A contemporary family room with floor-to-ceiling windows and black walls.
A Bohemian family room in a historic home with exposed brick walls and wooden beamed ceilings. CHRISTIAN HARDER
With fall now in full swing out east, the cool air has invariably pushed many people to spend more time indoors for the weeks and months ahead. While it’s true that there remain plenty of ways to socialize safely outdoors — whether it be by firing up the patio heaters, swaddling in a bevy of blankets, or donning your thickest wool socks — for most people, the stakes have never been higher for interiors. With this in mind, it’s important to create a truly comfortable and, dare I say, cozy space to unwind at home. Enter the family room.
While exact definitions can be argued ad nauseam, and you don’t even need to live with others to have a proper family room for yourself, it’s generally understood that a living room and family room are counterpoints in formality, though cousins in their use. The living room is usually reserved for guests, parties, and entertaining — all of which are clearly not having their moment right now. The family room, on the other hand, is typically an informal space where household members gather around a TV and/or fireplace, lounging atop a sectional sofa bejeweled by decorative accent pillows. (Side note: For those who have only one primary living space at home, I’ve witnessed that it’s actually more often than not used as a family room, rather than a true living room, despite the naming conventions of today’s prevailing architectural floor plans.)
If starting your family room fresh, it’s best to first determine the ideal position and scale for the major elements: namely, the (sectional) sofa, the coffee table(s), additional and/or occasional seating, and the area rug (assuming the floors are not already carpeted).
If space permits, floating the sofa in the middle of the room, away from walls, can be quite nice for keeping things airy. However, in many instances, simply cornering the sofa where two walls meet is more than appropriate. It should be placed such that those seated upon it are oriented toward a focal point, which could be a fireplace, a TV, a great view, or a combination of all of the above.
In terms of the coffee table, this should be sized appropriately for the sofa, to ensure that it is conveniently accessible from the most seats. It also need not be a coffee table per se, as ottomans, benches, etc. often do just fine, and can even serve as a place for resting your feet. If a table is being swapped for seating, however, consider topping it with a tray or some other kind of flat surface to allow for drinks, technology, and the like to be placed as needed. For size, be sure to allow ample space to walk between this piece and the sofa in each direction, but, simultaneously, not too much as then it will be hard to reach each time you want to pick up or put down your glass of sherry.
With regard to additional or occasional seating, it can be somewhat boring if not done right for a family room to lack these comparatively smaller seating elements such as lounge chairs, poufs, and the like — strict minimalism notwithstanding. At the risk of sounding rigid, I would suggest orienting these secondary pieces around the central point previously noted (coffee table, large ottoman, etc.) unless the space or your imagination dictates otherwise. These pieces help form a conversation not only between the discrete seating elements themselves, but between the people who will use the space.
Finally, the rug: If there’s one high-traffic room in your house to have sumptuous padding underfoot, the family room would be it. Shoeless, sockless, or whatever your vibe may be, a soft, thick rug lends the space a certain level of enjoyment that is rarely had in its absence, except by the more unusual or adventurous among us. For scale, it’s best practice to ensure that the rug is large enough for all of the seating elements to fit comfortably atop. Rarely are there snafus more sinful than furniture that is half on and half off a rug; although, to be fair, it doesn’t bother everyone.
As for the sofa, bigger is usually better. Since this is what you will be spending the most time actually using, space to spread out is key. Opt for a fabric that is ultimately right for you and invites you to sink in for hours on end. Consider seat depth and back cushion height carefully for the proper fit.
As for the coffee table or ottoman in the center, it’s nice, but not mandatory, to pick a material that doesn’t demand a coaster. Utilizing such protective measures can be a mood-killing chore in a room that’s supposed to be the opposite of formal. Save the unvarnished woods and porous stones for the living room, if you prefer.
With regards to the additional/occasional seating, this is where your personality can really shine. Opt for unique pieces with shape and gravitas; something with a little patina like a vintage campaign chair might be right at home in a historic Southampton cottage, while an exceptional Marcel Breuer armchair could complement the postmodernism of an ’80s beach house in Quogue quite well.
As for the rug, natural woven options are still enjoying their moment in the spotlight, at least in the Hamptons. And they can be fairly hardy. But, this year, you may prefer something plusher and less textured. Choose a medium-pile wool, or even silk, if you are feeling particularly confident. For layering, consider adding a smaller low-pile rug atop.
In terms of palette, this is a good time to stick to warm, neutral tones. The hues can vary widely from light to dark, and should reflect the kind of environment you seek to create. Consider peppering in seasonal floral elements like a freshly yanked maple tree branch for November, or perhaps something more festive for the upcoming holidays in December to get an early start. Heaven knows that by this point in 2020, happier times cannot come soon enough.
To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.
We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.
One fine body…