What is a Rumpus Room? Let’s Bring Back This Retro Family Hangout Spot

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel is Creating a Rumpus Room Design Plan for Her Home — And You Should, Too

rumpus room basement

Remember when our homes used to be fun? Today, I see so many folks trapped by oppressively performative kitchens, uncomfortable minimalist living spaces, and boring all-neutral palettes. Who wants a harsh home where the chores of cooking and cleaning are lurking around every corner? What we really need is a place to cause a rumpus! I say we bring back the good old-fashioned family rumpus room. 

 

Our Homes Should Be Fun

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creating a space in my home where the family can play and relax. You see, my son is getting ready to set off for college and will be leaving his childhood bedroom behind. He will likely come home after his four years away. So, we’ve decided to relocate his things to a guest suite on the other side of the house with its own exterior door, just to give him the freedom to come and go more easily. 

But the question remained: what would we do with the little room he’s leaving behind? My husband, who is from the Northeast where basements are common, suggested we turn the abandoned room into a video game and hangout spot for the rest of the teens under our roof. He thought it would be fun to create a space like he had growing up, where the kids could play games, make noise, and gossip about the latest school happenings without the watchful eyes of the grown-ups. He said, “Let’s make it a rumpus room!” 

I loved the idea! I’d heard the term rumpus room before. However, being from Texas, where the homes are built on slabs, I never grew up with the recreational basement concept like my husband. Most of my childhood days were spent at Zilker Park, Barton Springs, or the Highland Park Mall. So, of course, I had to learn more about rumpus room designs. My research left me questioning why we ever let this fun hangout space slip through the design cracks! 

 

What is a Rumpus Room?  

What is a rumpus room, you ask? It’s a dedicated space to make a ruckus! These rooms are typically located in basements or bonus spaces, and rumpus room designs are centered around light-hearted play. This is where the kids can beat each other’s high scores on video games, the family can bond over a board game, or the adults can host a laid-back cocktail party. Simply put, a rumpus room is a spot to let loose and just enjoy hanging out together.  

rumpus room
By Amity Worrel – Woodlawn

A Brief History of Rumpus Rooms 

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation of the phrase rumpus room was in 1930 from the Wisconsin State Journal in an article that stated, “Cellar space nowadays . . . rejoices in such up-to-date names as ‘game room,’ ‘smoking room,’ and one homeowner even calls it his ‘rumpus room’!” The rumpus room was officially born, giving Northern basements a new life as the playroom for kids and the casual hangout spot for family parties. 

Unlike the upstairs formal living and dining rooms, the basement rumpus room didn’t pressure homeowners to keep the space tidy. If you don’t want a guest to see toys strewn about, simply don’t invite them down to this family-only zone. Folks also found they could get more creative and personal with their rumpus room designs. Through the 60s and 70s, many rumpus rooms included features like wet bars and fun themes based on everything from tiki culture to movies.  

rumpus room
Better Homes & Gardens, 1963

By the end of the 1970s, the fun and funky rumpus room seemed to disappear. Basements outfitted with shag carpets, knotty paneling, and plaid sofas were stripped of their character and repurposed into more practical spaces such as secondary family rooms, guest bedrooms, or the even more bland storage catchall.

 

It’s Time Rumpus Room Designs Came Out of Retirement 

Rumpus rooms may have been put out of commission after their heyday in the 70s, but I think it’s time we brought them back. I returned to the Northeast this week to visit our Society Hill project. I’ve known this client for decades, and it’s one of those slow beautiful projects where we continue building on what’s there. One of my favorite spaces in the home is the basement. 

rumpus room basement
By Amity Worrel – Society Hill

At the time of the design, I hadn’t considered the old-fashioned rumpus room. However, that’s very much what this space evokes. This downstairs space has more whimsy and an eclectic mix of furnishings that feel much more light-hearted and less serious than the rest of the home. Now, formal spaces have their time and place upstairs. But it’s so refreshing to have an area of the house where you can just kick back or have a little rumpus at the end of the day. 

Do you remember the dream home you pictured as a kid? They’re often so different from the spaces we actually create as adults. I can guarantee you your childhood vision was more fun. Embrace that side in a rumpus room, and take this as your sign to have a little more fun in your home. Create that space to watch your favorite movies surrounded by your memorabilia collection. Build the full-sized arcade you dreamed about as a kid. Let loose with disco ball accessories and patterns on every surface

 

Bring Back the Rumpus Room (and Fun Interiors) 

After looking back at decades of rumpus rooms, I am completely enamored with the concept and can’t wait to add one to my home. I encourage you to do the same! Whether you need a space for kids or a room where the adults can drop the grown-up responsibilities of the day at the door, a rumpus room is the perfect spot to let loose (and maybe even have a pillow fight). 

 

Let’s cause a rumpus! 


Amity Worrel

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.


 

 

Austin Interior Designer