Dens are often designed to be “man caves,” but that doesn’t mean they can’t be family-friendly, too.

Regardless of the size of your den, it is possible to create an appealing space that can be enjoyed by every member of the house. Think of it as a retreat: a place to read, a quiet office, an alternative playroom for the kids, plus a place to watch movies and the big game.

Start by making the space gender neutral, using a mix of bold and soft colors. Blend deep chocolate browns or black with softer colors such as lime green, powder blue or even lavender. Want a brighter color? Try incorporating a cheery citrus color such as lemon yellow.

Begin to use color: Layer your color using different shades of the same color, then carry the color through to the accessories and furniture. Love the look of wood? Select woods like walnut with a lot of yellow undertones, which will also help to lighten a space.

Find colorful accessories: To add color and texture, incorporate toss pillows or accent pieces such as pottery or pillows. Nubby pillows and soft, thick area rugs such as shag introduce texture and visual interest, plus they just beg to be sit on or lain across.

A tall vessel filled with lemons or limes is a quick and easy decorative tip for a dining or coffee table accent.

Lighten up: One reason dens tend to have that heavy “man cave” feel is the tendency to fill them with dark, overstuffed furniture, which adds visual weight to a space.

When designing a den that makes the whole family feel welcome, mix light and heavy materials. An overstuffed leather couch looks great, but soften it up with a toss pillow or throw.

Don’t make the room all about the electronics, either. Design it to feel more like a “retreat.” Here’s where a “soft” color such as off-white, cool gray, soft lavender or a rich taupe can provide a visual break from the wall of black screens and displays.

An accent wall: Consider painting one wall in your den an accent color. A single wall splashed with a bold color creates a focal point without overwhelming the rest of the room. Accent colors not only add interest, but can also help to define a space architecturally. Some of my favorite colors for accent walls are medium/warm yellows, rich off-whites, and citrus colors like green, yellow or orange.

With the right mix, the “man cave” can still feel like home for the whole family.

Cathy Hobbs, based in New York City, is an Emmy Award-winning television host and a nationally known interior design and home staging expert with offices in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. Contact her at

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