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Listening to an Irish podcast, I heard the expression 'good room', and though I'm a native (UK—England) English speaker, I had no idea what it meant as a discrete noun (as opposed to just good+room. The quotation was something like:

Not many houses have a good room anymore, but this might be an occasion to use it.

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4 Answers 4

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I grew up in Ireland, and we certainly had a “good room” 😀 and the term was well known.

It was essentially a 2nd sitting room decorated to a better standard than the rest of our house, that we only used on very special occasions, e.g. Christmas dinner or for a very important visitor e.g a priest or a minister.

These days, in Ireland at least, it’s a lot less common as the trend is for people to utilise all their space, rather than wasting a room by having it sitting empty 360+ days per year.

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    The same custom existed elsewhere, but in England it would have been called the 'front room' or 'best parlour', as Greybeard said in his comment. Jan 1 at 13:07
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    Irrelevant to the question, but the literal translation of "good room", "Gute Stube", existed in Germany as well, very roughly until WWII, especially in farmhouses. A kid would get into big trouble by entering that room with dirty clothes. Jan 1 at 22:59
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    The term "good room" was certainly heard when I was a child (in Australia) in the 60s and early 70s, typically in largish, older houses; though sometimes other terms were used. Mostly in warnings to stay out of it or not to touch anything.
    – Glen_b
    Jan 1 at 23:13
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    It's quite interesting that the Front Room in many Victorian and Edwardian houses had fireplace grates which were very shallow front to back. This was so that a cheerful, welcoming, impressive fire could be lit when "company" was expected but it not one that it burned a long time and, therefore, wasted coal heating an unused room.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 2 at 1:41
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    So this is the room equivalent of the good plates Jan 2 at 7:56
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Other families chose to give up their 'good room' to accommodate their new television. The 'good room' was typically a room to the front of a house that was left empty, apart from when it was used to receive guests, or on special occasions. For some families, the public-facing good room also served the practical purpose of being used for work-related meetings. Many good rooms were turned into dining rooms....
Over time, the good room would disappear as a concept for most families, with sets appearing in bedrooms, let alone kitchens. Television did not cause the privatisation of Irish domestic life, but it was part of it. Edward Brennan; A Post-Nationalist History of Television in Ireland (2019)

The good room of a house is one kept for entertaining visitors, containing the best furniture and décor, and not used day to day: 'Ah've telt ye before ye're no tae play in yer Granny's good room.' Michael Munro; The Complete Patter (2013)

Many homes had a 'best room' or 'good room', where all the best furniture was. It was only for the use of a visitor, e.g. the minister, priest or doctor. Your mother would proudly 'protect' her best room, with the family only allowed in on very special occasions. 'And don't you dare touch anything,' she would say. Allan Morrison; Auld Lang Syne!: Reliving a Scottish Childhood (2013)

Did your granny have a good room? My granny had a good room, which was so good that I wasn't good enough to enter it. Come to think about it, none of our family was good enough to enter it, except when very important people came to visit.
To avoid temptation, Granny kept the key hidden. As a child who'd overdosed on scary films, I was sure Damien from the Omen was hiding inside, festering away behind the locked door.
These 'very important people' were obviously better than us. They ranged from the local doctor or priest to the strong Fine Gael farmer with the good land over in the next parish. Whoever they were outside, if they made it to the good room they were definitely better than us. David McWiliams; The Good Room (2012)

The layout of our house was typical of its time. We would walk through the front door and the staircase would be in front of us. The front room was to the left and that had a bay window. We called this room the 'good room' and that was where all the best, yet conservative furniture was kept. It was the room we spent least time in. Rick Buckler; That's Entertainment (2015)

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It's not only Irish.

I remember as a child in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s that it was quite common.

We lived in an apartment, but when I visited friends' houses the front room was off limits to us. This room was always kept clean and tidy and had all the expensive ornaments, books, decorations, etc. Typically the furniture was covered in plastic to keep it clean for when special guests arrived.

Except at formal occasions, no one used the front door. Even adult friends and neighbours would knock on the back door. The front door and front room were for formal use only.

Compare with a 1960 Brooklyn housewife' dreams of suburbia (Somewhere That's Green):

I cook like Betty Crocker,
And I look like Donna Reed.
There's plastic on the furniture,
To keep it neat and clean,
In the Pine-Sol scented air,
Somewhere that's green.

Plastic and Vinyl Furniture Covers Are King (kind of) • 1950s • CULTUREIFY

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I am not Irish, but in our house in New Orleans (which is after all a very Irish town) the front room had a higher ceiling, mouldings and a better grade of heart-pine flooring. I suspect that it was added on to the front of the house at some point when the family who owned it before us had achieved a measure of prosperity (they were brick masons), and surely it was meant to serve as a good room. Whether they actually used the term "good room" I can't say; "front room" was the equivalent term for a lot of people I knew. But then I wasn't of Irish extraction. I was, however, forbidden to go outside and play in my "good clothes."

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