There are two kinds of living rooms: those that are lived in and those that aren't. The first (a space that multitasks) needs an organizing plan. The second (set aside for special occasions), a purpose. Here are solutions for both, plus a rundown of how to organize and store five items common to many living rooms.
How to organize a multitasking living room
A vibrant, well-planned living room can rival the kitchen as the heart of a home.
1 List all the activities that happen in the room. An average-size living room can accommodate up to five functions, like listening to music, entertaining, watching TV, reading and playing.
2 Divide your living room into zones. Ideally, each zone should feature one activity, but sometimes they'll overlap. If having two activities occur in the same zone doesn't work for you, consider moving one (for example, reading) to a different room.
3 Itemize what you'll need for each activity. For entertaining, say, you might include sufficient seating, a coffee table and end or nesting tables within reach of each seat, plus a sound system and bar area.
4 Create a to-scale floor plan with all your existing furniture rearranged into zones. For pointers, check out Room Redux by Joanne Eckstut and Sherman James (Chronicle Books, 1999). Start rearranging!
How to make a special-occasion room lively
Put the living back into your room by finding its purpose.
1 Make the room comfortable with a chaise longue –- this classic piece practically beckons you to put up your feet and relax. Simply add a cozy throw and a side table.
2 Hold family gatherings or dine in it. Create an inviting area with floor cushions or a big beach blanket. Play board games or have a picnic with the kids, or have an intimate dinner for two in front of the fireplace.
3 Set up a stylish bar, so you can use the space even for informal get-togethers.
4 Set up a hobby corner with an easel, if you paint, or a musical instrument, if you play one. Grow plants in the room, too.
5 Add a handsome desk for opening mail and writing notes or letters.
6 Organize a family-photo gallery on the walls, or display your favourite collections here.
7 Create a working library for all of your books, and magazines and newspapers.
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• For storage, options include an entertainment unit, armoire, deep shelves, retrofitted cabinets or custom built-ins.
• Keep remotes in a basket or other tabletop container, or in an over-the-armchair remote holder.
• Store DVDs and tapes on shelves, preferably in a closed cabinet.
• Devise a system for taping and viewing. If you have tons of unlabelled tapes, here's a plan for ridding yourself of the backlog. Scan one tape a week: toss it or label it. Label a tape Blank; when you record something you want to keep, relabel it and start a new blank tape. When you have five programmed tapes, decide which ones you'll have time to watch and rewind the rest, relabelling them Blank.
• Hide your sound system or show it off. Some microsystems look so chic they add to the decor. But tuck speakers out of sight. Have an electrician (or a handyperson in the family) install a sound system with the wires hidden. An armoire or cabinet is a common solution for hiding all the components.
• Organize your music collection so it works for the users –- alphabetically or categorically (classical, pop, alternative, world, jazz, juvenile, musicals and so on). You can have subcategories within your chosen categories (male/female, group versus soloist, by composer or era for classical).
• When storing a music collection, I prefer CD binders labelled on the spine by category (ordinary three-ring binders with CD sleeves do the trick). This solution eliminates broken jewel cases and the storage needed for large collections in cases. What about the liner notes? Slip them in behind the CD or keep them in a separate CD box.
• For bookshelf styles, check magazines, decor books and catalogues.
• Don't hoard books that you'll never look at again. Take them to secondhand shops, have a garage sale, or put them out by the curb with a sign that says Free Books.
• Organize books alphabetically, by category or mixed with decorative objects.
Art & collectibles
• Display objects that you find beautiful, but make sure you don't overcrowd the room. Put some items in storage and rotate your collections so that you don't end up with too much out all at once.
• For infants, a basket for small items like rattles and books will do.
• For toddlers and older children, a wicker toy trunk or upholstered ottoman with hidden storage is ideal.
• Allow school-age children to store their board games and books on a cabinet or bookshelf.
• Display photo albums on coffee tables or bookshelves so that guests can browse through them.
• A wall-mounted gallery of beautifully framed photographs can make a strong yet personal design statement.
• Tabletops are ideal for small framed photos, but don't scatter photos throughout the room –- for impact, group a collection in coordinating frames of different sizes.