Until recently, Steven Friedman would never have invited his friends down to his basement. The room was home to kids’ toys and exercise equipment — and little else.
“It wasn’t a place to hang out,” says Friedman, 43, of Chevy Chase, Md. “It had no flavor or personality. There was nothing that would compel you to want to spend time there.”
But with a little help from a designer and some inspiration from Friedman’s passion for cycling, the no man’s land has become a gathering spot that can handle the rest, relaxation and recreation needs of a family of five.
Now, a wall-mounted TV above a working fireplace, comfy seating and an activity table encourage movie watching and games. Memorabilia collected by Friedman, a cyclist and self-proclaimed “sports nut,” complements the room’s blue and yellow color scheme. When Friedman spends time in his basement these days, he’s usually either playing with his kids or kicking back with his buddies.
Like the Friedmans, many homeowners want their family rooms to serve multiple functions. Yet the prospect of finding stylish space solutions is daunting. How can you fit everything from electronics to craft supplies to family photos into the same area without creating a jumbled mess? A strategic decorating plan can help ensure that the den fulfills its duty as a relaxing respite.
One of the most important steps in outfitting a cohesive family room is determining the intended uses of the space — and then sticking with it as you add furnishings. “A lot of people don’t actually take time to plan out the room” in advance, says Anitra Mecadon, interior designer and host of the DIY Network show “Mega Dens” (Mondays at 10 p.m.), which showcases dramatic rec-room rehabs. “But you’ve got to know what you want to achieve with the space. Do you need a work area? A game area? A kids’ play area? A lounging area?”
Dividing the room into different zones for each function allows you to choose furnishings and accessories directly suited to your needs. “It makes the space look larger, because you’re able to get rid of the clutter and create a better flow,” Mecadon says. “There’s a purpose for everything.”
Storage always proves to be a challenge in a room that might be home to both Barbie dolls and barbells. “I usually end up suggesting some kind of custom built-in cabinetry,” says Bethesda-based designer Lynn Madyson (301-442-2940), who helped the Friedmans with their basement redesign. “With a media center with closed-door storage, you can tuck things away so everything is more streamlined.”
Finding furniture that does double duty also helps, especially in a smaller space. Look for storage cubes that can also be used as seating, or side tables with shelves or drawers for corralling books or remote controls. If you can’t get rid of the clutter, you can at least conceal it.
That’s how interior designer Emlyn Christenberry Ward approaches her own family room. “My kids have a really beautiful trunk that was actually very inexpensive, and all of their art supplies go in it,” says Ward, who is a principal at Alexandria-based L + EM Design (571-303-9357).
“Nesting tables are another great option,” she says. “You can have them as a side table, but if you want to eat or play cards, you can pull some out and use them for those functions.”
Seating should combine comfort, durability and style, since people of all ages will want a place to curl up. Mecadon advises buying a large lounge-friendly piece: “The whole purpose behind the room is to bring the family together, and what’s cozier than the family all lounging on a sectional?”
Mecadon is also a fan of swivel chairs, which help unite the different zones of a room. “You could be watching TV and then turn around and now be part of the bar area,” she says.
When it comes to items such as sofas or wall-to-wall carpeting, it’s often a good idea to stick with one-tone-fits-all neutrals, the designers recommend. But don’t be afraid to inject a little extra personality into your space, whether it’s through more colorful accessories, attention-grabbing artwork or a personalized motif for the room.
A decor theme helped bring the Friedmans’ family room to its now-polished state. Designer Madyson drew inspiration from a cycling jersey Steven Friedman wore while riding cross-country in support of cancer research on Lance Armstrong’s Tour of Hope. The yellow jersey is signed by the cycling icon himself and framed along with some photos of Friedman’s team.
A custom-made table fashioned from bicycle wheels by Bike Furniture Design (Bikefurniture.com) enhances the room’s sporty style. “That table really jumps out at you,” says Friedman, who works for the National Cancer Institute. “It’s such a unique piece of furniture.”
Those kinds of personalized touches help make the Friedmans’ family room a true reflection of the clan who uses it.
And as the den demonstrates, character is key. There’s no point in maintaining a generic-looking gathering place, Mecadon believes.
“Be daring,” she says. “With the market the way it is, people say over and over again that they’re decorating for resale value. And I say, ‘No, no, no.’ You might never want to sell your home, and then you’re not getting the enjoyment you could out of the room. You’re going to get so much more than you anticipated if you take time and make the room personal and make it yours.”
Written by Express contributor Beth Luberecki
Photos by Kevin Dietsch