Every house has a favorite family space. We may call it the family room, for lack of a better term, but its name belies the varied activities that go on there. It's the place where we play games, watch TV, listen to music, read, surf the Web, work on crafts, and even pay the bills.
Luckily, a busy family room can be not only neat and orderly, but also comfortable and pleasant. What's the secret? Making the most of three important elements: storage, versatility, and comfort. Here's how to get your family room to rise above the fray.
1. Develop a room-use plan. Ask family members to identify the activities that will go on in the room. Then consider whether the space is large enough to accommodate those activities. If watching TV, reading books, and playing board games are high on your priority list, be sure you have room for comfortable seating near the television set, adjustable lighting fixtures, and a table large enough for games. Knowing how you'll use the space helps determine whether the room is sized appropriately.
2. Handle kitchen connections carefully. Even in a great-room with an open kitchen, it's important to visually delineate each area with elements such as archways, short half-walls, columns, or changes in ceiling height. It's not always wonderful to watch TV while someone else is trying to talk or cook dinner nearby.
3. Carefully plan for furniture. Start thinking about how you'll live in the space before remodeling to ensure that everything you want fits comfortably and that traffic flows smoothly. A furniture plan also determines where electrical and cable outlets belong—costly elements to change once the room is complete.
4. Consider your focal point. Is it the TV or a fireplace? If both are on the same wall, seating is easy, but on separate walls, the room arrangement becomes trickier. Experiment with arrangements that pull the furniture away from the walls and create a variety of conversation groupings. Remember, this is a room of many activities, so be creative with your room plan.
5. Borrow ideas from other rooms. Kitchen cabinets can offer creative storage options for the family room. Open-shelf units stow books or collectibles, while pantry-style cabinets with pullout shelves make sure DVDs, video games, and CDs are easily accessible.
6. Focus on lighting. Aim for a mix of general and task fixtures, and include dimmer switches so that you can adjust the lighting for everything from movie watching to needlepoint.
7. Plan easy-access technology. A built-in computer station with accompanying slide-away doors and added storage keeps workspace close but easily hidden. Plus, kids' online activities can be kept in full view.
8. Choose people-friendly finishes. Because this is sure to be one of the most-used rooms of the house, plan with longevity in mind. Consider comfortable floor coverings and sturdy upholstery fabrics with wear-dated finishes and easy-to-clean surfaces. The new microfibers and ultrasuedes are good choices here.
9. Adjust the volume. With lots of activity in one space, chances are good that the volume can get out of control. Store a few pairs of headphones within easy reach. Kids can wear them when they're playing loud video games, and you'll still be able to read in peace.
10. Bring in ample natural light. The ideal window arrangement includes at least two exposures for even lighting throughout the day. If a view is unpleasant or you need more wall space, consider a skylight or transom window. As a rule, the higher the window, the deeper the light's penetration into the room.