7 Ways to Rethink Your Underused Rooms

As the Spring real estate season flourishes, and escrows close by the thousands, many home buyer’s fantasies of ownership become reality. For many, the house hunt is a quest for the the holy grail of more square footage. But the reality of home ownership is this: you furnish and decorate the spaces in your home according to their planned purpose (e.g., dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.) only to realize that you spend 80 percent of your time in 20 percent of your home’s square footage!

Most homeowners who have formal living and dining rooms rarely use them (Thanksgiving and Christmas are but two days of the year). Similarly, millions of square feet in great rooms, breakfast nooks, laundry rooms and hallways and even “spare” bedrooms go underused - space wasted most or all of the year. 

Sometimes this is simply a sign that you have a really great kitchen or bedroom that you love - and love to be in.  But it’s often an indicator that there might be a little disconnect between your everyday life and the way you’ve chosen to configure your home.  In either case, given the cost of those precious square feet, it is a worthwhile endeavor to do what you can to make as many of them as lovable and livable as possible!

There is a cure for the scourge of wasted space:  rethinking your rooms. The fact that a room is called a dining room or a breakfast area does not mean that’s the only function you can do there. In fact, I propose that buyers and owners alike might want to spend some time this Spring rethinking and rearranging your rooms to live to the very edges of your precious square footage. Here are a few ideas for repurposing your underused spaces at home:

1.  Too-small bedroom into closet or extra bathroom.  If you have a bedroom so tiny that it’s barely usable as such, and only when the occasional guest rolls into town, consider getting a sleeper sofa or making friends with a concierge at the hotel down town and converting the little bedroom into an amazing closet. I did this at my last home - simply opened up the wall between the small room and the master, inserted floor to ceiling closet doors and called in a closet organizing company to help trick my new closet out with shoe racks, sweater shelves, rods at varying heights and drawers. 

Best. Closet. Ever.  And to boot, I no longer found myself griping about the unusable little room!

If you have a little more money to invest and could use an extra bathroom, a too-small bedroom makes for a good, efficient bathroom - especially if it’s located next to another bathroom, so the plumbing already exists.

2.  Wide hallway or under-stairs space into study or storage areas.  You might be thinking: “Are you nuts lady?  I don’t have any “extra” rooms!”  Even if every proper room in your home is spoken for and being used, you might still be able to find underutilized areas and spaces in your home that you can arrange more efficiently and squeeze maximum use out of those square feet.  Common culprits are very wide hallways and spaces under the stairs, both of which make excellent spaces for custom built-in storage cabinets or desks.  Need some inspiration?  Visit online home design wonderland Houzz, where there’s a whole category for under-stair design ideas and pics from real homes.

3.  Dining room into office or game room.  Probably the number one room conversion I hear homeowners consider is the change of a formal dining room into an office. Think about it - you might use the dining room a couple of days a year - a couple of weeks, max, if you are an avid entertainer or dinner party host.  But these days, many people work at home, at least part of the time, and running a household is a job of its own, generating papers, files and bills galore. Kids also need a study area for homework and school projects. 

Now, with wifi and laptops, all these work and study activities can happen anywhere in a home.  But many families find their best case scenario is to have one room with well-arranged desks, lighting, seating, monitors and office supplies, where one or many family members can contain their work and study activities and clutter. This promotes balance and calm in the rest of the home and minimizes distractions to boost focus.

4.  Breakfast nook into computer or bill-paying area.  There’s something very sweet and romantic about the notion of a breakfast nook. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a nook and an eat-in kitchen island or other casual dining area, you might find yourself using the nook more for organizing the family calendars and paying the bills than for eating.  If this is how things go for you, it might make sense to lean on into what you’re already using this space for and optimize it by bringing organization and storage solutions to the area to cut clutter and make even your bill paying a bit more enjoyable. 

Consider installing a bulletin or chalk board, a table with a drawer in which you can stash your laptop and ensure you have drawer storage for your files, checkbook, pens or other objects you need to handle the family business. 

5.  Too-large great room into living, dining, study and play area.  A surprising number of homeowners with great rooms find that they furnish these massive, vaulted rooms beautifully upon moving in, never to enter more than a corner of the space again.  A great room presents the perfect opportunity to carve out and repurpose the space you have in a way that aligns with the activities your family actually does on a regular basis.  If you have a great room, but no casual dining space, why not make the area nearest to the kitchen into a breakfast nook-inspired dining area - there are scads of bar-height tables and stools on the market for precisely this purpose.  No spare room for an office?  Consider setting up a desk, chair and lamps or whatever other office area equipment your family needs in one segment of the great room.

And there’s absolutely no reason you can’t use furniture and carpets to turn your great room into more of a multipurpose room, strategically laying things out and arranging furnishings to host your family’s living, dining, study and recreation areas all within four walls.

6.  Basement or laundry room into mudroom or pet grooming area.  Many people think “underused space” and what instantly comes to mind is the basement. Basements have been finished with sheet rock, painted, carpeted and turned into living areas as long as human beings have been into home improvement. But here’s the rub: in many parts of the country, older homes were built over raised basements because the builders knew the lower areas were susceptible to flooding in the rain or snow.  In such areas and cases, it might not make sense to finish the basement with carpet and other things that will be ruined if they get wet.

That said, basements often have entry doors to the exterior of the home, and many have plumbing.  This makes them the ideal site for a tiled mudroom, with racks and shelves for family members to stash their muddy, wet shoes, coats, umbrellas and even sports gear - and a sink or other area where they can clean up a bit so as not to track their wintry messes upstairs.  Same goes for oversized laundry rooms that were built in the days before full-sized stacking, front-loaders were even a possibility - if you have oodles of extra laundry room space, rethink it into a mudroom/laundry room combo.

If you live in an area with mild winters, but you have canine family members, the very features which make basements and laundry rooms great mudrooms render them prime sports for installing a pet bath or shower area.

7.  Formal living room into library.  Are you a book junkie? It’s relatively harmless, as vices go, with one exception: it can be excessively space consuming.  By this I mean, it can be excessively clutter-creating, if you don’t get a handle on it.  If you have a formal living or dining room that is simply not being used, consider lining the walls with bookshelves - bought or built in - and converting the space into a library. Comfortable, well-lit seating and a desk or writing area will finish the room off. 

If books don’t float your boat or you have switched entirely over to e-reading, this same model can be applied to any space-sucking collection that you spend more time enjoying than you spend in your formal living or dining room.

Source~   April 24, 2013 10:08 AM  By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA