September 25, 2023

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Redesigning a Family Room to Work for Older Kids

Redesigning a Family Room to Work for Older Kids

Redesigning a Family Room to Work for Older Kids

Something happened when I blinked yesterday: my kids got older. And simultaneously, our family room went from a comfy, cheerful, practical space to being a room we stopped wanting to spend time in. At all. Which irks me to no end, because we have a big family, and square footage in this house is precious, and the smart parenting move is to make sure every space is usable and comfortable and meeting the needs of our family.

I’ve been aware the room needed to be re-designed for over a year now, and I kept ignoring it because we had other house projects happening. But knowing we had some big photo shoots coming up, I finally decided to tackle it. And I have to tell you, it has been the most fun design project I’ve done in ages. I ended up working with Room & Board on the redesign and I could not be more excited about it.

Here’s what’s happening:

In case you need a little background, our house is 2500 square feet and has a “living room” downstairs that is open to the kitchen and dining and entry areas. The living room is a great place to socialize and we use it a ton, but it doesn’t have a TV, toys, or musical instruments. Those activities all live in the “family room/playroom/den” which is upstairs, adjoining our office studio. I realize that not every house has both a living room and a family room, and I know we’re lucky. When our house is at it’s best, we’re making the most of both rooms.

Key Problems with the Old Family Room

– The old “before” family room was basically divided into two main sections — a TV area and a toy area. There was also a small music nook with a piano and a few other musical instruments. The two sections did not lend themselves to interaction.

– As the kids have grown, their music needs have grown too. We’ve added an electric keyboard, a drum set, more guitars, more amps, and a microphone too. Plus a trumpet, trombone and clarinet. The “before” room wasn’t set up to accommodate all of these additions in a smart way.

– Ben Blair and I both wanted the room to invite spontaneous jam-sessions, but instead, the music area just felt crowded and hard to navigate (where’s that amp plug? why does it have to be so hard to reach that guitar? where do the drum sticks keep disappearing?), so the kids ended up avoiding it when they didn’t have to be there.

– At the same time we added instruments, the kids were growing out of their toy phase. The wall rack of dress-ups wasn’t getting a lot of use. The mini-kitchen and accessories didn’t get attention unless a younger child was visiting. And 50% of the toy bins were chronically ignored and forgotten about.

– With the master bedroom and bath remodel, we ended up opening an upper space in the family room that the kids envisioned as a “clubhouse”. We added a bright yellow, industrial, wall-mounted ladder to reach that space, and needed to move our hanging chair to do so.

– The sofa-sectional in the room was a hand-me-down that had been in the house when we moved in. It never quite worked right in the space and never felt intentional. Plus, the back cushions were removable pillows and the whole thing tended to look pretty messy. I knew I wanted to eventually replace it as soon as we moved in, but it’s one of those pieces that ended up blending in and getting ignored. I’m grateful it held up so well, but it was time for it to go.

Key Design Challenges With the New Family Room

– Beyond solving the problems listed above, probably the biggest design challenge was figuring out a layout that would work with the long, narrow shape of the room. What’s the best way to accommodate a TV area without ending up with a sofa that blocks off the room into two sections?

– Another big design challenge was color. We already had some key pieces (key large pieces) that would remain in the space. And they were in intense colors — like the bright green piano, and the bright yellow ladder. So we knew we’d need to accommodate those. Related, the family room also houses the Reading Loft, which is very colorful. The whole family still loves the Reading Loft as it is right now, and no one is interested in changing it at the moment, so we had to consider its colors as well.

– Our new goals for the room were: It should be a great space that the whole family (or a big group of friends) can comfortably hang out in. It should be a space where it’s easy to watch a movie as a family. It should be a space where it’s easy to play board games and card games as a family. It should be a space where it’s easy to practice music. It should be a space that invites spontaneous jam sessions. It should be a space that can still accommodate some of our toy collection (because we haven’t totally outgrown it and have lots of young friends and cousins).

Time to Start Shopping

Once we established our goals for the room, and took measurements of the space, Ben Blair and I went straight to Room & Board. The showroom is in San Francisco and it is so SO GOOD. It’s 3 stories of gorgeous, American-made furniture set up in truly beautiful displays. It’s a straight-up pleasure to shop there. And amazingly for San Francisco, it has a parking lot! Hah. What a difference that makes.

