Creating these spaces by extending or knocking smaller rooms together enables families to work, play, cook and eat together but often these all-purpose rooms are difficult to make look good. For the interior designer, it is one of our most requested briefs - to turn the family room into a light and airy (but tidy) space, that the entire family can enjoy. In reality these rooms often end up cluttered and disorganised without making the best use of space.
For that reason, we always deal first with the question of storage. Though it's often overlooked, storage is an integral part of any communal living space and ensuring that you have enough of it can help to keep a space clear and tidy. An entire wall can be turned into cupboards or bookshelves. A unit can be fitted under the TV to hide Sky boxes, DVDs and so on. A large footstool with a lift-lid can be a great practical storage addition.
Flooring needs to be able to stand up to the bumps and knocks of family life. Tiles are great for a family room although in Scotland, I never lay tiles without the addition of under-floor heating as I find a tiled floor just too cold without it. Wood is also excellent, but bear in mind that it will scratch and dent with use. (For me, this just adds to the character.) There are also lots of great-looking vinyls by companies like Amtico, whose huge collection covers everything from faux woods and tiles to contemporary bolds and brights.
As interior designers, we take a lot of time choosing furniture to ensure every client gets the perfect piece for their room. Here are a few simple tips to ensure that you do too. Measure and mark on the floor using masking tape, the size of furniture you are considering - then you can see exactly how much space it will take up and how much furniture you can fit in. Never be seduced by a "bargain" without going home first and checking its suitability. Consider the style of your room, and take a photograph of it with you when you go shopping, to help you visualise what will look good within that space. Before heading to the shops, have a look online at the styles and shapes that you like. I'm a big fan of the Designer's Guild sofas and chairs www.designersguild.com/furniture-gallery/view-all-designs. They have a great mix of furniture that helps you to think a little bit outside the box. Consider a corner sofa or chaise end sofa. These styles often work well in an open-plan room as they help to seamlessly "divide" up the space.
When it comes to choosing fabrics for curtains, blinds and furniture, keep it practical but not boring. Mix up different textures to add interest: leathers, wipeable fabrics, linens and wools are great for practical family rooms. In particular, I am a big fan of wool - it is a naturally hard-wearing, soft, wonderfully tactile fabric with the added benefit of being able to help purify the air (wool absorbs harmful pollutants). Dust mites hate it and it is also resistant to bacteria, mould and mildew that can trigger allergic reactions. I would suggest getting fabric samples so that you can create your own mood board and be confident that all your choices work well together.
Consider what direction your room faces and if the space feels warm or cold. Often family rooms are painted white in the hope that they will feel "light and airy" but instead they can feel cold and un-homely. Avoid using a "brilliant white" and instead opt for a softer shade of white, cream or grey. Colour can also be used to "zone" different areas of the room: for example, the seating area could be painted a darker more intimate colour to create a feeling of cosiness. A bold wall could be painted next to the dining area to define the space. Zoffany have a fantastic range of paint colours as well as light and dark shades of the same colour. Most importantly, do not be afraid of trying different colours, as it can add depth to an otherwise boring space and if you don't like it, then it is very cheap and easy to change!
Interior Solutions, 26 Bridge Road, Edinburgh, EH13 0LQ (0131 441 4176) www.interiorsol.co.uk