Many homeowners love the informality provided by an open family room, breakfast area and kitchen, but they don’t always love the accompanying clutter of family togetherness. In model homes and home-design magazines, these spaces always seem coordinated yet comfortable, but in reality, many families live with a cascade of toys, a gaggle of remote controls and a coffee table overflowing with glitter, glue and markers instead of a colorful fruit platter or an art book.
Interior designers have some suggestions for homeowners, whether they have a small budget or the ability to pay for a complete makeover of their family room.
“Put your money where your family is,” said Victoria Sanchez, owner of Victoria Sanchez Interiors in Alexandria. “Even if you have to skimp other places, I think it’s important to spend your money wisely and invest in the family room furniture and kitchen chairs, because that’s where you spend all your time. You need a sofa that lasts, is stain-resistant and can stand up to heavy use.”
Ms. Sanchez said new technology has made fabrics more durable, with stain protection built in from the beginning.
Marika Meyer, owner of Marika Meyer Interiors in the District, said indoor-outdoor fabrics have become more popular for use in the family room because they are practically indestructible.
“While microsuede is still popular, there are a lot more high-performance fabrics on the market now,” said Kelcey Huff, co-owner of Waterlily Interiors in Bethesda. “For families, I like textured fabrics like herringbone and tweed because they inherently hide stains better than solid colors. Now there’s even a high-tech linen look-alike fabric that can withstand a lot.”
Ms. Sanchez said she prefers sectional sofas for the extra seating they provide and recommends using a big, patterned rug.
“A wool rug with a pattern can hide all your sins and last for years,” she said.
Tracy Schlegel, co-owner of Waterlily Interiors, said many people choose rugs that are too small. She said a larger rug can ground the living space and define the family room as one part of a three-part space.
“Homeowners need to really think about how much seating and storage they need and account for traffic flow in their family room,” Ms. Schlegel said. “Big furniture with big arms can be comfortable, but you can lose a lot of seating space that way. You may need a more streamlined sofa with thinner arms to maximize your seating.”
In addition to choosing the right size rugs and furniture, Ms. Meyer said a key element of every family room should be concealed storage.
“Bookcases with base cabinets are a great place for children’ stuff because the children can put away their toys themselves,” Ms. Meyer said, “and then the parents can sit down and relax in the room after the children have gone to bed. The family room can be a truly multipurpose space.”
Ms. Schlegel said that in most homes the fireplace, often with a flat-screen TV above it, is the focal point for the family room.
“The walls on either side of the fireplace offer a great space for putting in built-in or purchased storage units with a combination of closed and open spaces,” Ms. Schlegel said. “Closed storage is essential because you want to be able to hide some items.”
Whether they are built-in or not, Ms. Sanchez said bookcases should include open shelving as well as closed cabinets, with baskets on the lower open shelves for magazines, DVDs, coloring books and remote controls, and books and photos on the upper shelves. She recommended using black or white shelves or painting them to match the walls of the room.
Ms. Schlegel said a big mistake many families make is to pick storage units that are too small and then start to overflow with toys and other items.
“Furniture costs a lot of money, so I think you need to make sure everything has multiple functions,” Ms. Schlegel said. “You can put a console table behind the couch with drawers, and your end tables and coffee tables can have shelves for extra storage. You can even add cabinets in the transitional space between the family room and the breakfast area.”
A narrow desk or table behind the sofa, just deep enough for a laptop, can be useful as well as visually separate utilitarian space from living space, Ms. Meyer suggested.
Ms. Huff said homeowners need to control what they store on open shelving.
“If you have a lot of items with a lot of color, even books and picture frames, it can become visual clutter,” Ms. Huff said.
You also can find hidden storage in the kitchen, Ms. Schlegel suggested, by designating a lower drawer or part of the pantry for children’s art supplies.
“A built-in banquette in the kitchen with open shelving next to it makes a great place for small children to do their homework and art projects within the kitchen but away from the cooktop,” Ms. Sanchez said.
While the family room should have its own personality and function, in homes with an open floor plan, you can use color and cabinetry to link the spaces.
“One of the things we like to do to integrate the kitchen and the family room space is to design built-ins on the living side that coordinate or match what we are doing for cabinetry in the kitchen,” said Nadia Subaran, principal and co-owner of Aidan Design in Bethesda. “Often, when we are opening a kitchen up, we are taking down a large wall and losing some surface area for storage. The nice thing about built-ins aside from the additional storage is that it simplifies the furniture plan. You can customize the cabinets to serve your specific needs.”
Ms. Meyer said that while cabinets in the kitchen and family room don’t have to match exactly, they should reference the same style.
“If your kitchen cabinets have an inset cabinet door, then so should the family room storage cabinets,” she said.
Your color schemes in the kitchen, breakfast area and family room should be complementary, she said.
“You can repeat the window treatments or pick up a color from your toss pillows in your kitchen accent pieces,” Ms. Meyer said. “Your colors can be warmer and less neutral in the family room, since the nature of this space is to be livelier.”
At Waterlily Interiors, Ms. Huff and Ms. Schlegel recommend using neutral wall colors and neutral colors for the larger pieces in the family room, and then adding pops of color in the kitchen, breakfast area and family room that can be changed occasionally to add interest.