Life Without A Living Room: 3 Women Let Us Inside Their Homes

For the renter generation, living rooms provide an essential communal space to chat, eat, watch TV and crash out. Yet despite our love of (and need for) living rooms, London house shares are increasingly depriving tenants of proper living spaces, with nine out of 10 now being rented out without any communal living area at all. 

The statistic, which was published as part of a wider report by The Times, tells us much of what we already know about the perils of renting, including the increasing number of landlords letting out living spaces as extra bedrooms for increased profit.
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Disappearing living rooms bring a host of problems, affecting tenants' socialisation, mental health and overall wellbeing. According to statistics from SpareRoom (from a survey carried out in 2019 with 11,000 respondents), 20% of people aged 20-30 in London don’t have a living room at all, and 12% have no living room but have some sort of kitchen/diner instead.
The research shows that young people are now occupying smaller living spaces than ever before, with designated social spaces quickly becoming a thing of the past. Because of this, increasing numbers of young renters are creating makeshift spaces to meet their social needs, with many cramming sofas and tables and chairs into kitchens and even bedrooms.
We spoke to three women in London living without living rooms about how it affects their relationships, social lives, mental health and more. Scroll through to see inside their homes…

Angela, 33, White City

Angela in her kitchen which she shares with two house mates.
Given that you don’t have a living room, where do you spend most of your time in the house?

In my bedroom. 

What do you do when you have friends over?

I stopped having friends over because I don't have the space to host them. I used to rent a place that was much bigger than my current one, so I used to have friends over for dinner and for drinks, but now I have stopped inviting people because I don’t have space. I don’t even have a table in the kitchen, so it is quite annoying. I bought a very small table to eat dinner on in my bedroom, but it doesn’t leave me much space. For a couple of days this summer my friends came over to visit me from Italy and we had to have dinner on the table in my bedroom. 
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I stopped having friends over because I don't have the space to host them.

Angela sat at her dining table in her bedroom.
Did the lack of living room bother you when you first looked at the property? 

When I was looking at moving to my current place I had doubts because there wasn’t a living room or even a table in the kitchen, and I didn’t want to have breakfast and dinner in my bedroom. But because it was close to my office and it was clean, I took it. 

Do you think the lack of living space affects your relationship with your housemates?

Yes. I live with two girls and it is definitely affecting our relationship because we only meet in the kitchen while we are making our dinner. Most of the time, especially on weekdays, you are a bit stressed so you just want to make your dinner, have a shower and go to bed. So when we meet in the kitchen there is only a little bit of chat, I don’t have the chance to speak to them more in depth. 

Do you think that not having a living room affects your mental wellbeing?

At the beginning it was hard, because in my previous place I used to have a big kitchen and a big living room and I used to meet my flatmates in there, so at the beginning it was quite weird, but now I have gotten used to it. I don’t know if at some point I might have a freak-out because I don’t have any space to socialise. 

What do you miss about having a living room?

It’s a space where you can actually socialise with your housemates, because you live with them and you need to know about them and what is going on with their lives. Most of the time, you're going to live with them for months or even years, and if you don’t have a living room you don’t have the chance to speak to them and the relationship doesn’t grow. The living room is the place where you can have a chat with your flatmates, or where you can invite your friends over.
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If you move again, would a living room be a high priority for you when looking for a new space? 

Yes, definitely. 
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Poppy, 27, Holloway

Poppy in her kitchen which she shares with four house mates.

Because the kitchen is the only shared space, you feel like you have to be in a conversation, or you shouldn’t be in the room.

Given that you don't have a living room, where do you spend most of your time in the house?

Literally sitting on my bed.

What do you do when you have friends over?

I tend not to have friends over. I prefer to go out because there isn’t a comfortable space to hang out in the house. The kitchen is very small and there are only three chairs, so it isn’t really an option to have them over. 

Did the lack of living room bother you when you first looked at the property? 

It bothered me less than other factors, such as the lack of a clothes dryer or me drawing the short straw for the only room with a single bed instead of a double. Over time I've felt increasingly confined to my room for lack of a comfortable alternative.

Do you think that the lack of living space affects your relationships with your housemates? 

