Let your family room grow with your children

by Katherine Salant

When your kids are teenagers, your family room might finally look the way you imagined when you decided to buy a new house.

But if they’re very young when you move in, you’ll be happier if you start out on the spare side and let the family room “grow” with your children, advised Skip Sroka, a Bethesda, Maryland, interior designer and one of nine children himself.

When kids are small, they need space to crawl, play and run around, Sroka said. If you put a lot of furniture in there, it will just be in the way. A sofa, a side table and possibly an arm chair will be plenty, especially since only the adults will be using them — your kids will spend most of their time on the floor.

Since you’ll be down there at least half the time as well, you’ll want a flooring that you can sit on comfortably. Your best option comfort-wise and cost-wise is wall-to-wall carpet with a good pad. That way, no matter where your children take a fall, they’ll have some cushioning.

To keep your sanity, your carpet must be easily cleaned in a colour that will hide the dog accidents, throw-up, spilt juices, dirt  and all the other abuses that will be inflicted on it during those early years of child rearing, added Deborah Wiener, an interior designer in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the mother of two energetic boys.

A wool carpet will do nicely, but wool is pricey and some kids are allergic to it. For durability, she recommended a synthetic carpet material such as polyester, olefin or nylon treated with Dupont’s Stainmaster. Most home builders offer all of these as upgrades.

Darker colours like chocolate brown, medium to dark blue or a dark taupe will hide stains, but they can make the room look more somber than you want.

To add some fun, Wiener suggested a bright coloured but inexpensive throw rug. The rug should also be cleanable, but if something awful happens, you can pitch it and get another one.

Comfort in a family room also means adequate lighting — both natural and artificial, Wiener said. All those windows that make the family room in the builder’s model a bright and sunny space are not necessarily included in the base-priced house, but they definitely enhance the space.

On those cloudy days and in the evening you also need illumination. Wiener suggested recessed light fixtures because with these you don’t need lamps with chords that will get tripped over and pulled out of the wall all the time.

If you plan to have furniture in there that “floats” — it’s in the middle of the room, not against the wall — when your kids are older, you should get outlets installed in the floor during construction. Otherwise, when you eventually put in side tables and reading lamps, the chord will be stretching halfway across the floor to a wall outlet. Figure out approximately where your furniture pieces will go, put in the outlets, and childproof them until they are needed.

You’ll need some kind of window treatments, and both Sroka and Weiner recommend a honeycombed duette type of shade. When pulled down during the day, the light that comes through is wonderfully soft and diffuse, and the shade can be opened from the bottom up or the top down. The latter position provides both sunlight and privacy, which can be an issue if your neighbour’s house is only 10 feet away, as it is in many new subdivisions now. Many manufacturers offer a duette.

Whatever you select, make sure it has safety features so that a small child can’t get a cord wrapped around his or her neck or swallow plastic parts.

Practicality and initial spareness in the family room does not mean you have to look 100 per cent Plain Jane, both designers said. Hang artwork on the walls and splurge in good conscience on a sturdily built sofa that looks great while withstanding the rigours of child-rearing.

— Inman News.