Ask a Designer: Turning porch into usable family room

The Detroit News

Q. Would I ever love to have some ideas for my family room! It is a very narrow and long room (91/2 feet by 221/2feet) and the room is cut in half by an entrance way that was the old door wall and the new door wall is right across from the old door wall. The new door wall leads out into our "old" sun porch, which is aluminum with windows. Thank you so much for any ideas you can give us.

Joan, Livonia

A. Charles Dunlap of the Dunlap Design Group in Pleasant Ridge says many homes have rooms like this one — a space that used to be a patio, but was enclosed to make another living space. "Unfortunately, they often tend to be narrow and contain numerous openings where old exterior doors and windows used to be located," he says.

Dunlap says the first thing he would do is edit this room's finishes:

■Remove the white paneling and re-drywall, if necessary. This will go a long way to visually making this room feel less like a porch and more like part of the rest of the house.

■Paint the walls a warm color or wallpaper to make it feel less patio-like.

■Eliminate the mirror above the fireplace; it makes the room appear short.

■Change the carpet out to a geometric pattern such as the Schumacher Nigel that Dunlap selected. Tip: The lines of this pattern going in different directions make it feel less boxy and create the illusion of a wider room.

As far as the furniture plan, Dunlap says one trick to make a room appear less narrow is to move the furniture away from the walls and to "float" it in the room where possible. "It is a design fallacy that the fireplace always has to take center stage," he says. "In this case, it makes a great supporting element."

With an arched-opening in the center, Dunlap says the room really calls out for two activity areas. He recommends:

■For TV viewing on one side, a Thayer Coggin smaller-scale sectional from RJ Thomas Ltd. provides optimal seating.

■To contrast the straight lines of the sectional, add a shapely Bolier & Co. accent chair next to the wall-mounted TV.

■A McGuire glass-topped table available at Baker is positioned in the center of the space; this is a great spot to play games or eat while watching the television. The McGuire chairs placed on a diagonal create visual interest.

■A warm wood Hickory Chair chest from Henredon Interior Design Showroom fills the space next to the asymmetrical fireplace and can be used for an impromptu bar while entertaining.

■Drapery adds dimension to an otherwise flat wall; it should be mounted at the ceiling to add height to the room.

■Accessories with a sculptural quality should be chosen to add shape, dimension and interest.

Do you have a design dilemma? Send your questions to Or mail them to "Ask a Designer," c/o Michigan Design Center, 1700 Stutz Drive, Suite 25, Troy, MI 48084. Pictures are encouraged. Your question may appear in an upcoming Homestyle.