More in Living Rooms

Are Living Rooms Wasted Spaces?

Not if they are casual, fun places designed for the way families actually live.

fireplace wall in a casual living room
Photo by Tria Giovan
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The two living rooms featured here share some qualities that distinguish them from the stiff, stuffy models of our grandparents' time: Both are casual rooms, each has a direct connection to the outdoors and the media center takes center stage (although you wouldn't know it by looking). Both are built for busy households.
  But it's their differences—one is spacious and monochromatic, the other is intimate and full of color—that tell the tale. We'll look at how the rooms were designed to meet their owners' needs to give you a new appreciation of the "living" in living rooms.
 
The two living rooms featured here share some qualities that distinguish them from the stiff, stuffy models of our grandparents' time: Both are casual rooms, each has a direct connection to the outdoors and the media center takes center stage (although you wouldn't know it by looking). Both are built for busy households.
  But it's their differences—one is spacious and monochromatic, the other is intimate and full of color—that tell the tale. We'll look at how the rooms were designed to meet their owners' needs to give you a new appreciation of the "living" in living rooms.
 
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living room with high ceilings
Photo by David Duncan Livingston
Colorful Contemporary
Sitting in Julie and Graham Trelstadt's living room in White Plains, New York, you're definitely in the middle of things. And there's a lot going on in the 14x14-ft. space.
"We wanted to use every square foot in the room," Julie says, "because we thought it was wasteful to have formal space that wasn't being used all the time—especially with construction being so expensive."
Color as well as shapes play important roles in the home, designed by SALA Architects in Minneapolis. A half dozen finishes and paint colors bring a lot of personality to the room and call attention to its individual parts: the window alcoves, the fireplace and the media center. As it does this it distracts from the overall smallness of the room. The windows, almost floor-to-ceiling in size, also work to relieve any cramped feeling by bringing views of the outdoors inside. And despite its snugness, overcrowding isn't a problem. Because it's part of an open floor plan, people can spill over into the kitchen and dining area without losing touch with what's happening in the living room.
Strong, unexpected shapes inject more surprises into the room. A deep soffit extending down from the ceiling subtly defines the edge of the room. The media center is located under the stairway, which creates a strong diagonal line in the room. Especially important in a small room like this are built-ins—great space-savers and storage sources. "I love the window seats and the TV cabinet," says Julie. "All the details that make junk disappear!" The benches open up—one holds the kids' games and toys, the other, a yoga mat for exercise sessions. This practical versatility and attention to detail complement the family's busy lifestyle well.
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colorful contemporary living room
Photo by Tria Giovan
Strong forms and clear colors prevent this living room from falling victim to the boring-box syndrome. On the left, the media cabinet sits under the bottom slope of the stairway
Tradition With a Twist
Texans have always had an appreciation for wide-open spaces, and this Houston living room is an indoor expression of that outlook. Working with architect Thomas Diehl, homeowners David and Karen Tidholm created a room that, as Karen says, "is really for living."
    It's an addition attached to the back of the Tidholms' 1962 ranch house. Its soaring ceiling is a deliberate contrast to the 8-ft. heights in the rest of the home. "Originally, we were adding space so our three kids could watch TV," says Karen, "but when we decided to put the computer back there, it became a room for everyone."
The 21x28-ft. space comfortably accommodates several furniture groupings, allowing friends and family to gather together but with enough room to break into smaller groups. A game table, which seats four, stands near the door to the hallway that connects the room to the kitchen.
In the middle of the room, a couch, coffee table and armchairs are in just the right spot for enjoying a movie. The media center, which is built into the middle of the back wall, is definitely a focal point of the room. But because it's painted the same white as the walls and the cabinetry, it doesn't dominate the room.
The third activity area is set into the front outside corner of the room. It's more formally defined than the others, enclosed—but not cut off—by a curving half wall topped with columns. Lightheartedly called "the oval office," it's suitable for family computer use: Web surfing, online shopping and games. "Sometimes the glare is pretty strong on the computer screen late in afternoon, but because we're just using it for fun—not work—it's okay," says Karen, in a comment that reflects just how much real "living" goes on in this family's new living room.
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fireplace wall in casual living room
There's no space wasted in the room. Building out the fireplace wall makes room for window seats—which hold kids' toys, among other things—and a niche for books
5 Easy Ways to Revitalize Your Living Room Is a full-blown overhaul of your living room still in the dreaming stage? Here are a few smaller-scale projects that can spice up your old living room while you're waiting for that remodel to become a reality.
1. Install dimmer switches. See things in a new light.
2. Paint one wall a different color. Make a new focal point by using a contrasting color.
3. Add—or remove— molding. Create instant architectural character by the foot.
4. Move the television. No comment necessary!
5. Change window treatments. Try something completely different: matchstick blinds, sheer panels, light-diffusing shades.
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living room with a high ceiling
Photo by David Duncan Livingston
High Ceilings, a cool white color scheme and lots of windows add to the openness of the room. Angles and arcs are surprises that keep your eye busy.
Where To Find It: Crate & Barrel
www.crateandbarrel.com
800/967-6696
Thomas R. Diehl Associates
3100 Richmond, Suite 305
Houston, TX 77098-3000
713/528-3111
Architect for the Tidholm
residence
SALA Architects
43 Main St.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
612/379-3037
Architects for the Trelstadt residence
 
 

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