Tricks of the Trade: Create a Gorgeous Great Room

After the kitchen, chances are the most-used space in your home is the family room or great room.

It’s the one room everyone uses for just about everything, including eating and sleeping.

We asked interior designers Jeannie Balsam of Jeannie Balsam LLC and Doug Durbin of NuHaus and Exclusive Woodworking for their thoughts on what elements make a great room great.

Function First

A lot of living goes on in the great room, and your space needs to service it all, whether it’s entertaining friends for the Super Bowl, family movie night, kids playing or doing homework while you prepare dinner, or a quiet night of reading in front of the fire. The challenge is to do it all with style by reining in the clutter.

“Storage is key in any great room—whether it’s shelves on a side table for the remote controls and magazines, storage ottomans that offer extra seating and a place to stow throw blankets or toys, or a roomy coffee table with space underneath for catch-all baskets,” Balsam says.

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With the exception of major holidays where you might use the dining and living rooms, chances are, most informal entertaining goes on in this space too. Many clients ask Durbin to include a space for drink and food service, or find ways to visually and functionally connect kitchen and great room.

Comfort With Style

This is a room that invites casual living; so make sure to choose furnishings that are comfortable and durable—but you don’t have to sacrifice design.

“There are so many terrific options today that balance great style and practicality,” Balsam says.

  • Choose chairs and sofas that are comfortable enough to sink into but still offer support for sitting up and reading or entertaining.
  • Upholster in darkly hued corduroy, chenille or vintage leathers that only get better looking with age.
  • Interior designer Julia Buckingham Edelmann will often upholster a sofa frame with a luxurious, decorative fabric and use a more durable but equally beautiful fabric (think indoor/outdoor fabric) for the seat and ottomans.
  • Reclaimed barn wood and rustic antique woods are ideal for great room tables. They can withstand heavy use and won’t show wear. And don’t forget a large ottoman with room for trays and toes—a perfect stand-in for the cocktail table.
  • Choose rugs that can be easily cleaned (Flor has some great options) or in darker hues that mask spills and dirt better.

Sound Considerations

While an open floor plan is ideal for entertaining and flow, it wreaks havoc when it comes to sound (especially in a vaulted room).

  • Wood floors are a great way to connect your kitchen and great room, but only enhance the echo effect. Layering textiles (area rugs, drapery, upholstery) can limit reverberations and absorb sound.
  • Chances are, the simple speaker on your flat-screen TV won’t be enough to project sound, so you’ll need to invest in a surround-sound speaker system or sound bar for added amplification.
  • For those with a bigger budget, consider upholstering your walls or adding fabric panels to the ceiling.

The TV Dilemma

To hide or not to hide?

“It’s really a matter of personal choice,” Durbin says. Some clients still believe that a hulking screen is a distraction for more intimate moments while others accept media as an undeniable presence in everyday living.

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Regardless of personal preference, our design experts recommend finding a way to mount the TV and AV system with style and to hide all those nasty cords. If your budget or taste doesn’t call for built-ins, there are a myriad of options for media storage and display (beyond the colossal armoires of the past).

And while it’s always tempting to mount the TV above your fireplace, Durbin suggests too often the TV ends up uncomfortably high. Even in a traditional décor, you can find a way to visually balance the TV and fireplace on the same wall.

Photos courtesy of Jeannie Balsam