The old adage, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time,” does-n’t apply when designing family rooms. Generally speaking, these spaces must meet the needs of many individuals, so it’s a designer’s job to make sure everybody is happy.

This makes tackling family rooms fairly difficult, and I was reminded of this during a recent project for my clients, Becky and J.D. They live with their two young daughters in a lovely, 1960s-era home. They longed for a comfortable space where the whole family could work, play and just be together, but they were stuck with a cold, dreary basement space that seemed stuck in a ’60s time warp.

Using the fundamentals of family-room design, I set out to transform the dysfunctional space into a beautiful, relaxing, family-friendly zone.


Good design starts with function, and that’s especially true in a family room. The couple wanted the room to work on a few different levels — as a lounge, as a work area and as a play space — so my job was to cram heaps of utility into a relatively small area.

I started with some minor renovations and revamps. We installed a new drywall ceiling with recessed lighting. The walls were painted a light linen color, and I chose a gorgeous vinyl flooring that looks like wood but has the added advantage of being waterproof. So perfect for basements!

I decided to create an attractive, kick-back-and-relax lounge space at one end of the room, and used the wall with the fireplace as my focal point. I spruced up the dated brick with a dark mushroom tone paint, which really popped against the surrounding, lighter-hued walls. We also installed a clean, modern brushed-nickel gas insert and voila — instant face-lift.

So much of what family rooms are about today is electronics and media. So, I flanked the fireplace with two store-bought base cabinets, customized with original wood tops, that provide all sorts of media storage. Adjacent to this, beautiful new recessed cabinetry now houses a big-screen TV, a DVD player and the gaming consoles.


The main seating in this space is a large, mocha-colored sectional that is comfy enough for the whole family — and acts as a room divider between the lounge area and the work/play area. Linen ottomans and a round wood table can be used for entertaining or for play activities.

Using carpet tiles in cream, butter-scotch and a warm gray, we created a comfy, durable and attractive area rug. Not only do they help keep feet warm, these tiles are great for dealing with little messes — if chocolate milk gets spilled, say, you can remove the dirty tile, have it cleaned and put it right back in.

On the opposite side of the room I fashioned a multipurpose work/play zone. Becky and J. D. needed a home office and the kids needed a place where they could do arts and crafts. So I put in a large, white, L-shaped work surface and chairs as well as a bank of storage underneath for art provisions, books and playthings.

The family needed a place to showcase the children’s masterpieces, so I used custom magnetic blackboard panels to create a practical feature wall.


With careful planning, a bit of paint and some stylish furniture, I provided this young family with a multifunctional room that is truly all things to all people.

Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All.”