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Literally speaking on the origins of names for rooms

Property, like everything else, evolves over time. House details these days refer to things like entertainment rooms or, if you are really upmarket, cinemas and gymnasiums.

Simon White
Simon White

No doubt developers and estate agents will think up yet more titles for different rooms in the future but it’s interesting to see how many names for parts of houses haven’t changed and also where they derived from.

Drawing room is a classic example. Until I looked into it I imagined a drawing room was thus called because in years gone by children were sent there to draw or do their homework or something similar stands to reason doesn’t it?

But a drawing room (pictured) is so called because in large country houses in the 17th and 18th centuries after dinner the ladies used to withdraw to another room to leave the gentlemen to smoke, drink brandy and talk about the abolition of slavery or whatever they talked about back then.

The room to which the ladies withdrew was of course the most comfortable in the house and became known as the drawing room.

Sometimes in country areas you find houses that have morning rooms. Again, this dates from a few hundred years ago and denotes a room that had to have large windows and be east-facing, thus suitable for the conducting of business during the day.

Strangely, the single word ensuite in French means then or later and its use to denote an adjacent bathroom is entirely inappropriate.

Exactly why this occurred isn’t now known but the phrase en-suite bathroom was first used by English hoteliers around the middle of the 20th century and it stuck. It’s now passed into common property parlance.

The French actually have a lot to answer for as they gave us cul-de-sac, which means bottom of the bag

The French actually have a lot to answer for as they gave us pied-á-terre that literally means foot on the ground and also cul-de-sac, which means bottom of the bag.

I believe the humble cul-de-sac has received pretty bad press over the years and conjures up visions of drab suburbia, like in the television soap Brookside, which was a cul-de-sac so I rest my case.

Bungalows have also fared badly and are synonymous with elderly people and places like Hastings.

When I studied the history of buildings as a student I, not unreasonably, thought a bungalow was so called because it was a type of house that you bunged in low. Well you would wouldn’t you?

The term originated in India, deriving from the Hindi word bangla, which roughly means ’in the Bengal style’. Such houses were traditionally small, only one story and detached, with a wide veranda.

The British in India adopted the word and on their return to blighty corrupted it to bungalow and it remains in use today.

In the 1960s the chalet bungalow appeared which isn’t a bungalow at all as it has two storeys.

Interestingly, us Brits also imported the word chalet from Switzerland where it means the hut of a herder.


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