The “Not So Great” Room

Great rooms don’t always live up to their name. Their vast size and openness can pose decorating challenges.

The term, great room, refers to a large, shared common space that typically links the kitchen, family room and dining spaces. These multifunctional areas – with an absence of walls or doors dividing them – are often situated under a vaulted or otherwise elevated ceiling.

DecorRx 16 Captain's-1042

While home building styles and layout preferences evolve, the concept of open common space in a home’s center endures.  Simply put, the great room celebrates today’s more informal lifestyles, enabling the homeowners to prepare meals in the kitchen while interacting with family members or guestsperched at a kitchen island, seated at a nearby dining table, or loungingby the fireplace. Often, all of the occupants can follow a sporting event on the large flat screen television situated in the great room from almost any vantage point. It fosters human interaction.

But decorating these large spaces can be a challenge. Here are a few potential pitfalls and solutions:

COHESIVE COLOR SCHEME: One of the most frequent questions I receive as an interior designer is how much coordination is needed in wall colors, upholstery patterns, window treatments, or  finishes across these open spaces. For instance, should the wood hues of the kitchen cabinets dictate the finish on the dining room table and chairs? Do the legs on the sofa or upholstered chairs  need to match the kitchen bar stools?

The answer is no, with some caveats. Decorating a large multi-purpose area requires planning across the entire space, not piecemeal decisions.  The furniture does not all have to match, but there should be a common unifying theme, and there are multiple ways to achieve that goal.

I worked with one client recently to select a large trestle dining table and chairs in a driftwood and ivory finish, and paired this set with an espresso color buffet along the nearby wall. The bar stools at the kitchen island are also espresso, helping link the kitchen and dining areas. The kitchen cabinetry is a distressed ivory with dark flecks that not only mimics the espresso tones of the nearby furniture but also coordinates well with the ivory, black and grey granite countertop hues in the kitchen.  The family room features a coffee table and end table in a driftwood finish as well.

Matching all of the furniture finishes across these spaces is too monotonous.The same goes for upholstery and fabric colors and patterns.  Pick one dominant color, and add an accent color or two.  Vary their use or dominance across the space.

LACK OF INTIMACY: Another challenge is creating a feeling of coziness within a vast space.  Area rugs can be an effective strategy.  A large rug under the dining table will clearly delineate this area from the rest of the great room. A different area rug, repeating the overall color scheme in a different pattern and/or texture, should be used in the family room.  It will visually unite the space where the sectional or other sofa, coffee table and other seating are arranged.

COMPETING FOCAL POINTS: Each functional area should have one architectural or other element that commands the eye. In kitchens, it’s typically the stove hood with an eye-catching  tilebacksplash directly beneath. In dining areas, it’s often the light fixture over the table. In a family room with a a fireplace, this is the natural focal point. If the fireplace lacks an eye-catching stone or other surround, then painting the fireplace wall in a contrasting color from the surrounding walls can solidify its role as the room’s attention grabber.

ROLE OF LIGHTING:   Lighting should never be a secondary consideration in great rooms.  While recessed lightsremain popular for providing ambient or general light, kitchens beg for highly focused task lighting. Pendants – with colorful glass or other decorative shades  –can wonderfully illuminate a kitchen island.  Moreover, using a single, matching pendant over the sink yields a coordinated lighting design across the food preparation area.  The dining area begs for a dramatic light fixture centered over the table, with a dimmer switch.  Look for a larger version of those island pendants, or another hanging fixture in a similar style that adds both visual drama and illumination.

In the family room area, “floating” sofas or sectionals positioned in the middle of the space may need electrical outlets in the floor to power nearby table or floor lamps. Consult an electrician on adding these outlets to avoid tripping over cords plugged into nearby walls.

Smart lighting will show off your truly great room.