Home Decor

Design tips for a family room: How to create a focal point

Designer Sarah Richardson answers this reader's question on turning a frumpy family room into a elegant entertainment space
By Sarah Richardson
Black and white Akurum cabinet with Nexus door, Ikea Akurum cabinet
Bird art print, Long-tailed Whydah print Long-tailed Whydah print
Drawer pull, Ventena pulls in antique brass, Lee Valley Ventena pulls
Wicker coffee table, Blonde Bamileke table Blonde Bamileke table
Three round vases, Alex Marshall, Hollace Cluny Alex Marshall vases
Patterned grey carpet, tin charcoal, Dash & Albert Dash & Albert carpet
White lamp Arteriors lamp
reader's family room, sarah richardson Brandi's family room
Living room, big screen TV, dark wood cabinets, prints, grey printed carpet, striped chair Stacey Brandford

Q: We just renovated our home, and now we need help with our family room's design. We're thinking of built-ins and a fireplace. How do you suggest making the most of this space?
- Brandi, Toronto

A: Installing bookshelves is a popular approach, but it's not always the best one, especially when considering the giant expanse of wall you have to deal with. Adding built-ins along the full run could get very expensive, and you'd need hundreds of books to fill them up.

1. Start with storage
A low run of cabinetry flanking the future fireplace (if you choose to go ahead with that) will offer storage for kids' toys, so they can be tidied up easily and won't take over the look of your living space. It will also offer you counter surface where you can add ambient lighting and show off your favourite finds — a small display area is often better, since full walls of bookshelves can be overwhelming. I'd suggest anchoring these low cabinets with fairly large decorative lamps that will balance the proportions of your leather furniture.

2. Add interest with texture
Stay with the contemporary vibe you already have going with the furniture, and think about bringing in some texture. Try a carved African stool-table and a soft carpet underfoot. Since the carpet is pure wool and has a pattern, it will be a nice surface for kids to play on, but it won't show wear and tear the way a solid colour would.

3. Finish with stylish accents
Dressing up the new cabinetry with fun hardware is a super way to add personality and impact to the classic slab door front. Finally, with the money you saved not buying built-ins, you'll be able to buy some interesting accessories to finish off the room; I would suggest antique prints to add impact and a decorative element to the walls. Don't lose momentum now — you're off to a great start!

Get this look: Arteriors lamp, $575, Ambienti Design. Plain Tin charcoal carpet (5 x 8 ft.), $564, Dash & Albert Rug Company. Alex Marshall vases, from $65, Hollace Cluny. Ventena pulls in Antique Brass, $7, Lee Valley. Akurum cabinet with Nexus door, $153, Ikea. Long-Tailed Whydah print, $17, Blonde Bamileke table, $550, Snob.

Designer Sarah Richardson hosts Sarah 101 airing Tuesdays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. EST on HGTV. Got a decorating dilemma? Send your photos and questions to


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