The living room was once one of the home’s most important selling features. It gave it cachet, was used to entertain for important occasions and to show off fine furnishings. Through the years, due to more casual living, the increased cost of construction and decoration, and the realization that the “not-so-big” house concept has wide-ranging appeal for buyers looking to maximize square footage, the living room has lost some of its star power. Some bold homeowners and builders are even asking for and constructing homes without this space. Approximately 38 percent of new homes built in 2004 had no living room, an increase over the previous year, according to the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. Instead, we’re congregating in rooms that are a bit different and go by a host of names, from the re-emergence of the great room and parlor to the newer hearth room, the latter term preferred by Northbrook, Ill., builder Allen Shulman of North Star Homes. Town & Country Homes in Lombard, Ill., is offering this concept in three of its five plans in its “Providence” communities in Elgin, Ill., where homes run from about $290,000 to $325,000. The houses have great rooms instead of traditional living rooms, which means a larger space that combines living and dining areas, says Greg Sengstock, director of architecture for the company. So far 31 out of the 51 homes sold there reflect this trend, he says. In other houses the “non living” room becomes a euphemism for a dressier-than-usual family room with furnishings the equivalent of elegant casual attire n khakis and a blazer instead of jeans and a work shirt. In former baseball player Andy Van Slyke’s new, large and elegant St. Louis home, for instance, he and his four active sons congregate in a large kitchen and adjoining family room with cushy seating and a flat-screen TV. Wife Laurie still has a small living room at the front, which she “fought” for, but it was designed as more of a library or den since she wanted a small, wood-paneled parlor where she could sit and read, or meet with a regular study group. A suburban Chicago couple went a similar route when they asked builder Orren Pickell of Lincolnshire to construct their French Country-style dream house on a wooded lot. A large “non living” room at the rear of house is visible from the front, opens to a kitchen’s breakfast area and is furnished with plump seating, a practical Oriental-style rug, big fireplace and sunken bar. There’s a smaller library at the front in a corner. Pickell says as many as 70 percent of his clients now make similar choices, even though they’re spending several million. “Everyone has some budget and wants a level of finish second to none, so they want every room to be perfect. The first thing they do is to eliminate rooms they don’t use like the living room,” he says. But they still want some type of quiet room n a library or den n where they can go in and close the door, he says. A slightly different variation is Troy Campa’s multipurpose room with a bigger dining area and smaller sitting area than homes previously had. The reason, says Campa of Newberry Campa Design Studio in Houston, Texas is that more people want to gather to eat than sit. He also includes bookcases and a hidden desk for work in these arrangements. “Everyone still likes to have dinner together but that doesn’t mean a formal room,” he says. For more informal living, his firm usually specs a combination family room-breakfast room-kitchen that can be used in conjunction with the other space if they’ve been designed with pocket doors between them. Owners of existing homes who find they rarely use them are sometimes smart to redecorate rather than leave them idle. William M. Kotis III, president and CEO of Kotis Properties, Inc., a real estate development company in Greensboro, N.C., converted his little used traditional living room in the house he and his wife built into an office. “We live on a horse farm, and there’s little chance of anybody dropping in for formal entertaining,” he says. They still have several “non living” rooms to gather in, including a den, heated sunroom and new kitchen. To encourage casual living in these new living room variations, furnishings should be able to look great but take more wear and tear. Chicago designer Shelly Handman of Handman Associates recommends upholstering pieces in forgiving chenilles, wools and cottons rather than silks and damasks; upholstering ottomans that work well for coffee tables and topping them with trays for eating; buying sofas that are longer, deeper and higher and sometimes in sectional arrangements for everyone to fit. Chairs are also often larger, too, and maybe on casters so they can move to where the action is and be accompanied by ottomans for feet to be put up, says designer Tom Kaufman. Stern also recommends some seating that can recline. Other considerations: dark stained floorboards or stone; good lighting since more activities take place rather than just chit-chat; walls painted in a easy-to-clean flat finish or covered with a textured fabric. Designer Sarit Catz, whose firm Refuge is in Short Hills, N.J., says many homeowners in the large “McMansions” all around her still favor traditional living rooms but a few are gravitating toward the new “non living” room, often because children don’t want to be banished to a basement. She says one way to de-formalize this room is to add bright color through paint and bold pillows. While she also suggests eschewing fancy swags and drapes for no window treatment or simpler shutters and blinds, she recommends always having some type of covering if the space is used to show movies or watch TV. “And don’t forget to include a small refrigerator and microwave oven for popcorn,” Catz says. Finally, remember to bring in an afghan or blanket and have a big area to stretch out since many of these new rooms are a great place to nap, says Handman.