12 Jun 2012

The English Drawing Room/Sitting Room…What Do You Call Yours?

We have a game in our house called “What shall we call the ‘front reception room’ today?”

There are days when we unselfconsciously call it the ‘Drawing Room’ and others days when that sounds too ‘posh’ and it becomes the ‘sitting room’ or ‘the sitting room at the front of the house’ or at a push ‘the formal sitting room’ (which sound terrible naff)…but basically, what we really mean is the nice sitting room, with the good seats where the children aren’t allowed to make a mess and the dog isn’t allowed to scratch and de-fluff on the antique velvet Chesterfield!

Wikipedia describes the ‘drawing room’ as “a room in a house where visitors may be entertained.” and apparently the name is derived from the sixteenth-century terms withdrawing room and withdrawing chamber.

In a large sixteenth- to early eighteenth-century English house, a withdrawing room was a room to which the owner of the house, his wife, or a distinguished guest who was occupying one of the main apartments in the house could “withdraw” for more privacy.

Now, translate this into my home and it means ‘hiding away’ with a bottle of red, some Kettle Chips and the Sunday Times on a Sunday afternoon and gaining a little privacy away from the X-Box, or the Wii Just Dance, or the afore mentioned dog de-fluffing (although admittedly, Byron does have his posh bed in the ‘drawing room’, where he behaves impeccably and one imagines dreams of chasing pheasant and well bred grouse rather than the usual rabbits and pigeons that frequent the garden. Speaking of Byron, he thought that all of his Christmas’s had come at once last week, when a deer found it’s way into the garden. Of course we had to remind him that he is in fact the size of a small boot and no match for a shoulder height wild animal with antlers – despite the Disney-esque connotations of deer – and yes – Byron has indeed watched Bambi!)

Anyway – back to the drawing room…now, until the mid-twentieth century, after a dinner the ladies of a dinner party withdrew to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen at table, where the cloth was removed. After an interval of conversation, the gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing room. This is the definition that I remember from my childhood – the withdrawing of the ‘gentler sex’ to the ‘Withdrawing room’ to remove themselves from cigar smoke and smutty talk. The reality of course being that there is no talk smuttier than when a group of women get together after a glass (or five) of fine wine…or is that just me??!

The term ‘drawing room’ is not used as widely as it once was, and tends to be used in Britain only by those who also have other reception rooms, such as a morning room – a nineteenth-century designation for a sitting-room, often with east-facing exposure, suited for daytime calls – or the ‘lounge’, a late nineteenth-century designation for a room in which to relax; hence the drawing room is the smartest room in the house, usually used by the adults of the family when entertaining.

Which leads us once again back to Hill House. We have a what we call a ‘family room’ which encompasses a television/sitting room, computer area, breakfast table – where we eat most meals, and which leads on to the kitchen. Hence it’s very handy to be able to have a more ‘formal’ room without a television in it, so that in the event of an adult dinner party – and by that I really do mean one that entails clothes and fine food – one can sit somewhere afterwards with coffee and mints to discuss the leading political and social issues of the day (yeah right…) rather than be forced into a late night showing of a Euro 2012 football (soccer) match – or, as is more likely in my house, a rerun of the latest Grand Prix, Formula 1 race – which, regardless of how many ‘highlights’ one has already been subjected to, apparently needs to be dissected in more and increasing detail every time it’s shown on television…yawn.(Darling Husband did you hear that?).

Mine is still awaiting an exciting ‘refurb’ mainly ‘lightening up’ with new paint colours, a bit of re-upholstery and perhaps a painting or two – (the dining room is currently getting all of the decorating ‘action’) but it’s still cosy and ultimately a quiet, thoughtful room – which I think is what a drawing room is all about isn’t it?

So now you’ve ‘seen’ mine – do you have a special ‘Grown up’ room in your house, and if so – what do you call yours?

The Diaries

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