By Kelly McCall Branson, writer for New Homes & Ideas
Photos courtesy of Baker Residential
How many times did you use your formal dining room for dining last year? And when was the last time you relaxed in your formal living room? Is your bonus room a hodgepodge of cast-offs that no one really wants to spend time in? Meanwhile, is your latest craft project piled up in a corner of your kitchen, toys scattered all over the great room and you’re washing the dog in the bathtub? Area builders are catching on to the reality that one size doesn’t fit all and offering home buyers creative solutions for outfitting all the spaces in your home to suit the way you live. “These days, you absolutely have to be creative about what you put into the footprint of a house,” says Lawrence Lane, Division President at Baker Residential.
The formal living rooms and dining rooms of yesterday have begun to go the way of the ubiquitous garden tub of the ‘90s. Why dedicate the square footage to something you just don’t use? With just a little tweaking, these rooms can become work horses for you and your lifestyle, rather than just dust-gatherers.
A little forethought and planning can render these spaces ready for multiple uses. Forgoing the center-hung chandelier and area rug in a dining room and including built-in storage cabinets and shelves on one or more walls makes this room accessible to myriad uses.
Paint one wall with chalkboard paint (now available in a variety of colors), outfit the shelves with easy-to-fill bins for quick toy pickup and include some kid-friendly seating and, voila! You have a playroom.
Kids outgrown the bins of Legos and sidewalk chalk? A few comfy chairs, a table pushed against the wall for a workstation and maybe a smart speaker for music, and you now have a place for teenagers to do homework that’s not too far removed from a little parental supervision. Maybe the chalkboard wall becomes a space for the family to-do lists. Maybe you add a wall-mounted gas fireplace to make homework more enticing.
Or perhaps you’d love to have the room keep your scrapbooking supplies organized, with a work surface to lay out projects that you come back to over the course of days or weeks. How about a music room? Or a serene space for yoga or meditation? Whatever your passion, it only makes sense for the spaces in your home to serve those, rather than some outdated notions about what a room should be.
And the beauty of this kind of thinking outside the box means that, with a little forethought, your playroom, homework central, meditation station can still be used as a dining room the few times a year you need it. The toys and notebooks, meditation pillows and crafting supplies can be tucked out of sight into your built-in storage and the work table pulled out from the wall. Erase the stick drawings or to-do-lists or maybe they’ll make for interesting dinner conversation with your guests.
Nooks and Crannies
It isn’t just those main living areas of your house that you can make better use of. Think about the small spaces too — mudroom, side entryways, stairway landings, under staircases and wide hallways. How about a little reading alcove at the top of the stairs, with a built-in daybed surrounded by bookshelves? “We offer a pet washing station in the mudroom of homes at Providence at Yates Pond,” says Baker Residential’s Lane. They’ve included a pet station in one of their models. Carved out a little space under the staircase is a nook to tuck away Fido’s bed and some favorite toys.
Some homeowners are outfitting that little-used space under the stairs for a wine cave, a cozy little reading nook or even a secret fort for kids.
Area builders are especially aware of the value of utilizing every possible square inch for built-in storage: A bench near the back door with cubbies underneath for shoes, hooks for hanging umbrellas and coats and maybe a shelf with a docking station for phones. Wide hallways can be outfitted with floor-to-ceiling cabinets for storing linens, games — any of those family items that need an accessible home.
Bonus rooms, daylight basements, spaces over the garage — these are all too often afterthoughts in the floorplan, upfitted haphazardly and not all that inviting, or suited to the needs of the family. But just like the obsolete dining room, a little planning and thought can transform the bonus room into a cool sleepover space, a teen gathering place, a college graduate’s interim apartment, a hobby room or game space. Builders are offering more and more options for customizing these spaces for your family’s unique needs.
Daylight basements are ideal for outfitting as a wine room. Add a table and some extra comfy chairs and you have your own charming bistro. The lower lighting in this space lends itself particularly well to a home theater. Or how about a game room? Maybe there’s space for a pool table, a poker table or even a shuffleboard table.
New home builders have also become responsive to the trend for multi-generations under one roof. “Children are moving back home. Parents are moving in,” says Lane. “We’re addressing those needs by creating spaces that are somewhat segregated, offering more privacy.” These second master suites might even include a small wet space with a sink, microwave and mini-fridge. They’ll often have a separate entrance and might even include their own laundry area. Universal design features of wider doorways and grab bars may be part of the plan.
What Makes a Room?
Perhaps the biggest change of all in how we use our living spaces is the incorporation of the great outdoors into the home. Fully folding glass doors with low track systems allow for an almost seamless transition from indoors to out. “We’re seeing so much more demand for outdoor living,” says Lane. “We’re responding with everything from fire pits to outdoor kitchens.”
Indeed, new offerings in water features, fire features, smart lighting, sophisticated finishes for flooring and hi-tech, weather resistant TVs are bringing refinement, polish and comfort to our outdoor spaces. And the latest materials and designs in outdoor furniture and rugs are a far cry from your typical patio furniture.
So we can all celebrate the fact that new-home builders have put away the cookie cutter and are working with their home buyers to customize every last square foot of their homes to serve the real people who live in them.
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