We started by quickly walking the whole store to get an overview, but I confess, that was probably a mistake, because I started feeling overwhelmed. There were so many good choices. And so many options for fabric customization. How would I narrow it down?

But then we met with Jeffrey, who assisted us throughout the design process, over a few different visits. He was super helpful. We talked through our goals. We shared our room dimensions. We told him about how I’d dreamed of blue velvet sofas for years. We discussed sectionals versus sofas. We confirmed timing and timelines and when we needed the room to come together.

The whole conversation was very calming. He heard us and believed us. And he made the most of our time there, helping us focus on the decision we should make first: the sofa.

Blue Velvet Sofas for Miles

Knowing we were picturing blue velvet, he started by explaining that any sofa in the store could be ordered in blue velvet (or any other fabric offered by Room & Board), and that it would take about 8 weeks for that kind of custom order. But, there were also options that were already stocked in blue velvet, and those could be delivered in about 10 days. We decided to focus on the already stocked options.

And then we spent some quality time with every blue velvet sofa in the store. : ) We compared legs (did we want off the floor? or to the floor?), arms (did we want straight, curved, somewhere in between?), and tufting (yes to tufting? tufting with buttons? tufting with stitching? tufting on the back or on the seat?).

It was interesting to see that when we really started comparing options, we narrowed down what we wanted quite quickly. We loved one option, but ultimately determined it was too formal for the space. Another one was gorgeous but didn’t come in the length we needed. Eventually, it was clear what the best blue velvet option would be for us.

Sofas Versus Sectionals

Before we even started the blue velvet hunt, we had kind of moved on from sectionals. For two reasons: 1) the first options we noted when we did a walk through of the store, were all generous and comfy and beautiful — but too big for our space. And 2) because the in-stock velvet options were all sofas, and not sectionals.

But we hadn’t completely abandoned the idea of a sectional. And as we shopped, there were some non-blue velvet options that really caught my eye, and ultimately, two sectionals made my short list.

One in particular was a sectional with a small footprint, that was upholstered in a grey felted textile, with beautiful double-stitching details. It had a sort of industrial feel that I am a huge fan of. Plus, I fell in love with the legs. They were slightly tapered metal legs with a silver-brushed finish. Simply gorgeous.

The other sectional that made my list was a curved option. Something about the curve really gives it a the-more-the-merrier feel. I suppose curves are naturally inclusive. We weren’t sure if it would fit in the space, but we were taken with the charm of it.

The Most Helpful Shopping Tool: In-Store Floor Plans

One thing that made our first shopping trip really efficient is that I brought measurements of our room and a basic floorplan drawing. While we shopped, Jeffrey recreated the floor plan with Room & Board software, which then allowed us to place sofas in the space (and other furniture too), all at exact dimensions, to see how they fit.

We would place a sofa, discuss how it was working, move things around, and talk about pros and cons. Then, at the end of our visit, Jeffrey emailed us the floor plan files so we could consider them at home.

Once we were home, I studied the floor plans, and I created a whole bunch of mood boards to help make the final decisions on colors and finishes.

Mood Boards Helped Narrow Down Choices

I went through many iterations of these as we narrowed down choices, plus double-checked measurements and availability. Here’s are two of the mood boards I came up with during the process. 

Once we had a final mood board, we lived with it for a few days before we visited the store one more time to go over everything with Jeffrey, and place our order. We really depended on Jeffrey whenever I got stuck on a decision. Would darker be better here? Cool tones or warm tones on this piece? Should we go with bright pillows? Or maybe focus on texture? He gave excellent advice, and never pressured us.

The room is mostly done now. Like 95% done. We have one more piece that arrives tomorrow, and then I need to style the room and photograph it. I’m super excited to share the big reveal “after” photos with you! We even made a time-lapse video of the main furniture being installed that turned out really fun.

Wish me luck on the shoot, and I’ll share photos next week. In the meantime, if you’d like see more, Ben Blair and I did a short Facebook Live broadcast where we talked about the space and our goals for the room.


Now it’s your turn. Have you ever found yourself needing to redesign a room when your family’s needs changed? Do you like using floor plans and working with exact measurements when choosing furniture? Or do you prefer to eyeball things and make adjustments on the fly? Have you ever worked with an in-store designer before? And do you think through the goals of the room before you get started putting a space together, or do you prefer to dive right in? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Credits: Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. This redesign is in partnership with Room & Board.

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