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Design Forward


Consider using a room in an unexpected way

By Vicki Payne
Vicki Payne
Designer and home improvement expert Vicki Payne is host and producer of 'For Your Home,' available on PBS, Create TV, and in national and international syndication.
    A breakfast room in this house was converted to a home office. Think about the type of work or play area that is missing in your home. You might already have space that could be reorganized and redecorated to use for a different purpose.

How would you use your home if you didn’t know what the rooms were designed to be? Some would be easy to figure out, but what about all those other boxes?

When I tour historic homes, I’m always amazed at how little we have strayed from the labels our ancestors attached to spaces within our houses.

Just think about what your house is missing. Do you need a home office, crafting room, guest bedroom or perhaps a larger gathering space? Your house might already have the space but isn’t utilizing it properly.

If you have a kitchen island, chances are that’s where most of your daily meals are consumed, especially if you have a small family or you’re empty nesters. I love repurposing breakfast rooms into a task and communication center – in simpler terms, a home office. A place you can handle finances, plan grocery lists, read cookbooks, do emails and organize your life.

The key is to have fun with the space. Be creative. You may already have the desk – your kitchen table. If not, consider an old farm table or recycled wood door on sawhorses.

Add a splash of color. Define the space with a small area rug. Select a comfortable chair; it doesn’t need to be a formal black leather desk chair. A slipcovered armchair or funky stool works.

Add a decorative lamp to tie it all together and provide good working light. Control the clutter with baskets, decorative file boxes and bookracks. Make it a rule that nothing ever gets stacked on the floor! Hide it in big decorative baskets instead.

You will be amazed at how this little space can change your family’s life. It makes the perfect spot for a child to do homework while dinner is being prepared. It keeps mail and other household clutter off the kitchen counter and provides a handy spot for electronic chargers.

When entertaining, clear off the desk and stash everything in big baskets or in a closet. Use the desk top to set up the beverage bar or set out hors d’oeuvres. That will keep the crowds out of the work area of the kitchen and let you use the entire space for entertaining. Try dressing up the desk top with candles, crystal lamps and flowers.

Has your family outgrown your family room? An easy fix may be as close as your living room. If it’s larger than the family room, do a little rearranging and start using that space as your TV room. It frees your family room for other relaxing activities like conversation, reading or playing video games.

If you’re willing to do a little structural improvement and your living room backs up to your family room, tear down the wall or connect the two spaces with an expanded arch or double doorway. Check with your contractor before you start knocking out walls, but in most cases it can be done.

Don’t let flooring stop you from merging two spaces. If you can’t afford a new floor, consider removing carpets and painting the floor in one or both spaces. Pinterest has some painted flooring ideas that I can’t wait to try.

The idea is give yourself permission to use the spaces within your home the way you want and need to use them. Don’t let labels on a blueprint dictate to you. The world won’t come crashing down if you convert your dining room into a guest room or eliminate your living room. Your friends will still visit, and they’ll enjoy the experience more when your home expresses your family’s personality and lifestyle.

Vicki Payne is host and producer of “For Your Home,” available on PBS, Create TV, and in syndication. Reach her at
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