Room Reassignments

This multi-purpose family room designed and built by Marnie Oursler includes a bar and access to the kitchen and porch. Photo by Dana Hoff.

Forget formal spaces in your current or future home – focus on functional and fun

by Erik J. Martin

Living and dining are essential actions that occur in every residence. But having rooms named after and devoted, respectively, to each has become passé nowadays for many homeowners. Instead of maintaining formal rooms that conform to traditional expectations but which end up being seldom used, people are prizing practical spaces that conform better to their lifestyles. And that makes for a more comfortable, efficient and fun home unbound from outdated conventions.

“Most homeowners don’t have the furniture or need for formal spaces, and most buyers aren’t looking for them when shopping for a home,” says Erin Fausel, lifestyle blogger. “Families today are seeking ways to maximize the square footage of their homes, and that usually results in eliminating formal areas they’ll only use a handful of times a year.”

Marnie Oursler, the host of DIY Network’s “Big Beach Builds” and HGTV’s “2018 Dream Home,” concurs. 

“People should forego the traditional house plan and opt for a more realistic one – a house that you will use and one that’s comfortable,” says Oursler. “Our lives don’t have the structure they used to, and our homes are now reflecting that in the form of open floorplans with flexible spaces.”

Marnie Oursler designed and built this custom home with an extended kitchen island that doubles as a table/workspace. Photo by Dana Hoff.

Which is why the living room often gets nixed nowadays, according to Annie Elliott, owner of Bossy Color Design Group.
“The traditional living room is the least popular room in many houses. They tend to max out at seating for six or seven. That’s why they’ve been eclipsed by family rooms or great rooms, which offer a larger, more casual space that can accommodate eight or more,” Elliott says.

Equip your family room with a bar and you’ve made the living room that much more obsolete, suggests Oursler, who says there’s no demand for the old-fashioned dining room or study, either.

“The big island in the kitchen has replaced the need for a kitchen table, and now the large dining table is being placed right off the kitchen. And an open floorplan kitchen-dining area has replaced the study. Most people now set up to work at the dining table or kitchen island,” notes Oursler.

Likewise, the den – defined by Wikipedia as a “small room in a house where people can pursue activities in private” – has been supplanted by or transformed into a media room (for TV watching/video game playing), dedicated home theater, or recreation/game room.

The latter “provides the perfect opportunity for social gatherings like game nights, kids sleepovers, birthday parties, and holiday dinners,” says Todd Kerekes, home organization expert with Princeton based, Tailored Living featuring PremierGarage.

Annie Elliott designed this colorful media room with a family gathering in mind. Photo by Jenn Verrier.

Elliott agrees that media and game rooms are currently all the rage. “Parents are acutely aware that they may have only a few more years until their kids leave for college, so they want to create a home where teenagers and friends want to hang out,” she says. “They want to be the cool house in the neighborhood.”

Annie Elliott designed this family game room with fun wallpaper as a backdrop. Photo by Jenn Verrier.

Consider converting or replacing a den, study or other lesser-used room into a personal studio or a hobby room.

If you want a yoga studio, you can align a wall with mirrors, set out mats and exercise balls, and hook up a stereo with soothing music. If you prefer a hobby room, you can set up shop with, for example, your sewing machine, fabrics, and craft supplies.

Elliott doubts that formal living spaces will make a major comeback anytime soon.

“Buttoned-up fussy spaces are a thing of the past,” says Elliott, who cites antiquated areas like the “drawing room” and “library” as examples of a bygone time. “We’ve become more casual in the ways we entertain and spend time with our families.”