In many homes, the “family room” is decorated with just one purpose: to withstand the impact of juice-spilling, game-playing, cookie-eating, crayon-wielding children.
The result is often a room that’s long on durability but short on style.
How can you create a stylish, sophisticated family room where grown-ups will want to spend time, while still keeping the space kid-friendly?
Three design experts — Brian Patrick Flynn of decordemon.com and Flynnside Out Productions; Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design; and Jon Call of Mr. Call Designs — offer some advice:
“Design technology and textiles are catching up with our family-friendly lifestyle,” says Burnham. “There are so many outdoor fabrics, so many amazing vinyls” that are durable and easy to clean, but also look good. Burnham is a fan of Holly Hunt fabrics treated with Nano-Tex, which resists spills and stains without changing the texture of the fabric.
Indoor/outdoor rugs are another great option now that they’re being made with materials soft to the touch.
Flynn, who often uses Sunbrella indoor/outdoor fabrics, suggests upholstering with removable slipcovers for easy cleaning.
When choosing slipcovers, “washed linen is great since it’s meant to look worn-in and super casual.” He’s also a fan of very dark denim: “Navy blue and charcoal are my go-to choices for denim slipcovers since they look more tailored than basic beiges or creams.”
Call recommends skipping sofas that have three or four seat cushions and several more cushions across the back. “If you’ve got kids playing and jumping on those,” he says, you’ll constantly be finding the cushions out of place or on the floor.
Instead, he says, pick a sofa with one large seat cushion and no separate cushions along the back — “something tailored and clean looking” that won’t need its cushions adjusted constantly.
Family rooms are built for entertaining, so think about flexible seating, Burnham says. “Maybe a side table that’s also a stool, or a coffee table that’s also a bench or an ottoman.”
Kids can use an ottoman as a surface for games, while adult party guests can use it as seating.
Opt for tables with rounded corners for safety in rooms where kids often play, Flynn says, and choose tables with “metal or weathered wood tops. Metal tops can withstand heavy wear and tear, while weathered wood is intended to look worn, so as kids take their toll on the pieces, it simply adds to the intended look.”
Rooms that do double-duty need lighting that does too, says Call.
“When you have adults over or if you’re watching TV or it’s a more intimate moment, you want a lamp by the sofa, at eye-level or below, to create intimate pools of light,” he says.
But kids doing homework or art projects need the brighter light that overhead fixtures provide. Make sure your family room has both.
Have a place for everything, Burnham says, so toys and other kid-related items can be put away easily at the end of the day. She recommends a wall of built-in cabinets with doors, so kids’ clutter can be easily stashed, at hand but out of sight.
She also suggests creating storage space in the family room for a few fragile or valuable items that aren’t kid-friendly.
“You can have a cashmere throw in the cabinet that you pull out for the adults,” Burnham says. By storing these things in the room, you’re more likely to really use them, yet they’re protected from the kids’ play.
Flynn also recommends built-ins, and suggests “adding color and pattern to their back panels.”
“I usually use large-scale patterned wallpaper,” he says. Consider nautical styles: “They’re casual and fun, and they don’t take themselves too seriously.”
For additional storage, Flynn says, replace coffee tables with “upholstered storage ottomans complete with safety locking mechanisms, which prevent little ones from getting inside of them to hide, and also protecting any little fingers from hinges.” He suggests upholstering ottomans with indoor-outdoor fabrics so they’ll withstand spills and sticky fingers.
In a high-traffic family room, Call suggests sticking with deeper colors rather than whites or pale shades.
Flynn agrees: “The one color I use more than any other in family-centric spaces is navy blue,” he says, because it can appeal to the whole family. He recommends Seaworthy navy from Sherwin-Williams: “It has just the right amount of purple in it to make it bright instead of dark.”
“Red is another high-energy hue which works great in family rooms,” Flynn says, which works well with most other colors, especially black-brown, navy blue and charcoal.
Don’t hide the fact that the room is being shared with kids, Flynn says.
“Embrace it. Work children and playfulness into the design of a family room’s aesthetic,” he suggests.
On the walls, he likes to use “pop art or original photography of toys, especially vintage toys, or black-and-white candid photography of the family blown up to an enormous scale” to personalize the room.
“Kids and pets are a huge part of our lives. Since we love them more than the sofas and chairs they sit on, why not make them as much as part of a room’s decoration as its furnishings?” Flynn says.