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Design Agony Group Chat: The Living Room/Playroom Conundrum

photo by tessa neustadt | from: a sophisticated playroom

We decided to shake things up with our Design Agony series after the huge success of “Design Mistake: Too Much Furniture” post the other week. One of our readers, Jessica, had an idea for us to simply post one person’s home and explain their design dilemma plus the wants/needs for the space. Then throw it to you all to start brainstorming all the possible ideas to help elevate their space. Thanks Jessica!

Well. Today is the day people, so put on your designer cap and let us know how you’d like to see the space transform. You may not know this but we took a lot of your suggestions from all of the Mountain House: I Design, You Decide posts. Seriously, that house would not be the home (that Emily and her family are indefinitely staying at while I take over her LA home/life….I am the new influencer. Jk) without all of you. The more the merrier when it comes to creativity so bring on the comments and let’s help Kimberly and her family figure out their new living room. Here we go!

Kimberly’s “Need to Make a Living/Playroom ASAP” Agony

Kimberly’s email was at the top of our designagony@emilyhendersondesign.com inbox (wink, wink: that’s where to email us if you’d like help with a space in your own home). I think the email gods were on my side that day, even though I went through 20+ other submissions, as she was the first one in our inbox. The designer/problem solver in me really wanted to help her out first. She deals with not only the classic “long and narrow” living room but it also doubles as being the main entrance to their urban-dwelling (a fancy way of saying apartment). Their front door is the one closer to the bay window so it’s important to keep an entry moment like they have with the console and mirror above. The space is also a pass-through to the dining area AND needs to function as a playroom. They are currently on the hunt for some stylish toy storage solutions to mix into the space. Her daughter is only a year old right now and she already knows that with time the need for storage/space to play is only going to grow.

The main focal point in the room is the fireplace but the fact that it is so close to the bay window makes for an awkward furniture layout situation. I think Kimberly is onto something though by placing a pair of chairs by the large window but there’s another configuration for the space that could help to create those multifunctional zones and a better flow into the dining area. Adding more seating into the space is the second priority on her list and she is open to replacing some pieces to achieve this.

As you can see there isn’t a TV in the room so this opens things up a bit to help redefine the area where the sofa is currently. As of now, the sofa feels like it’s floating over on its own and instead this could be the area that is designated for a play space for her daughter.  Kimberly said, “I can see having to add even more toys in the future like a table/chair set and/or a play kitchen”.

For the overall feel of the space there are 3 different storage pieces along the wall with the doors that if they were moved more evenly around the room it would help to make the space feel balanced. It’s just a lot of warm wood on one side and mainly cool tones from the sofa fabric and fireplace stone on the other.

KIMBERLY’S CURRENT SETUP

Let’s start with what we are recommending to repurpose to another room or start over on. First, both rugs feel small for the zones that they occupy. Then the entry console with baskets and the wood cabinet, I know I know, why would I suggest getting rid of any storage? Just wait for it. The heights and depths of these pieces are so similar that it makes this large space feel smaller by having one cabinet and door after the other.

Now for the fun part, let’s look at the room recommendations!

MY RECOMMENDATION

By moving the sofa in front of the window it will help to open up the room and combine the two seating areas so you’re not yelling across the space to your guests. Adding another either similar scale or two matching accent chairs across will allow an inside voice conversation area and an additional seat. Top it off with an airy & round coffee table, maybe with a shelf for some additional storage. That entry moment was important but it was also on the opposite side of the door swing, so let’s flip it to the other side. Instead of another “boxy” furniture piece, swap it for a demilune with two drawers & a basket on the shelf to bring back some storage. Then to create some varying height let’s throw a bench with, yup you guessed it, storage. Plus it makes for a great place to put on shoes and extend that ‘entry’ moment. Moving the tall glass cabinet into the opposite corner allows more visual weight to disappear from the bay window area.

