May 11, 2020

Turning Unused Rooms Into Purposeful Spaces


I’ve been reflecting on how we can adapt our homes for heavy everyday use now that we are in them SO much more than we normally are. And it made me think of a couple of spaces from my newest book, Elements of Family Style, in which we featured the transformation of rooms that were hardly used because the purpose intended for them (i.e a formal dining room and a formal library, for example) were actually not how the family lived. Sometimes, especially when living in a smaller home, you need to just admit that a certain room that may be lovely to have but is rarely used, would be better temporarily (or permanently) repurposed as another kind of space that you will actually USE and NEED in your daily life to make your home function better. During this bizarre time, perhaps it’s finding a space for kids to do school work? Or spread out their toys and play? Just because a room was meant to be used as one thing does not mean you HAVE to use it as such. You’re the boss, you make the rules!

For example, this room was originally designed with the intention of being a formal “library” or study.  This family with three kids did NOT need that kind of room day to day, but did need a first floor space to keep all their toys and do crafts and maybe some homework too. It was SO dark and depressing in here, so even though it was “nice” wood, we decided we needed to brighten things up.

So yes, we painted it! And no, we did not feel badly about it for a minute! We also re-worked the existing built ins to create two desk spaces for the older two kids to use as they get older and created great storage as well. Now this room is not only functional for the family but beautiful, as it’s right off the main family room area.

Another example I love from the book is from designer Sarah Scales.  This family was smart and admitted that they did not need a formal dining room at all, but did need a first floor playroom with sight lines from the kitchen. So they made it a playroom for now, leaving the option to turn it easily back into a dining room without needing to change the rug or paint.

These built ins were meant for china display, but also worked so well for toys and books! Proof you don’t have to completely renovate a space to make it into something else.

This image is also in the book, from designer Cecilia Walker, showing a typical formal room that was not meant to be a “play space” turned into a billiards room! I mean, why not? If I had an extra room in my house, you better believe I’d put a ping pong table in it!

Which brings up homes that do NOT have any spaces that go unused– like mine. Maybe it’s just turning a corner into a little office space for you with a secretary desk? Or getting rid of a piece of furniture you don’t like/ isn’t useful and replacing it with more storage?  Now’s the time to think critically about your space before the quarantine clutter drives you INSANE. A few of you mentioned needing small desks, and so I rounded up some secretary desks and mini desks that hopefully can help you create a space to contain work items or a space just for you!

1. we used this secretary in a current job and it’s awesome   2. this antique piece refinished could be amazing  3. love the interior color and tassel pull on this one 4. another pretty secretary with a pale sage interior  5. a mini secretary desk to create a concealed work space in even the most crowded of rooms  6.  another mini secretary, this one more traditional  7. a great mini desk that comes in various finishes. 8. this small desk is on sale (and would work as a nightstand too if that’s the only space you have for a desk  9. a sleek, modern option.

Photography above by Michael J. Lee and Sarah Winchester. 

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