15 Words for Household Rooms, and Their Synonyms

By Mark Nichol

Here’s an alphabetical tour of domestic vocabulary to help you avoid getting lost or walking through the wrong doorway, and to give you a choice in navigating your way:

1. Attic: Synonyms for this word (from the Latin Atticus, “of Attica”) for a room or area under the roof of a house include garret (the term is from the Middle English word garite, “watchtower, turret”) and loft (from the Old English word for “air” or “sky), as well as the obscure cockloft. A loft that opens to a lower room is also called a balcony (the term is from the Italian word balcone, “large window”); this term may also refer to an upstairs outside porch or deck.

2. Bathroom: Because of the personal nature of the bathroom’s function, this room has many (mostly euphemistic) synonyms, including latrine and lavatory (both words are derived from the Latin word lavare, to wash”), as well as restroom, washroom, and “water closet”; most of these, however, are usually applied only to public facilities.

Bath or toilet (the latter term is derived from the French word toilette, “cloth”) are also common usage — though toilet more often refers specifically to the key fixture — as are slang terms like head (this term is from naval usage, when the “bathroom” was the bow of the ship), john (from the given name), or loo (suggested to be from the French word l’eau, “water”). Privy, ultimately from Latin privatus, “private,” was originally synonymous with outhouse but may also refer to an interior room.

3. Boudoir: This French term (amusingly derived from the French word bouder, “to pout”) can apply to a bedroom, a dressing room, or a sitting room for the woman of the house. It has erotic connotations that, depending on context, the more utilitarian bedroom may or may not have.

4. Cellar: This area, often partially or completely belowground (see hall for etymology), is also called a basement. Because such areas often remain cooler than the rest of the dwelling, the cellar was originally used to store food and/or wine. More recently, it has been relegated to a general storage space or converted into one or more bedrooms or an informal entertainment area.

5. Closet: This term, from the Anglo-French word closett, a diminutive of clos, “enclosure,” originally referred to a secluded room but now applies to a usually walk-in cabinet for storing clothes and/or other household items.

6. Conservatory: Often a separate building (also known as a greenhouse) but sometimes attached to a house, the conservatory (the term stems ultimately from the Latin word conservare, “keep, observe”) is familiar to players of the board game Clue but rare in real life. The similar solarium (the term is from the Latin word for a porch with sun exposure), also known as a sunroom or a sun parlor, is a glass-enclosed room that may double as a conservatory.

7. Den: This term was borrowed from the synonym for lair, and the connotation of a secluded refuge is not coincidental; the neologism “man cave” (or mancave) suggests a retreat where the lord of the manor may escape to avoid responsibilities or the expectation that he behave in a civilized manner.

The den may be used for entertainment or as an office or a study; those terms are also likely to be applied to a spare room where academic, professional, or leisure writing or research is done and/or where household management is conducted.

8. Foyer: This word, adopted into English from French when France was considered the epitome of all that is refined and proper, in the latter language means “fireplace” (the word is ultimately derived from the Latin word focus, “hearth”). In humble abodes, the hearth was close to the door (as was everything else), but the name stuck even as dwellings became larger. The word applies to entrance areas in public buildings as well; synonyms like entranceway, entryway, and lobby are usually applied only in that context, not in identifying the domestic equivalent.

Vestibule (the term is from the Latin word vestibulum, “forecourt”) is a synonym that suggests a transitional area. An earthier equivalent, generally referring to a separate small chamber, is mudroom, though this area is often entered through a side door.

9. Garage: This term derives from the French word for “the act of docking, from garer “to dock”; it’s probably related to guard and guarantee. It was originally (and sometimes still is) detached from the house and, before the advent of the automobile, was preceded by the carriage house, itself an extension or evolution of a barn.

10. Hall: This word, stemming from the Old English heall and related to the Latin word cella, “small room” (whence cellar — see above), originally referred to an entire dwelling (or at least its primary chamber) at a time when that was the living arrangement for a chieftain or a nobleman.