And finally onto that important play area/storage. Start with an oval rug instead of another rectangle will allow your eye to see it as another zone but one that doesn’t compete in size. The chair and ottoman now live in the corner and to save some space Kimberly could add a plug-in sconce or a floor lamp with an attached side table. Add a big and low piece of toy storage under the window area will not only create ample storage but a hard surface to play. Finally, finish it off with a large lidded basket that can be filled with toys and easy for her daughter to help put away when she reaches that age.

What other main things do you think Kimberly should focus on? Is there a piece of furniture that you just feel isn’t working or serving her functional needs? I think there is so much potential for this architectural beauty so let’s all have a chat about it in the comments below. Talk to you all soon! xx

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Karen
2 years ago

Wow! What a wonderful design idea for this living room. Just moving the furniture around makes the room look so much more put together and a place for adults and kids.

Courtney
2 years ago

I am loving these posts and I think Julie’s idea really helped the space be more functional. I do think that adding a loveseat or one more place for seating over in the play area would be nice as well.

Edan Lepucki
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Rose

I use two large poufs and a (fake) Eames chair in my kids’ play area, and it’s great. People sit on them to chat during parties, the kids move them around to play, the dog sleeps on them, and they look good…

I love the recommended design. It’s really good and I would totally just go with those ideas, except maybe one other option to think about. One thought I had (having 2 young kids myself): Maybe flip-flop sides of the room where you have the “adult living room space” with where you have the “playroom area”. The reason I’m thinking this is that with the play area right in front of the walkway to the dining area, you will be walking thru toys and mess to go between the living room and dining room spaces (no matter what intentions a parent has for kids to clean up after themselves after they are done playing, it’s not always – or ever? – going to happen). But if you have the play area by the bay window, they get that section of the room to be their kid mess and play area, and they can look out the window as they are playing. And if they don’t clean up right away, or want to leave out a project/lego build for a while, it doesn’t get in anyone’s walking space. With that idea in mind, I would do really low cabinets (open face cubbies)… Read more »

Marissa
2 years ago

I do like the idea of swapping the areas but at the same time the design that Julie did is nice since if the kids are playing then the parents could enjoy the view/fireplace. Love all the ideas tho!

Victoria
2 years ago

I thought about that too, but I wonder if they did it that way so the kid mess isn’t in the way of the front door?

Colleen
2 years ago

YES! We have our play area tucked behind our couch in front of the window. The couch shields the visual mess of the play area and our little dude is able to look out the window while he plays.

Erin
2 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

This was my thought before seeing the proposed design – move the couch in front of the bay window (which was done) but having the area behind it be for the toys that are too big to tuck away in storage but too small to “have a moment” in the play area. Plus it creates a cool “behind the couch” hideout for kiddos with some of the clutter hidden as you enter the house. Agree with the comments that no matter how you design the room, the kids will play where they want to play! Overall, I love Julie’s room suggestions.

Rhealyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Agree – a Kallax unit behind the couch (where we didn’t have to look at it later in the evenings) was one of the best choices we made when our son was younger.

Catherine
2 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

That’s brilliant! I was going to say swap the spaces, because my kids, when they were little, wanted to play in the spaces that were full of sunlight and views.

Rusty
2 years ago

I agree. Same layout, with a swaperoo of the ends. I immediately thought that the chair with ottoman is lovely for reading books with the little one, but there wasn’t much light … with swapping the areas around, the natural light from the window solves that issue and the floor lamp could then be where the chair is in Julie’s suggestion.
I think swapping them around is great.
Also, presuming the fireplace is functional, having the play area nearer the fireplace is fine, withe caveat of a firescreen and since kiddos are often on the floor, they will get a little more warmth while the heat rises up to where the “growm-ups” are sitting.

Christina
2 years ago

I thought the exact same thing! We created a play zone in our dining room that’s pretty out of sight and it’s totally freed up the living room to be mostly adult stuff, which is amazing!

shana
2 years ago

OMG – I read this and thought it was going to help me carve out adult and kid spaces in my quarantine house. Any chance you could do a post on that? Their stuff is EVERYWHERE. We turned our dining room into an art studio, cause no one is coming over for dinner, but how can we design with what we have to keep everyone happy while all sharing the same small spaces?

