Room for Family Fun

Fifty years ago, a family room consisted of little more than an old couch, a beat-up recliner, a small television set, and a coffee table that doubled as a surface for board games. It was a room where children were banished when Sunday company arrived and where Dad retreated to watch sports in peace.

Think About…

How will you use this room differently from your living room?

If your family room is mainly used as your home theater, you will want it darker than your living room to cut down on screen glare.

Will you be serving food in this room?

Unless your family room is located directly off your kitchen (and your kitchen has lots of countertop space), consider adding some sort of “entertainment” island from which to serve drinks and snacks. It can be built-in or moveable for more design flexibility.

What is the focal point of the room?

In a room used for a variety of purposes, it is essential to have one focal point. It could be a wide-screen television, a large window, a fireplace, or a wall full of built-in storage space for books, collectibles, sports trophies, and games.

Today’s family room has little in common with those “spare” rooms of old. It’s a family hub: full of activities for the entire household.  With careful planning, a good sized family room (16 ft. x 25 ft.) can function as a media center, a place to do homework or crafts, and a place to throw a neighborhood party. To get the most from this room, it’s a good idea to have members contribute to a wish list of features they’d most like to see in a family room addition or remodel.


Two wall outlets are not going to cut it in today’s family room.  According to NPD Techworld, less than 15 percent of homes in the U.S. now rely on broadcast television for news and entertainment. Two-thirds of family viewing is from cable and another 18% get their programming from satellite - both with high-quality sound and video. Don’t forget the DVD players, video gaming systems, and computers! Plan to have a cable hookup in your family room and at least one phone jack. Even if you don’t intend to have high-speed Internet access in your family room right now, you may change your mind in the future. This is particularly useful if you have children whose computers you want out of bedrooms and into the family room where you can monitor their Internet usage.

If you have – or are planning to install – a wide-screen television, there are many available options. You can ask an architect to design a built-in, wall-to-wall entertainment center. If you supply your architect with the precise measurements, a cavity can be carved into the wall to fit the television and any other audio/video components. If you think a wide-screen television will interfere too much with other activities in the room, consider putting it on a motorized lift that lowers the set into a piece of furniture or using a retractable video screen and video projector that drop down from the ceiling.


Flexible lighting is a necessity in a multifunctional family room. Many roles call for a combination of overhead and table lighting to create the right mood. Wall sconces are especially popular for home theaters - providing soft, glowing light. While black ceiling tiles embedded with fiber optics can resemble a night sky full of twinkling stars.

Track, spot, and table lighting are used for task lighting throughout the room. Instead of individual dimmer switches for each light, use a wireless remote for fingertip control. And you don’t have to stop there. The remotes will switch on your television, stereo, fan, and even the thermostat! Best of all, these systems don’t require any special wiring.


Seating in a family room is dictated by area function. Will you have a conversation/game playing area? A solitary reading nook? Riser seating that mimics a real movie theater? Sectional seating works well for conversation areas since pieces can be arranged in different groupings. A chaise or loveseat is perfect for an intimate reading nook. And if you’re looking for theater-style seating, there are hundreds of options available such as loungers, recliners, rockers, and sectionals. You can even purchase rows of seats that look like they just came out of your local movie house. The only limitation is your pocketbook. Three fabric contour rockers with cup holders will set you back approximately $1,300. If you choose velour, add another $300. Leather? You’re looking at $2,000 or more, depending on the quality of the hide.

No matter what seating you choose, remember you can’t go too plush in a family room. The family room is all about comfort. So purchase the cushiest seating you can find that appeals to your sense of style and function.


No room ever seems to have enough storage. This is particularly true of the family room where books, games, DVDs, CDs, computer software, and sports equipment must all somehow be stowed when not in use. Built-in bookcases and cabinets come in handy, but you can also customize a closet or two with mix-and-match storage units and cubbyholes. The beauty of storage units is they easily reconfigure to meet your family’s changing needs. You can also use large baskets, ottomans, and trunks to stash your stuff. These move throughout the space to change its look, while sturdy ottomans double as additional seating and trunks function as extra coffee tables.