Iantha Carley and her husband raised her two kids, now grown, in a small house. This meant that the living room was also the home theater, game room, library and meeting space.
“We all had to decide whether to watch the same show or go read a book,” Carley says. The Silver Spring interior designer finds that her clients have a similar situation; often, there’s no basement to watch movies in, no room to relegate kids’ toys to.
The living room — once decorated with pretty accessories and reserved as a space for entertaining — is finding itself again as a place for living, with all the demands that come with it: wall space for a flat-screen TV, speakers for Friday-night movies, a surface for board games, storage for remote controls, seating for guests. It needs to be stylish enough to host dressy Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres and still be comfy enough for Sunday afternoon naps.
As D.C. designer Patrick Baglino Jr. explains, “When the room is organized and looks good, and is arranged in a way that is conducive to conversation and living, it’s a total picture: style, form, function.” You might think that means the first order of business is to hide the TV, but both Carley and Baglino agree that it’s no longer passe to have the telly out in plain sight. “It is what it is,” Carley says. “We watch TV.”
What’s more important is to make the room ready to pivot to whichever activity is happening next, whether that’s book club in the morning or a video-game session after school. Think about how the room flows, whether people can walk through it without bumping into furniture. Use durable fabrics to stand up to spills. Get those cords organized and out of sight. And make sure there’s adequate, dimmable recessed and task lighting. Whether it’s called a living room, family room or multipurpose room, “it’s intended to be a place for a family to hang out,” Carley says. “Make it a place that everyone wants to enjoy.”
●DVDs, DVRs, streaming-media consoles, game consoles, cords — they all come together to make an unsightly mess, Carley says. A media cabinet with slatted doors, such as the Marin 58-Inch Media Console, or one with a mixture of open and closed shelves, will conceal it all without inhibiting remote signals ($1,199, www.crateandbarrel.com). Bonus: “If the equipment is behind closed doors, there’s also less dusting!” Carley says.
Sonos’s Play:1 wireless speaker, at 6.36-by-4.69 inches,. is compact enough to tuck away on a bookshelf and move around as needed ($199, www.sonos.com). The sound gets good reviews, too; Carley thought the speakers worked so well in the family room she designed for the 2015 D.C. Design House that she brought them home.
The days of hiding your television are over. “You have a TV. Lots of people have TVs. Why pretend like you don’t watch TV?” Carley asks. She likes the Muro Media Storage unit because it conceals cables yet keeps TV and related equipment accessible ($650, www.dwr.com). The fiberboard back can be painted or wallpapered to blend in with the decor — or stand out against it.
Search for “cord” on Real Simple’s Web site and 16 clever organizational solutions pop up, including using a paper towel tube, a clothespin and a trouser sock. Baglino, though, is fond of the binder-clip method, in which you clip the cords and hook the clip onto screws on the back of furniture. Not up for DIY? Try the self-adhesive CableDrop Cord Clips ($10 for a package of six, www.containerstore.com).
Baglino has used a television easel like the 19th C. English Artist’s Easel in at least two projects ($1,395, www.restorationhardware.
com). His clients like it because it frees up the space over the fireplace for paintings — and whimsically elevates the TV itself to the status of art.
Cord clutter is the pet peeve of designers and homeowners everywhere. “I can’t stand tangled-up cords behind tables and things all over a living room or a family room,” Baglino says. He likes the bamboo Cable Cubby to hide both cords and power strips and has two in his home ($35-$40, www.greatusefulstuff.com). “They’re super-efficient,” he says. “They look good.”
When choosing a media cabinet, Baglino suggests finding one with “presence.” Skip the standard three-tiered systems that are purely function; you want a cabinet that can stand on its own as an attractive piece of furniture. The Prime Media Console, made by Illinois-based Slate Design out of shesham wood and powdercoated iron, is a rustic beauty ($699, www.cb2.com).
Both Baglino and Carley recommend putting DVD collections behind closed doors or going with services such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. To streamline the collection you already have, try tossing the cases and putting the discs in binder sleeves. Russell+Hazel’s Signature Pattern Binders are sturdy with metal-reinforced corners ($14, www.russellandhazel.com).
Carley’s room in the D.C. Design House was completely automated using a high-end, custom system. For a lower-cost option, try Logitech’s Harmony Smart Control ($130, www.bestbuy.com), which Carley uses in her own home. It’s “very simple to install, and you can control your equipment from a smartphone,” she says.
Stray remote controls cramp a family room’s style. Keep them contained in a pretty box out of sight — just make sure you measure your remote first. (Some monster universal remotes might be hard to conceal.) Our pick: West Elm’s Faux Shagreen Box in charcoal ($79, www.westelm.com).
Instead of filling a large room with a sectional, Carley suggests using a sofa and flanking it on one side with two “loungey” upholstered chairs, on the other with two accent chairs, and then filling out the arrangement with ottomans. The Apollo Swivel Chair is especially cozy at an oversize scale with generous pillows — and can easily help rearrange the room for different focuses: game night, movie night or hot cocoa in front of a fire ($999, www.roomandboard.com).
“An ottoman is a classic for a reason — because it works,” Baglino says. It can serve as extra seating for guests, as a table (with tray) for drinks and, yes, as somewhere to put your feet up. A storage ottoman, such as the Stocksund, can also house blankets and board games ($229, www.ikea.com).
An upholstered ottoman is made more versatile with a tray, such as the Large Woven Rectangular Serving Tray from High Street Market ($110, www.highstreetmarket.com). Use it to organize remotes or magazines, or as a place to put a candle or mug.
If your room is small, limit the clutter and consider clear acrylic chairs, tables or even trays — such as the Hex Tray, with a trendy hexagonal shape — which disappear visually ($40, www.cb2.com).
The ideal family room “has lots of storage, and it can hold things like electronics, components and televisions, but in a beautiful, thoughtful way,” Baglino says. Baskets and bins with grown-up patterns —see: the Canyon Basket’s red tribal motif — are also ideal for camouflaging toys ($78, www.anthro pologie.com).
Add a fun touch to a family room often used for movie nights: a retro-inspired Mini Refrigerator for soda to go with the popcorn and candy ($149, www.urbanoutfitters.com). It’s small enough to fit in a corner or serve as a side table.
Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com.