Annie K
2 years ago
Reply to  shana

Our dining room table is also now half art studio! Ha.

This may not be applicable if you have bigger kids, but something that’s helped me tremendously in this period, at home alone with a 1 yr old and a 3 yr old, is actually to stash away/put in our goodwill pile about 50% of our toys. Having fewer things to get taken off shelves and strewn about has been essential. My partner brilliantly stashed favorite toys (especially ones with multiple parts) on a high closet shelf, but arranged nicely and/or in clear bags so that we can see what they are. Our three year old gets to see and pick from them, but she trades one toy for another so there’s less out at a time.

Reply to  Annie K

This is a VERY good point! I forgot to mention that in my comment earlier. One of the biggest/best things you can do is limit the amount of toys coming in. I try really hard with this and I feel like we do a decent job of it and we still have kid crap everywhere. My sister is major hardcore about not letting crappy junk toys in and not letting very many in at all. She has twin 2 year olds and a new baby and they have a major minimalist looking home. But not sterile. Just neat as a pin. She is just very vigilant about it, and she has a closet full of toys that she rotates in so that the kids don’t get bored with stuff and only a small amount of stuff is out at at time. And her house is teeny. Makes a huge difference.

Rusty
2 years ago
Reply to  Annie K

Fab-u-lous idea! Seriously, they nevvvver play with everything at once anyway. This is teaching how to make choices and soothing everyone’s existence. A good habit from the start. ?

Katie
2 years ago

I was thinking a similar layout but in my mind swapped the couch and chairs to separate the spaces a bit more. And could put a sofa tavle behind with storage 🙂

Lisa
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Rose

Agree with swapping and also a piano height bench or flat topped trunk is perfect height for toddlers to work on puzzles etc. My son loves having a table his height.
Another reader mentioned flipping the whole areas and that’s what we have at our house. We love having a low table by the window for plant experiments.

Julie
2 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I was just coming here to say this! 🙂 Even the low, under-window storage could be moved to behind the sofa if they were swapped (assuming the dimensions were appropriate), which would make the play room area feel more open, as fewer case goods would be prominently visible when you enter the room. Also, to my eye, a pair of chairs better engages the bay window space, whereas a sofa blocks it off, making it less of a feature (it’s gorgeous!), forfeiting the floor space behind it, visibly shrinking the room, and possibly blocking some light. As Katie said, the sofa would also better divide the room.

Michelle
2 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I have exactly that layout in my long room with a retro side board/console behind the sofa, all the kids stuff gets shoved into the drawers and cupboards (or not depending on the day) and when I eventually sit on the sofa the mess is behind me so my anxiety isnt triggered. #twoundertwo now 4&5.5 and it still works!

Roberta Davis
2 years ago

I like your plan, Julie. I was thinking the same with swapping the entry moment to the other side of the door, but the bench with storage for shoes makes a lot of sense where you put it, too. I would have put the sofa where you did and create a gown-up conversation area as you have, while allowing for both an open play area and enough space to easily walk through to the dining room. I like the convo area where you have placed it for several reasons- the fireplace makes it cozy and you wouldn’t want toddlers playing too close to the fire as their main space. And it looks nicer when you first come in or even if you are looking in from outside. I also like the chair in the play area, for story time. Great job- as expected! I might add more light sources and maybe a small end table or two at the sofa for drinks. The one thing I might be worried about is the glass cabinet exposed to crashes and falls! What a fun way to help your readers!

Roberta Davis
2 years ago

Don’t you love SketchUp for things like this? I assume that is SketchUp. I love it.

Roberta Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

Or is it ChiefArchitect? My friend uses that.

Rebekah
2 years ago

These posts are so great! Thoroughly enjoying them. Love all the suggestions. Would be awesome to be able in some way to see any “after” pics once changes have been made. Not sure if that’s a possibility, just love the suggestions and thought it’d be fun to see what people end up doing.

Rusty
2 years ago
Reply to  Rebekah

Yesss!!! Before and after shots … we love ’em, don’t we!?! ?

