rooms that we have to make names up.”

They also joke about the costs of the labels, as if the spaces were items on a menu A patio? It gets one dollar sign: $. A terrace is a little more expensive, and gets two: $$. A loggia gets $$$ or $$$$.

Allen Norwood: