Use a room in an unexpected way

Vicki Payne
Charlotte Observer

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 if you take another look.

If you have a kitchen island, chances are that’s where most of your daily meals are consumed. 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 book racks. 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.

If you can’t afford a new floor, consider removing carpets and painting the floor in one or both spaces.

The idea is to 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.

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. Reach her at