Haley
2 years ago
Reply to  Rebekah

I was hoping we could get some afters as well!

S. Norris
2 years ago

The living room area with the coach near the fireplace with it’s back to the window makes perfect sense. Rather than incorporate the play area to the livingroom, I would leave it as a more adult/entertaining space and move your dinning room to the remaining area shared by the living room. When you enter the home you see a beautiful livingroom and what is more welcoming to family and friends than a pretty dinning space.
In the old dinning room you would have space for shelves with books and basket bins for toy storage. A child’s table and 2 chairs to one side and a large rug for playing on the floor and playing. The other end of the room paint the wall with chalk paint and have an area for drawing and posting art.

Donna
2 years ago
Reply to  S. Norris

I love Julie’s plan, but this idea is also intriguing. I grew up in an urban apartment built circa 1890’s which had what we called railroad car rooms (opening to each other like a railroad car). Tricky for space planning, but we too had the dining room in the first space you entered. If that is a kitchen to the other side of the dining room, I could see an advantage to having that room be a casual play, study, maybe even small casual eating space if the kitchen is not eat-in. This way, the entry is the most formal, and adults in the kitchen, or the living room, can keep an eye on kiddo/s.

Roberta Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Donna

I think they called this space plan “enfilade”- yes- see?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enfilade_(architecture)

Rusty
2 years ago
Reply to  S. Norris

Bingo! Great idea.

Julie
2 years ago
Reply to  S. Norris

I love this idea so much! It seems so obvious and natural, and yet I didn’t think of it. I would 100% do this is this were my home.

Samantha
2 years ago

Oh pleeease let the homeowner implement your plan and send us pics of the after! I agree with another commenter about putting a console table behind the sofa. Love it!

JP
2 years ago

Love the plan. Can I just say the parakeet cage in the inspo picture is cracking me up? Love my little parakeet, but I can’t imagine hanging it over my couch. Seeds, feathers, bird droppings would be everywhere!
That said- parakeets make awesome little pets

Rusty
2 years ago
Reply to  JP

Hahaha ?
My sister had one in a cage and it, literally, used to fire it’s poo sideways, at the wall. They moved the cage further and further from the wall and it still did it! Hilarious!
BTW:Did you know that birds don’t wee (pee), they only poo! TMI??

Sara
2 years ago

Any way we can see afters of these suggestions?

Stephanie
2 years ago

Love these posts so much! Please keep doing them.

Beth
2 years ago

Being a mom of two, (and a one time kid myself), I immediately knew that the spot BEHIND the couch and in front of the bay window is going to be where the kids will immediately want to go! I love this redesign but I would add something small and special behind the couch, if space permits, that would create a secret cozy hideaway. It could be something like a low, shallow shelf for books and a small beanbag chair and throw, or a row of nice looking lidded baskets along the back of the couch for additional toy storage. And no one will ever see it except from the outside through the window. It would actually be more interesting from the outside to create a sweet little vignette there than it would be to look at the back of a couch. Even just a narrow sofa table would give you more storage and a place for folks on the couch to put drinks, etc.

Julie S
2 years ago

Your recommendation is super similar to what I’d suggest! I’m familiar with both a long, narrow living/playroom area (this house) and direct entry to LR, pass through to dining room (last house). As the little one becomes 2 or 3 you would probably take that large chair and ottoman out, to be replaced with a table and chair for spreading out with drawings, crafts, activities. Or a play kitchen or whatever the child is into. Lucky reader and great design advice!

Meggan
2 years ago

Kimberly, now we need to see the after!!! 🙂 Great use of space and re-use of furniture!

crcr
2 years ago

I can’t help but think that turning furniture AWAY from that huge window is a missed opportunity.

Michelle
2 years ago

I have a living room that’s extremely hard to put furniture in as well as a large tv. If there is a way for me to send information on where I should put everything please let me know. If you want a challenge email me. mcarnahan2@gmail.com

Lisa
2 years ago

Yours is such a good plan though, Julie! I can’t even think of anything to add 😀 I love these posts though! It’s so fun to play around with layouts and new ideas and your suggestions (and everyone in the commments) is always so helpful – plus looking into other peoples homes is always fun too 😉 I love the idea of intentionally opening the posts up like this – very cool!

Angie
2 years ago

I need help, I have a small guest room that I need to design for my 4 year old grandson, my newborn granddaughter and my 25 year old daughter when she comes to visit and any other guest that visit us at our beach house. Like I said the room is small and only fits a twin bed. How do I decorate a room like that? I’m stumped on colors and accessories. Help.

Rusty
2 years ago
Reply to  Angie

Those bunk-ish beds with the double on the bottom and the single on the top!

Amy Kelly
2 years ago

GREAT post. Enjoyed this so much. Really love the new layout. I like the play area where it is but agree having another comfy seat would be good. Having it there means the kids will be nearby if you are in the dining room area also. We have a similar living room with multiple doors. Painting the doors and door surrounds the same colour as the walls has made it feel so much more relaxing and less like a hallway/ transit zone. Thought this would work well here?

Kristen
2 years ago

I love your recommendations! However (since I’m currently in a living room conundrum myself), I’m curious about the oval rug placement- will it feel lopsided the way it’s positioned in the space next to the rectangle area rug? Is there a reason you chose not to center the oval rug?

CW
2 years ago

Just commenting to say you all really seem to be in a good groove right now, which has to be super tough with not being able to collaborate in person. I’m sure it was so stressful in the beginning, but it is obvious you’ve worked hard brainstorming content. I really, really love this series in particular!

Amy Kelly
2 years ago
Reply to  CW

Strongly agree! Great content providing such well needed escapism at the current time. Thanks x

Jessica
2 years ago

Aw! Y’all liked my crowdsourcing idea!

These days we need all the opportunities to be there for each other that we can get, thanks for facilitating <3

peter
2 years ago

thanks

peter
2 years ago

if you have the play area by the bay window, they get that section of the room to be their kid mess and play area, and they can look out the window as they are playing. And if they don’t clean up right away, or want to leave out a project/lego build for a while, it doesn’t get in anyone’s walking space
https://thammyxinh.vn/top-7-dia-chi-hoc-phun-xam-tham-my-chuyen-nghiep-tot-nhat-o-tp-hcm/

Jo
2 years ago

Really loving these posts! I find them so helpful! Thanks so much!

Stephanie
2 years ago

Julie, I love your design but I really like the idea of using the dining room as the children’s play area and bringing the dining table into the living room. Kimberly can then have an adult space and a kid’s space.
Children can learn to tidy up but toys will always be there. Having been a preschool teacher for twenty years, trust me, little ones like to spread out when they play. All the “kid clutter” can be tuck away in the window area which is now in the dining room.
When my children were toddlers I had a plastic kiddie pool (no water) in our living room which we used to contain their toys. When it was time to clean up they just tossed all the toys in the pool!

2 years ago

As a parent of 3, I 100% LOVE the couch in front of the window, and was going to suggest that before I got halfway through reading the post. My 1 year old’s favorite activity is standing up on the couch and looking out of our big picture window! Seriously, it saves many a meltdown to go look out the window and watch the neighborhood (especially while on quarantine, haha). I would also highly recommend some sort of pouf/squishy ottoman for the kids’ area. We have a cute square leather one from Urban Outfitters that is sort of rough on the bottom so it doesn’t slide too easily on the floor (huge bonus!). A total change might be — would it make more sense for the dining room to switch to the second “half” of the living room, and make what is the dining room now a full separate playroom? We had a ton of success with flopping those in our similarly-laid out previous house. Obviously we didn’t get a full view of the dining room in these pics but maybe worth a shot, since when you’re dealing with a dining room all you need is a table and that… Read more »

Rachel
2 years ago

We have a similarly shaped space and we put a kids table and chairs by the window (could easily be behind the couch) – this is where we serve snacks and do a lot of crafts not on a rug so messes are easier to clean. As a mom, I appreciate having the main play area be more centrally located in the house, as in the plan here, as it gives you maximum access/visibility even when in other parts of the house.

