Tips on Designing a Great Family Room From The Experts at Calico Corners – Calico Home

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Tips on designing a great family room that will help provide inspiration for this all important room that should work on many levels—and look inviting too.

Calico Corners - Caico Home Logo

Calico Corners - Caico Home Logo

"When redoing a family room, start with design that reflects the interests of the family members. Use photos, children's artwork, mementos, maps, antiques and art collections to tell your family's story in this room," says Jan Jessup.

After the kitchen, the most popular room in most homes has to be the family room or great room. It has to function as a media room, a game room, a music room, a reading room—and often a homework area too. Because this room is so lived in, there are lots of family rooms that could use a serious makeover. But where to start?

"Start with design that reflects the interests of the family members, of course! Use photos, children's artwork, mementos, maps, antiques and art collections to tell your family's story in this room," says Jan Jessup, director of communications for Calico Corners – Calico Home. "Think about having frames made that can open to switch out kids' artwork or to showcase the latest photos from a family trip. Those personal items may suggest colors or textures to incorporate." Then consider how to make the room work on a practical level. Here are ten tips on how to create a family room that is both functional and great looking:

1. Really comfortable seating is essential.
Sofas, sectionals and chairs for a family room should be chosen for reading and viewing comfort. Do you like to nap on the sofa? Be sure it's wide and deep enough--and that the arm is low enough to nestle your head. Do you like to read to children? Make sure they can fit around you. Do you prefer to sit cross-legged on the sofa? It should be deep enough to accommodate your folded legs. Chairs and sofas with an outside depth of 38 - 39 inches or more are ideal for both sitting and reclining.

2. Select furniture that's the right scale for the room.
If your great room is oversize, or has a cathedral ceiling, you probably need large-scale upholstered furniture that can stand up to the size of the room. Traditional sofas or settees 72 to 78-inches wide will look diminutive in a big room. Look for large-scale sofas at least 88-92 inches wide with depth and height of about 38-39 inches for furniture with presence in a spacious room.

Many sofas have an inside width of 68-69 inches (as this is a common frame size), but could have an overall width of 78 - 89 inches due to large-scale padded arms. Compare outside dimensions to inside width. "You may not be getting more actual seating space with a longer length sofa," advises Jessup. Shop with a measuring tape--make notes about the size and scale of the pieces that you find most comfortable. Sofas with an inside width (between the arms) of 72 to 75-inches will be long enough for 6-footers to nap stretched-out. Think about how you'll really use your furniture, not just the aesthetics of the piece. Function must complement form.

"Older adults have an easier time getting up from chairs that are a little more upright and not too deep (such as wing chairs) or chairs with good arm leverage (such as English arm chairs)," adds Jessup.

3. Consider sectional seating for design flexibility.
Sectional sofas with a variety of components are a good way to create more spacious seating that can be tailored to the size and shape of the room. "If you want to pack more people into a tight space, your best choice is a sectional sofa," notes designer Suzanne Kasler in her book, Inspired Interiors. "The L-shape creates a very strong line and utilizes every square inch, even the corner."

When upholstering a sectional, avoid large prints and plaids or the finished effect may be overpowering. An interesting texture, small menswear plaid, chevron, herringbone or basketweave pattern will be subtle and more interesting than a plain solid fabric--and will also hide wear and wrinkles. Remember that sectional components in an L-shaped unit will change direction at the corner--and so will the fabric they wear. Be sure you like the effect before making a final fabric selection.

4. Vary the scale and visual weight of the furniture in the room.
For example, have large chairs, medium-size chairs and smaller slipper chairs. Incorporate ottomans and benches. Have firmer chair seats and cushier chair seats. Have a great reading chair or chaise. Be able to reconfigure the furniture and pull in extra seating for big family gatherings and parties. Furniture with a little variety creates a more interesting room than a matching suite that all appears to have come from the same source.

5. Consider skirted arm chairs with a swivel mechanism so that they can turn easily for conversation or movie watching. Most fully upholstered skirted chairs can be ordered with a swivel, swivel-glider or swivel-rocker mechanism.