Definitely. Because the kitchen is the only shared space, you feel like you have to be in a conversation, or you shouldn’t be in the room. It isn’t like you can just go in the living room and sit down and watch TV together or have some quiet time in a shared capacity. If you don’t want to be in conversation, then there is no other space for you to have the comfort of sharing a space with someone without actively engaging in chat. There is no room to have incidental conversations that build rapport, it is either purposeful and direct or not at all. I don’t have the sort of space where you can sit down and have a cup of tea together or open a bottle of wine and just relax into the interaction. You have to have a reason to be in the kitchen. 

Do you think that not having a living room affects your mental wellbeing?

I think so. Moving from Australia has been quite an isolating experience as I am away from familiar environments and people and communities. I find that here I spend more time by myself in my room than I would naturally, just because I don’t have a comfortable living space. If I am having a crappy day I feel like I have to retreat because there is no option to decompress in space where you can seek comfort in other bodies without having to say 'Hey I need to talk to someone because I had a bad day'. Conversation has to be purposeful and planned and engaged, it can’t just be a casual, regular interaction. 
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Poppy sat in her bedroom.
What would you say you miss most about having a living room?

I miss a cosy space, somewhere that is soft with cushions and blankets and maybe some music playing, or the TV just humming in the background or something like that. When you are in a kitchen you feel like you need to be cleaning, it is not a relaxing, comforting space. I miss those creature comforts of warmth and gentleness and cosiness. Also London is just fucking cold.

If you move again, would a living room be a high priority for you when looking for a new space?

Yeah, definitely. I just need somewhere where a living room is valued as well. I want to talk to future housemates about how necessary it is to have that casual comforting interaction and just a place to share your day with someone over a cup of tea. I live with the people I am studying with and so we all just come home, cook our food and go to our rooms because we need a bit of space, but it would be nice when I am not in that situation to just build a rapport with the people that I live with, because it is a relationship as much as anything else.
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Emily, 24, Haggerston

Emily sat on her balcony which she shares with one house mate.
Given that you don't have a living room, where do you spend most of your time in the house?
When it was warmer, we spent time outside, out on the balcony. But obviously it's too cold to do that now, so we either spend time in the kitchen, or in my room because it is the biggest. My bedroom was the original living room so there's enough space for both of us to sit on my bed or on my desk or whatever, so we mostly spend time there.
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What do you do when you have friends over?
My bedroom desk is huge so it is basically a dining room table, so if I have more than two people round then I have to go into my room. There are only two spaces at the kitchen table so there isn’t really enough room for more than three people in the kitchen at a time because it just becomes a bit too crowded.

Did the lack of living room bother you when you firstlooked at the property?

Not really because I had a living room where I lived before but I didn't really use it. I was a lodger in someone's house, in a family house. So it was kind of the family living room so I didn't really ever feel like I wanted to get in their way, or be in their face. So even though I had a really big living room, I kind of got used to just having my bedroom, and just using my bedroom as my living space, my workspace and just everything space.
Do you think that the lack of living space affects your relationships with your housemates?
I think it means that we are forced to spend a lot of time together when we come back from work because there's nowhere to kind of just sit and watch TV or be away from the other person unless you shut yourself in your room. At the moment we probably get on better because we are spending so much time together, but maybe in the future, it might be like we're on top of each other all the time, and it might be too much.
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In London you just get used to living in really small flats, and I think that is what has an effect on your mental health.

Do you think that not having a living room affects your mental wellbeing?
The house I lived in at uni didn’t have a living room and that did have a negative impact on me because we didn’t end up spending any time together and a lot of my flatmates would just sit in their rooms and I wouldn’t really see them. In my current flat, there are only two of us, so when we get back from work we want to chat and we can just sit in the kitchen or in my room, we don’t really shut ourselves away, so it’s okay. In London you just get used to living in really small flats, and I think that is what has an effect on your mental health, because you are always just longing for more space.
Emily sat at her desk in her bedroom.

What would you say you miss most about having a livingroom?

I miss having a space to put things that don't belong in your bedroom, because you end up having to put all your belongings in one room. I have a study area in my room and I have everything that I brought from home in one room. I work from home a lot, so when I need to do work I have to do it in my bedroom or go out, and sometimes I find that being in the room that you sleep in is really unproductive. Even though I have a desk, it's still the place where I've just woken up, so it's hard to get motivated. If I had a living room I could do work in there instead of in my room. Also just having extra space, just more room in your flat in general.
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If you move again, would a living room be a high priority for you when looking for a new space?
I don't think so. I'd rather live with the right people or have a flat in the right area or that has a nice vibe than have a living room. For me, it is more important who I am living with and where I am living than having the extra space. 

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