Rusty
2 years ago

Soooo, even Aussies can have a go at this one and send in a design agony?
Would you still run with it????? ??

I have a living room with a fireplace flanked by two small windows, swing leadlight doors at two ends and only ONE wall! So tricky. We can’t even put the TV over the mantle because there are picture /plate rails all the way around the room.We restored the house (nearly 100) instead of renovating, plus we have brick walls, so it does my head in on a daily basis.

Sahaja
2 years ago

You guys have done such a wonderful job keeping up creative content while not being able to do in person things. This series, in particular, I LOVE. I also agree with other commenters who say that the play area would be great under the window. You could even do a bench with storage cubbies under the window. Styling kids toys Montessori style at their height. Then the wall where the glass cabinet is now can be a display for kid art. My son can sit for ages looking out a window, and he’s 1.5 yrs old so that’s actually saying something!

April
2 years ago

The proposed layout looks great and meets their needs. If they’re feeling a little energetic and adventurous, another option could be moving the dining table to the area where the proposed play area would be (looks like there’s a ceiling fixture centered over that area already) and transform the smaller dining room into the play area. The dining room has built in storage and more clearly defined boundaries. Just a thought, it’s free and easy to move the dining table and see how it feels before committing to moving or purchasing anything else.

2 years ago

What if there was a tv over the fireplace. Would that impact the layout?

milo
2 years ago

Love this series and this recommendation! And the beautiful, historic space!

Vera
2 years ago

LOVE this post. So much fun. Great format – focusing on one space, including photos and floor plans. I’d love to see a rough mood board with this too! Julie your design is brilliant! Great variety of heights, finishes, and visual weight. I was stumped on the layout – I wanted to do what you did around the fireplace but thought that’d put the toys in a too “high traffic” area. But the way you tucked the play area in with the oval rug – perfect! Lots of good ideas in the comments too, although if it were my home I’d implement your design exactly as you have it. I have three littles and when they understand the boundaries they do make an effort to respect them. So I’d ask them to keep their toys on the oval rug and I think that would work. (At first when I read the suggestion to swap the sofa and chairs and put toy storage behind the sofa I agreed but then I went back to the floor plan and I think this would put the toys too close to the walking path. Also love the minimal white one you linked to –… Read more »

Cici Haus
2 years ago

I would float the couch (or perhaps a bigger one) in front of the bay window, in line with the door. Since the kiddo is only one now, I’d make the space behind the couch inside the bay window area the play space. It’d be somewhat hidden which is both super fun for the kiddo and good for the parents’ sanity. Use a behind-the-sofa console table for toy storage and a place for cups/lamp on top for the couch. As for the rest of the room, no other real recommendations but I LOVE the lawyer cabinet!

Britt
2 years ago

Thats exactly the layout I was thinking as well! Perfect for cozying up to the fire!

Maya
2 years ago

This is awesome and very helpful.

Sahara
2 years ago

I really love this room! Kimberly, I want to see how it looks after you’ve had your way with it 🙂

ks
2 years ago

Julie & EHD team, how do you budget for a project like this? I’m considering working with an interior designer on redoing my living room & dining nook. They’ve given me a $10,000 estimate for redoing my living room, dining nook and I wanted to understand whether that cost is reasonable and how you dig into a big dollar proposal like this to evaluate it. Thank you!

Jenms
2 years ago

I love your suggestions, Julie! The one thing I would do differently is in the corner to the right of the arch to the dining room where you’ve suggested a glass cabinet. The ceilings are so tall that it seems a shame not to engage the height of the room somehow. Toddlers and heights don’t mix all that well, but would there be some sort of safe, skinny vertical play structure that could really play up that corner? If it were my house (I don’t have kids) I’d actually make that whole corner into a vertical garden / living wall.

katherine ogilvie
2 years ago

Great blog / discussion idea. Not completely related but can I just ask – do you create this on sketchup – including the furniture? Thank you!

Diane OSullivan
2 years ago

What about using the dining space as the playroom and moving the dining table into the non fireplace space in the front room?

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