Share this article

Open for business
Find out the latest updates from local businesses as our region reopens.
print logo

Switch-a-roo: Give new life to your rooms with a new purpose

Tim and Sandy Nelson figured they would get a lot more living out of their living room if they turned it into a party room. Other people decide that their dining room would make a better home office. Their den, the guest room they always wanted.

And that spare bedroom? How about turning it into a craft room? A man cave? Or even a large walk-in closet?

Great things can happen when you step back and take a whole new look at the rooms in your home.

“It’s rethinking the space that you have and making it work best for you and your family,” said Margaret Jendrejzak, in-home decorator at Calico, 5501 Main St., Williamsville.

Nor does changing a room’s function need to be expensive. Unlike investing in an unfinished attic or basement, you’re working with existing spaces that are already finished. And the furniture and accessories may just come from another area of the house. Even just down the hall.

While structural changes are sometimes needed, many times they are not. When the Nelsons moved into the Kenmore home of Sandy’s late maternal grandmother in 1996, they knew the original living room was perfectly suited for an entertaining space.

It was an easy decision. Her grandmother had already added on a 20-by-24-foot room and full bath on the first floor in 1987 that the Nelsons now use as their main living area. The original 14-by-20-foot living room, which is off the front foyer and opens to the dining room, is now the party room – furnished with a circa 1950s pool table, one Lucite chair, two Danish modern chairs, a leather sofa and hand-painted canvas floor cloth. The existing built-in bookcase, which was crafted by Sandy Nelson’s great-grandfather, was converted into a bar with a fresh coat of paint, new glass shelves and funky acrylic knobs.

“It’s an ode to Art Deco, ’50s kitsch and retro Modern. Those three things speak the story of this room,” said Nelson, an interior designer. She also noted that colors in this room and throughout the 1927 home – cranberry, moss green, French blue, ocher, black and white – were pulled from the colors in the Oriental rug in the dining room, so it all ties together.

Several things can trigger the creative process of repurposing rooms. A new baby arrives. School-age kids and all their friends take over. A college graduate leaves the nest. An aging parent moves in. A home business is launched, or new hobbies begin.

For John and Eileen Franke, grandchildren were the trigger. They now number nine – ages 6 weeks to 21. The Frankes have converted one of the three bedrooms in their Town of Tonawanda ranch into a playroom.

“We wanted them to be comfortable here. It’s the brightest room, with the sunshine coming through, and the kids love to play with their puzzles and fire trucks in there,” said Eileen Franke, who also hangs costumes that change with the season on pegs on the wall.

Furnishing the space was not expensive. “We have two milk crates stacked one on top of each other for the children’s books and a round table with shelves underneath my husband made. Their toy blocks go on the shelves, and we keep a nice round table skirt over the top,” she said. An antique “pie safe” cabinet also is used for storing toys and baby supplies.

And there are other smart solutions. Jendrejzak said she worked with one customer who transformed a large den into a guest room and home office. The kids all had their own rooms, and the house also had a family room in addition to the den.

“The woman said the only reason she would move was for a guest room,” Jendrejzak said.

Now she has one. They brought in a new sleeper sofa and club chair and also created a home office in a 6-foot-wide closet. The former closet now houses a built-in work table, cubbies and filing cabinets; a pair of bi-fold drawers closes it off.

Other customers have changed their formal living rooms into places where kids can do their homework and work on the computer right on the first floor with parents nearby, Jendrejzak said. Others create a music room where kids can practice.

Living rooms, especially in many homes built in the 1990s, often were on the smaller size – 12 by 12 or so – and rarely used, she noted. Especially if the home also had a family room or great room.

“Fortunately, they can use it for something else. I’ve even had a number of people with small kids turn it into their playroom so they can be on the first floor. That way, no one is tripping over all the toys in the family room,” Jendrejzak said.

Empty-nesters have options as well – turning a seldom-used dining room into a first-floor bedroom, for example, possibly with the addition of a full bath and outdoor entrance.

“I think the living room and the dining room are the two places that I find people are doing the most changes so they can stay in the house longer. If they can utilize a space on the first floor and turn it into a bedroom, that answers the question for a lot of older people who don’t want to do stairs,” Jendrejzak said.

Similarly, a pantry can be professionally converted into a spot for a washer and dryer for people who no longer want to do laundry in the basement, she added.