Interior Design Glossary: Specialty Rooms
Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Reviews the Definition, History, and Benefits of Specialty Rooms in the Home
We all have an idea of what specialty rooms are in the home. However, how specific can one go in a single room’s function? That’s what I want to explore as we review the definition, history, and benefits of specialty rooms in this entry of our interior design glossary.
My first glimpse into the ultra-specific world of specialty rooms in interior design was when I was in college. I had a friend from Beverly Hills who I got to stay with during school breaks. Their home was lovely and felt like a California dream. Every morning, their housekeeper arrived with groceries and fresh flowers. When I was there on my stays, it was my duty to report my desired meals, snacks, and flowers of choice for the day. This world was totally new to me and absolutely mind-blowing. I had a comfortable life growing up in Austin, but it was nothing like Beverly Hills. If you can live like this, I highly recommend going for it.
My friend’s home was charming and had a few of the necessary specialty rooms one would expect in a Beverly Hills home, like a laundry, butler’s pantry, and pool bath. However, La La Land mega-mansions were on a whole other level. On one of my visits, we drove past Aaron Spelling’s 56,000 square foot mansion quaintly dubbed “The Manor.” My friend casually mentioned there was a wrapping room in the house designated solely for packaging gifts. Turns out that information is actually incorrect because there are three wrapping rooms in the estate.
Discovering that a “wrapping room” was even a thing sent my interior designer’s imagination spiraling. The specificity of such a room seemed impossibly luxurious and extravagant at the time. What else did I not know? Could other specialty rooms be designed for one purpose and one purpose alone?
Now, specialty rooms are becoming more and more common. We hardly bat an eye at Paris Hilton’s nightclub room, Elvis’s jungle room (arguably the first “man cave”), or the multitudes of celebrity pet rooms resembling mini-mansions. Even in everyday suburbia, we see media rooms, yoga rooms, and even the occasional doomsday bunker.
Years after my run-in with my first ultra-luxurious specialty room, I now know much more about the wonders of specific rooms for specific purposes. In my 1970s home, I have an old-fashioned TV room, a mudroom, a formal dining and living room, a breakfast nook, and a study that doubles as my husband’s photography studio. All of these spaces have a specific purpose, and I absolutely love them. I celebrate room separation and abhor the “open-plan living” that plagued the design world over the past two decades. It is endearing to have a room used for one activity. It allows the room a chance to rest and gives our minds a break when we close the door.
When it comes to specialty rooms, I just love the specificity of it all…
What are Specialty Rooms?
Simply put, specialty rooms are rooms designed for a specific purpose rather than a general need for space. Maybe they are outfitted with special equipment, furnished around an activity or theme, or left as a blank canvas for creativity. A specialty room is designed for personal taste, comfort, and even fun!
A Brief History of Specialty Rooms in Interior Design
Having any rooms at all in a dwelling is a relatively modern idea. For example, in the Middle Ages, it was common to have only one room designated for living, eating, sleeping, and whatever else was needed to be done. (Sounds like the open-concept living trend is more of a regression to the Dark Ages, but that is a tangent for another blog.) It was only as recently as the 19th century that it became common to have a separate bedroom. Now, many of us (except for loft dwellers) can’t imagine lacking the privacy of being able to shut the bedroom door.
In the Victorian Era, we see a move towards embracing rooms designed for specific purposes. For example, front parlors were used for receiving guests and hosting special events. Due to a lack of electricity, rooms were divided to make use of natural light so one could move throughout the day and make the most of the daylight hours.
As different technologies, trends, and amenities have advanced, we’ve subtly adapted our homes to fit. For example, the dawn of home AV equipment brought us the media room, and the pool table brought us the billiard room. We created rooms to store our collections of objects and even wrapping supplies! New building technologies like steel beams brought the rise of open-concept living, but also many modern design mistakes.
Who knows what other specialty rooms we will develop to fit the ever-growing demands we put on our homes. Will there be cell phone charging, TikTok dancing, or even technology detox rooms in the coming years? We will have to see. For now, I want to revisit some of the classic specialty rooms to consider for the home.
Types of Specialty Rooms
The types of specialty rooms that can be created are only limited by the imagination of the homeowner and interior designer. Familiar classics include butler’s pantries, pool baths, game rooms, and craft rooms. Of course, wilder demands like gift wrapping, jungle, and nightclub rooms can be met when requested.
The classic parlor was a staple of the Victorian and Georgian interior design styles. Parlors are a place to receive guests and entertain in a more formal setting.
Hobby rooms can be outfitted to meet the needs of any activity, including music, sewing, arts and crafts, and, yes, gift wrapping.
Media rooms are outfitted with theater-grade equipment for the ultimate night in.
Game rooms can be designed to house anything from your board game collection to a full-sized pool table.
Nursery and Play Rooms
Nurseries and playrooms are age-specific rooms for play and growth. Just like your child’s wardrobe, these spaces will need to be updated more frequently to meet their needs.
Dressing rooms are expansions of closets, offering a luxurious space to try on outfits, put on makeup, and linger in the mirror.
Thanks to Peloton, home gyms are rising in popularity. The amount of equipment they can include is only limited by size and budget.
Pool baths are reserved for post-swim showers, offering convenience and keeping the main house free from puddles.
Mudrooms can be used to receive packages and store the family’s growing collection of boots, coats, and bags.
Butler’s pantries are intended to store additional entertaining supplies, including dishes, flatware, and platters.
Sculleries, caterer’s kitchens, or dirty kitchens are secondary food prep areas that can be sealed off and hidden from view when the partygoers arrive.
Wine rooms can be used to store bottles or even expand into an intimate tasting space.
Breakfast rooms are casual dining areas off the kitchen. They can house the picture-perfect sit-down breakfast or lingering Pop-Tart crumbs.
Home offices in the age of remote work have re-ignited the specialty room craze. Many homeowners have realized just how important privacy and quiet can be.
Benefits of Specialty Rooms
Rooms are a luxury. What is more luxurious than being able to shut a door and devote your full attention to the task at hand? Better yet, how nice is it to leave your craft, game, or whatever room a mess and simply shut the door when it’s time for guests to arrive? Open-plan living demands us to constantly “perform” in our homes. Why have an open kitchen when you could close the door to the mess and chaos of a closed kitchen?
Specialty rooms allow us to thoroughly enjoy our living space. After all, what else are homes meant for?
Why are Specialty Rooms Trending?
Specialty rooms are trending in the 2020s, most likely because we have spent much of the decade stuck at home. Being able to retreat to different rooms allows us to break from our families, other tasks, and one set environment. As we continue to demand more from our homes, the need for specialty rooms will grow.
Should You Design a Specialty Room for Your Home?
In my work at my Austin interior design studio, I encourage clients to use their space to their best advantage. In many cases, that means dividing the square footage into specialty rooms. Create the dressing room to store your collection of bags. Add the breakfast room to spend mornings with the family. Determine what you want from your home and create the space to house it.
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.