Q: We want to convert a large and little-used family room int a multipurpose space for our three children, ages 8 to 15. The room will probably be used at different times for different activities. It needs to include storage for toys, games and stereo equipment. Do you have some suggestions for how to carry out this conversion on a limited budget?
A: For any design project, the real question is: Exactly how limited?
Most people, I've found, don't have any specific dollar amount in mind when they think about refurnishing. Often it's because they don't actually know how much to spend on a particular room any more than they know what the room should look like. But perhaps I can lead you in a direction that will simplify both your financial and design decisions for this difficult space.
A multipurpose room must not be outfitted with flimsy storage and seating pieces or with fragile surfaces and fabrics. Also, you probably don't want it to look like a gym.
I've chosen to illustrate my answer with the accompanying photograph because this setting combines durability with good looks.
Let's start with the floor covering. This vinyl sheeting in shades of beige and charcoal is functional, attractive and easy to maintain. Cost-effective flooring of this sort will withstand activities ranging from break-dancing to finger-painting. An area rug could be placed under the chairs and work table to create a cozy subsection of the room.
The distinguishing feature of this design is the series of 18-inch square boxes with hinged doors on one side. They are constructed either to be stacked on top of one another or hung on adjustable-height metal wall standards. These convenient cubes can store just about anything, including games, toys and stereo accessories. And by arranging the boxes at different levels you can form shelving and open storage space for a television, compact-disc player and kids' collections.
Each bin is finished in brightly colored plastic laminate, which produces a bold scheme of blue, red, orange and white. A children's activity room, after all, isn't meant to be a gray place. In fact, if you look closely, you'll notice some of the box doors have erasable writing surfaces for that impromptu family work of art.
A variety of seating options should be included in this type of space. Buy some low lounging pieces for TV viewing and higher seats for the game table.
It's important to be able to easily alter the room's appearance as your children grow up. With a flexible layout like this one, space that's now given over to stuffed animals can later accommodate books and photographs. The color scheme can be changed as well simply by re-laminating some of the surfaces and by covering the painted walls with a softer and more serious texture, such as linen.
The cost? It's hard to estimate, since a lot depends on your own ingenuity and on the services of a friendly cabinetmaker. You may be interested to know that this particular room was designed about 20 years ago. Judging from its still-vibrant appearance, I'd say this is clearly a case of getting good value