What Is a Keeping Room?

A Colonial invention that has timeless functionality for modern homes, find out how a keeping room might enhance your family life.
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A farmhouse-style home interior with an antique wood stove sitting next to a modernized keeping room and dining room.

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Q: While browsing through home listings, I saw one that said the home includes a keeping room. What is a keeping room and what is it used for?

A: A keeping room may sound unfamiliar, but these rooms (sometimes called hearth rooms) have been popular in homes for centuries and you’ve likely seen one. However, the name is a bit ambiguous, so it’s not obvious what these rooms are and how they’re used. So, what is a keeping room? Read on to find out.

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The history of keeping rooms goes all the way back to the U.S. Colonial era.

Keeping rooms are typically smaller rooms with space for a small table and chairs and are located next to the kitchen. Dating back to the 1700s, people would build these rooms near the kitchen for warmth since kitchens were likely the only room in the home that had a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Families would sit in keeping rooms, or hearth rooms, to stay warm, talk with those working in the kitchen, or do household chores near the fire.

A keeping room containing a vintage sofa and easy chairs next to an open-plan kitchen.

A fireplace and comfortable seats near the kitchen are key features of a keeping room.

Think of these spaces as a kitchen sitting area. True keeping rooms have comfortable, casual seating, such as a cushioned bench, and include a fireplace or stove if the home has maintained its original layout and features.

While modern heating can keep all interior rooms warm today, keeping rooms continue to be used for other reasons. They can be cozy spots because of their proximity to the kitchen where guests can chat with the host and enjoy cooking smells.

The location and use is what differentiates a keeping room from other gathering spaces, such as a family room, living room, or den. Other rooms often will have TVs and are much larger, while keeping rooms are smaller and the occupants focus more on socializing with those working in the kitchen.

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Today, keeping rooms can be found in old homes and new builds alike.

The way homes are heated has changed over the years, but Sarah Church, a Minneapolis-based Realtor, says the desire for that cozy, kitchen-adjacent environment has remained, making keeping rooms popular across older and newer homes.

“I tour many old homes and every now and then I see a keeping room that has been left untouched and is full of the original charm,” Church says. “Keeping rooms are primarily [found] in older homes, but I have seen them a few times in custom home builds. [They’re] typically referred to as a breakfast nook these days.”

Homeowners with keeping rooms often find modern uses for these spaces, such as a homework spot for children or hosting space for an intimate book club near kitchen snacks. According to Church, maintaining an older home’s original keeping room charm, such as with a fireplace in the kitchen, can help retain the value of your home since some home buyers appreciate the look and feel of a vintage kitchen.

While newer homes may not have a true keeping room that includes a fireplace, home designers may take inspiration from this concept by adding seating to an eat-in kitchen or creating a breakfast nook. As long as the space is close to the kitchen and has comfortable seating for occupants to sit, socialize, or do small tasks, you’ve captured the spirit of the traditional keeping room.

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A modern keeping room inside a residential home just off of the kitchen with a wood burning stove inside a historical fireplace.

Final Thoughts

While the term “keeping room” may take you back to Colonial times, these spaces actually have many uses for today’s homeowners and families.

You can make the most of these bonus areas by outfitting the space with cozy seating, like a kitchen couch, and a small table for occupants to work or have a light bite to eat. As long as the space feels comforting and helps people gather near the kitchen, the breadth of keeping room ideas may be endless.