By extension, the word came to be applied later to public buildings, campus edifices, and the like, but it also diminished to refer to the entry of a house, and ultimately, when houses became more extensive, a corridor or passageway that communicates to various rooms. The sense of “entry” is discussed above in the, er, entry for foyer.

11. Kitchen: For reasons of safety, the kitchen (the term derives ultimately from the Latin word coquere, “to cook”) was a separate building, but now it is often the figurative heart of the home. Related terms include buttery (a storeroom for liquor, from the Anglo-French word but, “cask”), pantry (a storeroom for food, ultimately from Latin panis, “bread”), and scullery (a cleaning area, ultimately from the Latin word scutella, “drinking bowl”).

12. Library: Originally, in some homes an entire room was set aside just to store the domestic collection of books, either for ostentatious display (and perhaps rarely, if ever, read) or for practical purposes, in which case the room doubled as an office or study. The term stems from the Latin word librarium, based on the stem libr-, “book.”

13. Nursery: When, in the homes of the well-to-do, children were best not seen nor heard, they were relegated to the nursery (the term is ultimately derived from the Latin word nutricius, “nourishing”), a combination sleeping and playing area. Now, a nursery is simply a bedroom occupied by the very young.

14. Parlor: As the name (from the Anglo-French word parler, “talk”) implies, this is a room dedicated to conversation among inhabitants or with their guests; “drawing room” (from “withdrawing room,” the room to which guests at a dinner party withdrew for postprandial conversation) is a synonym, as are salon and “sitting room.”

The hall and the parlor have been supplanted by the living room and/or the family room, the latter a fairly recent development to provide a casual environment in contrast to the former, a more formal area. (Some houses, by contrast, have a great room, a large open area that may include space for more than one activity as well as a dining area and free access to the kitchen.)

15. Porch: The porch (the term is from the Latin word portico, ultimately derived from porta, “gate”) is usually merely a raised approach to a house, though it can be enclosed and might double as a solarium (see below). Synonyms are gallery, lanai (from Hawaiian), piazza (from Italian) stoop, and veranda or verandah (from Hindi and Urdu); all but stoop (from the Dutch word for a step) imply an expansive area. A sleeping porch is a well-ventilated area, sometimes adjacent to a bedroom, for sleeping on hot, still nights.

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8 Responses to “15 Words for Household Rooms, and Their Synonyms”

  • Mark MacKay

    Inglenook – bench or sitting area near a fireplace. It’s where you might place your settle.

  • Tony Hearn

    I’m sure you and your readers are aware that nothing reveals an American to a Briton better than to refer to the toilet as ‘the bathroom’. The problem is compounded by the fact that in Britain a bathroom is characterized by its having a bath in it, even if, as in not a few houses, it does not in fact have a WC/toilet/loo in it at all, that being in a separate room!

  • Andy Knoedler

    As Tony intimates, there are definitely differences between the American and British names for rooms in a dwelling. Perhaps in the future you can tackle that weighty problem.

    In addition, I didn’t notice that your hypothetical home had a living room — what the Brits would call a “lounge” or a “sitting room”.

  • Kathryn

    Or a dining room. And, the living room could also be a parlor or, in certain historical contexts, a drawing room (short for “withdrawing room”)

  • John

    It is my understanding that “Cellar” and “Basement” are not synonymous.
    A basement is a level of a building which is partially, but less than 50% below grade.
    A Cellar is more than 50% below grade.
    A building can have both a basement and a cellar.

    I’ll come back with a citation later, but it will probably come from “Building Construction for the Fire Service” by Francis L. Brannigan.

  • JC Lesley

    It would be great if in the future you could either indicate it is a list of American household rooms, or create a more comprehensive list which includes the names of rooms in Britain & Australia and other English speaking countries. At least now though I have a better understanding of which rooms Americans are talking about; in Australia we only use a few of the names on your list.

  • AmaT

    Thank you, Mark MacKay for inglenook – love the sound of it and the image of sitting near the fire.

  • AnWulf

    @Mark … I thought I was the only one who ever brooked “settle” instead of chair! lol

    For porch (a pre-1066 Latinate rather than thru the French overlords), there is also stoop, forehouse, lanai (Hawaiian).

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