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The Ultimate Family Room

How to Put the Focus on Fun and Fitness In Your Family Room

Today's energetic families need ways to be active and have fun together without just "vegging out." Save movie night for Saturday. Tonight, get busy in the ultimate family room, one that allows your active family to reconnect in fun new ways.

Think Outside the Box

Forget sofas. Your décor will be a hit with the addition of some unusual seating. Try suspending a swing or two from the ceiling of your family room – yes, swings indoors! (Be sure to anchor them securely to support beams.) IKEA offers a line of swings that are perfect for use both inside and outside. Or hang IKEA's rope ladder above a mountain of pillows in a climbing area. Oversized beanbags and floor cushions make excellent landing pads. Add a slide like Little Tikes Easy Store Large Slide to maximize the fun.

For even more adventurous families, Rachel Mallon, an interior decorator from Portland, Ore., suggests building a climbing wall as the ultimate way to express your energetic spirit. Choose colorful climbing holds just for kids and make climbing a family affair. (See our sidebar for details about what's involved in constructing your own climbing wall.)

If an indoor climbing wall exceeds the limits of your space, you can encourage active play with all sizes of exercise balls and tumbling mats. Put a child-friendly sound system nearby, and stock it with groove-inspiring music to get kids moving. Stack a big set of soft blocks in one corner of the tumbling area to see what structures the kids create.

Sometimes kids crave quieter play. A pair of child-sized armchairs near a few crates of books creates a reading space, while a puppet theater or soft-sided playhouse enables hours of creative interaction. Want to take it a step further? Build a low-tech stage and hang curtains around it to make a theater that's just right for acting out plays or lip-synching to favorite songs.

Find Your Focus

Making the family room an inviting place to hang out is as simple as deciding what's important to you. Like to do crafts? Elaine McCarthy, owner of Elaine's Designs in Santa Clarita, Calif., suggests putting a craft table in the corner with plenty of storage for all of your supplies. "Get whimsical bar stools for seating in the area," she says. A table just for games is another fun idea. "Put a tall pub table and chairs in front of a small window area where the family can gather and play games," McCarthy says. Make a cozy game nook with a large throw rug, some cushy floor pillows and a trunk table with a large playing surface. There should be room inside to store games.

Beryn Hammil, owner of Beryn Hammil Designs, suggests families who love music express their passion as part of the room's décor. "Include a place to store or display sheet music and hang instruments on the wall like art," he says. "Or store them in cubbies until it's time to play."

Create Homework Central

Homework is a big part of any busy family's day. Use large wicker baskets with lids to store pens and pencils, rulers and calculators. Kids can gather on floor pillows around the game table or pull a stool up to the craft area to work on assignments. To hide appliances like the family computer, armoires are excellent sources for hidden storage space, says Nina Petronzio, owner of a home design store, Plush Home, in West Hollywood, Calif. A computer area disguised in an armoire near "Homework Central" provides a necessary media hub without making monitors, keyboards and cables the main attraction in the room.

Make Room for Movies

With all the possibilities a family room offers, McCarthy usually finds that clients have made their "massive big screen televisions" the focus of the room. "By de-emphasizing the TV area, you can establish the room's true focal point," she says. Whether that focal point is a climbing wall or a game area near the fireplace, most families do want their TV to remain available, even if it's just for movie night or viewing exercise tapes. "Disguise media areas behind panel doors or decorative screens," says Hammil. Keep remotes and DVDs in wicker storage baskets.

To add extra fun to movie night, find an old-fashioned popcorn machine and park it near the TV, says McCarthy. Use a big ottoman with trays on top as a softer, more versatile alternative to a coffee table and surround it with a variety of fun chairs, such as Anywhere Chairs from Pottery Barn Kids.

Pull It Together

No matter how you end up designing your family room, maximize your family's enjoyment by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Minimize clutter to help create peace, says Petronzio. "Although it is difficult, I cannot stress enough the importance of having clean, clutter-free spaces," she says. "Serene rooms are vital to serene minds."
  • Emphasize natural light and the use of "outdoor" colors like blue and green, as well as natural wood, says Mallon. Consider adding plants like ivy, ferns and snapdragons, which have low allergy potential and add beneficial oxygen to the room.
  • Try to find fabrics that forgive stains and dirt. "Ultrasuede is excellent for kids and teenagers – very soft and easy to clean," says Mallon.
  • The more your family room reflects your own clan's personality, the more likely you'll be to exercise your mind, body and spirit in your newly decorated space.
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