Design WiseShelagh Duncan

The Great Room

The Great RoomBy Shelagh Duncan

It’s Great – because this is the place where everyone ends up!

So, move over kitchen – the great room has become a favorite gathering place in the house. Or is it the living room, or family room.

Whatever you call it, it’s a multifunctional room that provides space to lounge on a comfy sofa in front of the TV, find solace with a good book, watch the kids play, and enjoy good conversation.

For us, with our more casual lifestyle here, it has almost completely replaced the more formal living room. Now it can encompass all of the above, plus casual dining and work and study areas.

The Great Room was a big fad beginning in the 1980s with all the new home builders, and was usually in addition to the basement rec. room or rumpus room. It grew as an extension to the kitchen, where Mom could keep an eye on the kids (and the soaps perhaps), while preparing family meals.Royal Palm Interiors

The great room of today may be losing some ground to the home office on buyers’ wish-lists, as more and more people work from home and the great room morphs into more of a casual living room.

Great Room furniture arrangementNo matter what you call the room, comfort is the number one priority. There was a trend to fill the space with oversized sofas, but here our homes are somewhat smaller than many of our northern counterparts, and we spend much of our time outdoors. I find that condo-sized sofas and sectionals are becoming more popular, and when paired with accent chairs offer ample seating. These sofas, and other seating options still need to offer comfort, support and durability, for entertaining and relaxing in front of the TV of course, and the choice of easy-care fabrics is very important.

I have mentioned previously about the benefits of microfiber fabrics, and we also have Sunbrella, and other all-weather fabrics available, although at higher price points. All of these will wear well, be durable and clean up easily – big factors for a low-maintenance lifestyle.

Great rooms come in all sizes – some larger and some smaller. They each have their own charm and also, their own challenges.

high ceilingsLarge spaces can be tricky. The high ceilinged great rooms we see in many homes can seem overwhelming in their proportions. They can give the impression of a large, somewhat impersonal space. The good news is that with some clever decorating tricks, you can warm up any large room and bring some ‘human scale’ into it.

Paint an accent wall – one of my favourite techniques – add large-scale art, patterned fabric on a chair or two, or get some area rugs.

Create a cohesive feeling by grouping furniture pieces together instead of spreading them all out. A couple of chairs and a side table become an instant book nook, but be sure to get some good lighting in there too for evening reading.  If you only need a home theater set-up occasionally for the neighbourhood ‘Movie Night’, then keep the TV seating convenient enough for your own family use, and add some conversation-area seating with chairs that are easy to pull into ‘Movie Night’ service when needed.

You may have enough kitchen bar seating and even a separate dining room, but adding a casual dining area will help fill the space and that table will be the hub for entertaining as it will hold the pot-luck fare or the buffet.

drop zoneRemember when you are furnishing this room, that it can easily become a magnet for clutter – scattered toys (kids, and big kids!), stacks of magazines, DVDs and books. Try to have designated areas for things, and set up a drop-zone. It’s a great idea to keep keys, phones and other frequently used items together. They will always be handy just as you leave, and convenient for dropping off as you arrive.

You will find closed storage very useful for those less-used items. Consider coffee and end tables with drawers and a lower shelf, and perhaps an accent cabinet with doors. These items are both decorative and practical.

We talked about seating comfort, but what about eye comfort? Typically TV viewing is one of main functions of this room, and the viewing distance and height of the TV are often neglected factors when we set up this space. There are industry standards, but personal preferences also come into play.

However, an easy rule of thumb to reduce eye strain is to position the lower edge of the screen no higher than the seated viewers eye-level, and for positioning your seating, you can multiply your diagonal screen width by 2.5 to get an idea of the optimal viewing distance.

If you have windows or patio doors framing an amazing view along one wall, and little other wall space – where do you put the TV? Naturally you will want to place the seating so the view can be enjoyed, but why not consider a corner TV unit? Not as easy to find perhaps, but very useful, and compact enough to fit snugly into a neat corner.

There’s no need to be overwhelmed by a large room. Just remember that a large space is nothing more than a collection of smaller spaces. The more you break it up, the easier it comes together.

storage coffee tableIn smaller spaces there are different issues, but once you have your focal point this room will also follow its function. Ask yourself what happens there? How do you use it for entertaining and for daily living? Storage will probably be one of the biggest issues along with TV placement.  Remember that any room not only has floor space – it has walls.

Use the vertical space for tall cabinets, shelves and wall hooks. Use the corners wisely and choose dual-purpose furniture like a storage-trunk coffee table, or a sofa-bed. If you have window coverings, ensure that they are pulled back, or positioned in such a way as to expose as much of the window as possible. That visually expands the space and allows the maximum amount of light to enter.

Enjoy your great room, and until the next time…

Royal Palm Interiors – Uvita, 2743-8323, [email protected]