This is a complicated subject. “Living Room” is a common term, but it should be termed the “common room.” They are large general-purpose socially open areas.
If you look at residential architecture, from the tent to the mansion, they all begin with a common area. As we increase size and affluence, we see the segregating of other areas by social restriction and specialization of function. In other words, you can judge the affluence of a house by the number of rooms that are not living rooms. Family rooms, entertainment rooms, studies, libraries, conservatories, chapels, even dining rooms—in the small low-cost home, all of these collapse into the living room.
In a small house, lacking specialized rooms, the living room becomes host to competing interests and activities, an area where family tensions and dynamics play themselves out. Conversely, it is also where family members go when they want to be with each other, enjoy each other’s company.
It is ironic, then, that there exist houses in which the “living room” is never used—a showpiece reserved for the rare visit by company that must be “impressed.” The family in such houses usually exist off in their own little worlds, rarely interacting.
More common in recent years are large new houses with large bare living rooms. Families move in, throw some box-store furniture, but do little to personalize the space. But how can you, when use of the living room mostly entails eating meals in front of the TV? When social activities all happen somewhere else?
To a certain extent, in America at least, the role of the living room as been supplanted by the deck/patio. Sort of “come to my house, but not in my house.” It’s a socially neutral exterior room, separate from the private lives of the family.