Posted by: Jenny | Friday, 28 September 2007

Naming your space

What do you call the rooms in the family home, once the family has grown up and moved on?

It’s easy to slip back into talking about ‘Joe’s room’ or (more self-consciously) ‘Joe’s old room’, even though Joe only lived here for six of the sixteen years we have been in this house.  His room always doubled up as a guest room. But somehow it is not so easy to speak of ‘the guest room’ or ‘the spare room’ – especially now that all four of the children’s rooms are technically spare.

There is Ben’s old room.  For a long time, even while Ben was still alive and with no permanent home of his own, this room was used as a dumping ground.  Ben did not spend much time here and seemed content to sleep anywhere.  A couple of years before Ben died, we decorated the room ready to make it into a meditation or devotional room.  Before we got round to furnishing it, the room filled with Joe’s and Ben’s belongings that we were storing for them, such that it was almost impossible even to spread out a sleeping bag on the floor.  Now at last it has become a meditation room, calm and uncluttered.

David’s old room, taken over by Simon as soon as David left home seven years ago, is sometimes known as ‘Simon’s work room’.  But this, too, is no longer an appropriate name, for it is some years since Simon actually lived here and used the room regularly.  Still kitted out as quite a luxurious office, it is sometimes known as ‘the upstairs study’.  But none of these names wants to stick.

Even downstairs, ‘the music room’ is no longer used for music.  After briefly trying to use it as a dining room, we decided that we preferred to eat and entertain in the kitchen.  So the music / dining room has become a second sitting room.  What to call it?

When we first moved here, we and the children enjoyed showing our visitors around our new home.  The end of the kitchen designated by the developer as a ‘breakfast room’ is where we take all our meals.  I overheard one of the boys, then aged about seven, explaining to a guest: “This is the breakfast room; but we eat all our meals there, not just breakfast!”

Room names can reflect social class and, especially, aspirations.  Do you say drawing room, living room, sitting room or lounge?  Do you have a family room, TV room, games room, den?  Do you have an office, study or library?  Do you designate rooms in a way that indicates how you intend them to be used – e.g. music room, quiet room, laundry room, ironing room?

Other empty-nesters tell me that it is most important to re-designate one’s children’s rooms after they have moved out – and insist that they have done so.  But catch them unawares, and they still use the old names, even if the room’s function has changed.  The family home resists classifying as anything else, for as long as the family continues to be associated with it.  The only solution, I am convinced, is to move house!

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