The New Family Room

New trends in home remodeling, like the 'family studio,' bring projects (and families) together.

Photo: ekoti.files.wordpress.com

Homes, how we live in and use them, are constantly evolving. Kitchens have opened up to living spaces and become family gathering spots. Spare bedrooms are now home offices. Under-utilized formal dining areas are becoming catch-alls for spillover projects. Chores like mending, ironing, laundry, and homework have become the tasks of family time. Ironing and wash are done during dinner preparation and homework. Bills are paid during science projects, and sewing. Crafts, mending, and hand wash go hand-in-hand with Internet research. This is more than multi-tasking, it’s how families function.

But these are all messy projects that bring clutter and chaos to kitchen tables and family rooms. So, as homeowners evaluate their space and needs, architects, builders, and designers are creating a new kind of living space while big-name companies are devising the products to enhance it.

Friendly Space
The family studio concept is a space apart from the public or show spaces of the home, where the nitty-gritty of daily life can take place without cluttering the rest of the house. More than just a project room, this space functions like an active family room, housing crafts, laundry aids, computers, even music. The goal is to create comfortable family space that accommodates the messy moments in life and the chores that go with them. Counters, a sink, functional surfaces, and project-specific space are critical.

How much space? Functional home studio spaces start at around 8-by-10 feet. To work properly, the family studio does require significant square footage that must be borrowed from existing spaces or added on to the home. Key to the success of these spaces is a location close to the core of the home, perhaps off the kitchen or family room, in a converted upstairs space or lower-level family area.

As with any home enhancement project, add-ons and upgrades increase the cost. Still, this is the room where those add-ons will really pay off. Storage is a key function in a home studio, so cabinets are prominently featured in most designs. However, save for a sink cabinet, designs with fewer built-in features are possible if the space exists but not the budget. The Whirlpool Corporation, maker of kitchen and laundry appliances, is actively promoting the home studio concept by marketing creative appliances to make it function smoothly.

Appliances: A New Category?
Whirlpool’s advocacy of the family studio makes sense: If the concept takes off, a new category of appliances will likely line the room’s walls. The company has developed a suite of convenience appliances intended to make laundry chores less cumbersome. The company now offers a spa-like jetted sink that is designed to swirl water under and around delicate washables, with adjustments for the degree and height of spray. A warm-air cabinet, called the DryAire, puts hand washables in the proper drying position, behind cabinet doors. It features fold-down shelves for flat drying, racks for hang drying, and door racks for gloves, socks, and scarves. A chemical-free cleaning system, called the Personal Valet, is housed in an armoire-like cabinet. The device steams and freshens most fabrics, including machine-washable and dry-clean-only items. To round out the collection, an ironing station and front-loading washers and dryers are also offered. Buying the full suite of Whirlpool appliances can cost around $5,000; the Personal Valet, the centerpiece of the collection, starts around $1,000.

Planning for Projects
Organization is critical. Storage and workspace are the key features of the home studio space. Storage cabinets and cupboards house glues, paints, fabrics, books, and cleaning supplies. Table and counter space accommodates projects large and small. Lighting, task centers, and project-friendly surfaces help the entire space function easily and well.

When designing a home studio space, attention should be paid to specific project areas. Some families will want a large central surface for layouts, projects, homework, and snacks. Overhead diffused light is good for these areas. Counter space should be incorporated for laundry folding, and small task space. Recessed cans can provide task lighting for these spaces, but for delicate work like sewing, quilting, or handwork, special task lighting should be included. Attention to outlets and power requirements is essential. Wiring may be required for certain appliances and all built-in lighting. Other tasks will require ready access to outlets. Some families opt to include music, computers, or even a television. Surfaces should be made user-friendly, both in height and in reach. Hardwood floors, vinyls, or manufactured flooring make cleanup of spills a breeze. Carpet may be warmer, but should have a short, tight pile to allow for easy vacuuming and cleanup.

The most important aspect of all is to create a space that works for the family. Cabinets make for organized chaos, and can neatly store craft, fabric, and project clutter. Shelves can be used for drying, display, and books. Built-in storage cupboards can house appliances, spare tables, boards, and tools. In the end, creating a space that allows for family collaboration makes for productive, enjoyable home time — even when there’s laundry to be done.