Tips for Decorating the Family Room


DECORATING THE FAMILY ROOM has long been a dilemma for families that want to have an attractive space that also functions well for everyone’s needs. Add to that the constraints of room size and budget, and it could be a recipe for disaster. What can we do to create the most family friendly home? By paying attention to the key elements below, your family can create a space together that meets everyone’s needs and looks great.

Family Life

Who will be using the room? If you have a house full of teenagers who are constantly having friends over, then you have different needs for seating and space than a family with toddlers. If a computer is in the picture, invest in a table or desk to create a tidy computer area, and have an extra chair to pull up when two are surfing the web. Make a list of the items that absolutely need to be in the room – such as storage for small toys, bookshelves, a media center, a computer center (move away from the TV to avoid traffic jams), perhaps a recliner for dad and a favorite chair for mom with tables nearby that have drawers for papers, projects and remote controls. Then think multi-function for the pieces you will have. Bookshelf units can have cabinets on the bottom to hold baskets of toys. Instead of an end table, look for a small chest of drawers that can hide clutter. A soft ottoman can be great for toddlers, but they do take a beating, so have it slipcovered with a washable fabric. Don’t waste any opportunity for storage – make sure the ottoman opens up and it’s a great place for preschool toys or floor pillows and quilts for movie nights. One budget-friendly solution is a fabric skirted table. They cost far less than a nice end table, look very elegant, and the space underneath can hide a basket of bills, knitting, toys or even the dog crate.

Space Planning

This can be an area where professional help is invaluable. Many families assume they need a sectional sofa, but they are not always the best choice as they can really swallow up a room. Since there is usually one great TV spot, you’ll end up wearing out one of the seats rather quickly and have to replace an entire sectional (essentially a roomful of furniture) because one seat is worn. In the long run it is far more cost-effective to have a pair of sofas and a club chair or two, which can be replaced piece by piece as needed. If your kids are into gaming, they might like swiveling chairs which allow for more action. They can also be turned around easily to face another area, such as the kitchen, when adults are entertaining and want to chat. A designer can help designate traffic areas and create storage that fits your media and computer exactly. Making use of every square inch of space efficiently works wonders in making a room feel much bigger – think about the cabinetry on a ship or a well-designed kitchen, and apply those ideas to your computer and media equipment. It doesn’t have to be an expensive custom project, either. Take stock of your equipment and measure the dimensions of every piece. Measure how much file drawer space you need, how many feet of bookshelves, how many baskets of toys, etc. Then purchase storage units that go together and combine to provide the sizes and shapes of storage your family needs. This can be time consuming ( or you can hire a professional hourly to do it) but in the long run it looks great, keeps the family organized, and cleanup is quick and easy when everything has a place.


The quality of furniture you purchase makes an enormous difference in how long things last in a home with children. I often have parents tell me they intend to buy cheap furniture while the kids are small, and replace it later when it gets destroyed. I’m against that idea on so many levels. First, as parents we want to teach our children to respect our things and have good manners when they visit others; if we don’t care that the furnishings are being destroyed, they won’t either. Second, cheap furniture wears out quickly anyway; add a growing family and it will look awful in just a couple of years. The cushions, of cheap low-density foam, will quickly go flat if used for forts on the floor. The cover, with inadequate padding on the frame, will wear through at the edges in what seems like no time. Cheap sofas and chairs actually require more tender loving care to last more a than a couple of years before looking tattered, and they certainly won’t make it ’till the kids grow up! Try to find pieces in a medium price range at least, and ask for cushion density of 1.8 foam or higher (if the salesperson can’t tell you the grade of foam used, keep looking). Ask to see a cutaway drawing of the sofa, and check to see there is lots of padding on the arms, and glued and doweled joints to keep the frame solid.

washable sofa in navy cotton with striped ottoman

As a designer I have had great success with slipcovered furniture in homes with kids, grandkids or pets. Clients can have a nicer-looking fabric (chenille, linen or cotton are popular) and have a room that is attractive for company. They can ask the kids to be respectful of the room, since it looks nice and is easily appreciated; but if there is a horrible accident involving grape juice or pizza sauce, no harm is done and the slipcover goes right into the washer. After five years of little kids, a slipcover may start to look tired from repeated washing but it is easily replaced at about half the price of replacing the sofa. I’ve had some families order slipcovers for everyday to cover the nicer upholstery that they keep for company, giving them two different looks for the room and a lot less worry. Slipcovers can be made in a variety of nice fabrics that are much more interesting than the typical cotton duck. When we make them in our workroom, we make a pattern right off of the clients furniture so they are more like a fitted suit and look great.

The second most abused element in a family room is the flooring. Carpet can wear quickly and an area rug on top can really extend its life. Today’s wood floors have finishes that last for years, but they need extra protection in the seating and traffic areas. Classic wool oriental rugs are excellent for this. They are durable, very cleanable and offer strong patterns to hide any spots. If that’s not your look, you can also have a plain patterned carpet made into an area rug. Choose a commercial grade 100% nylon fiber, or a Stainmaster brand, and have it cut and bound into a rug. In our shop we often use commercial carpet that looks like seagrass or sisal. These natural floorcoverings are popular but not very stain resistant, and the commercial nylon version provides the same look and wears like iron. The right rug can do wonders to dress up a room for company while performing admirably under the daily wear of family life.

English style custom library in robin s egg blue

So it is possible to create a family room that looks great and functions too. With the proper storage, you can avoid feeling like you’re living in a cluttered playroom. Having a place for everything creates a relaxing environment, and when it comes to cleanup, it’s quick and easy so there are no more excuses! And with the right materials, you won’t end up with a room full of stained and beaten-up furnishings and rugs that seem worn out before you’ve had a chance to enjoy them. Everyone can pile on the slipcovered sofa for a night of popcorn and movies, and snuggle with the quilt pulled out from the storage ottoman. The kids can watch videos on big floor pillows or rock and roll in swivel chairs, leaving some sofa space for the grown-ups. When everyone’s needs are met, things run so much more smoothly, and that’s all parents really want, isn’t it?

Copyright 2008 Kerry Ann Dame. May not be reproduced without permission.

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