6. Ottomans are critical to reading and viewing comfort.
Ottomans should pull up easily to chairs or sectional components to support your legs. Will they be large enough for a long-legged spouse? Or will two people want to share one ottoman? Shop accordingly. If an ottoman will serve as both footrest and coffee table, consider a large 36" to 48" rectangular or square ottoman to serve all needs.

Large upholstered cocktail ottomans with no sharp corners or hard edges are more kind to toddlers and small children on the run and can also serve as a coffee table. A pretty tray placed on the ottoman can contain books, magazines, accessories and remotes.

7. Find a fabric you love to pull out colors for pillows, window treatments, skirted tables and accessories.
If you have little ones, consider a more colorful combo for a family room as brighter colors really speak to kids, advises Jessup. "Start with the fabric, because there a million shades of paint, and you can always find that later."

8. Lots of pillows are great for lounging, movie watching or support while reading.

Have pillows made in a variety of sizes and shapes--lumbar pillows to cradle your back while reading, smaller pillows to tuck under an elbow, larger pillows for napping--and even floor pillows for kids who love to lounge on the carpet. "Square pillows at least 18" to 22" are good sizes for a sofa," says Jessup. "They're large enough to show off a fabric and make a design statement. Little bitty pillows just get in the way."
The Calico stores offer both feather/down and fiberfill pillow forms covered in a neutral solid fabric in a huge variety of sizes and shapes--even pillow balls and cubes. The Calico custom workrooms can transform any fabric into a pleasing pillow.

9. Use window treatments to control glare on a television screen.
Light falling from a window onto a television screen creates sun glare--perhaps not a problem at night, but surely an issue for Saturday morning cartoons or a weekend football game. Window treatments that can be drawn, or shutters or shades that can be closed, will help to control glare--and add privacy.

10. Select carefree fabrics. Then relax, enjoy and live with your family in the family room.
The Calico stores have a very large selection of high performance fabrics, including many Sunbrella jacquard and woven upholstery-weight fabrics. These are designed for furniture use and are easy to live with--spills can be cleaned up with a sponge and a little dish soap.

"No one will guess that these are stain-resistant, fade-resistant Sunbrella fabrics," notes Jessup, "as they look like denim, duck, matelassé, damasks, heavy cottons or intricate jacquard designs."

Calico Corners also recommends faux suedes for family room furniture, such as Sensuede or Flannelsuede that can be readily cleaned with soap and water. "They add a great texture to the mix of fabrics in a room—and come in dozens of rich colors," says Jessup. Sensuede is also more resilient than Ultrasuede for upholstery use, she adds.

Tips on furniture arrangement for a family room:

  • If the furniture floats in the room, consider the back and side profiles.

Freestanding furniture should be attractive from all sides. Look for special shaping in backs, crowned cushions, dropped side rails and skirt treatments that create visual interest. If you don't love the view of the back of your sofa as you walk into the room, add a console table there to display books, photos, a lamp and interesting accessories.

  • Position the sofa to face the television. As designer Lyn Peterson notes in her book, Real Life Decorating, "The television is the hearth of the twenty-first's the information center where we find out what's happening in the world." And the television is increasingly becoming our movie screen and computer screen as well. Place the sofa in line with television screens for more comfortable viewing.
  • Where to place the television is a matter of personal preference, but consider these suggestions: A television placed high on the wall may have everyone craning their necks to see the picture. A television placed over a fireplace may compete with a fire--and also be too high for easy viewing. To integrate the television screen with room decor, hang artwork on either side of the screen; it will also balance the black void of the screen when the TV is off.

About Calico Corners
Calico Corners – Calico Home stores provide expert decorating advice and free in-home design consultation in more than 90 stores across the country. Consumers will find thousands of designer fabrics for the home at value prices; custom window treatments, blinds and shades; custom upholstered furniture, slipcovers, bedding and more. Thousands of fabrics are available online. For more information or to find the nearest store, visit or call (800) 213-6366.

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