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Written by:  Cathy Downs
Date: February 1, 2011

If one of your resolutions is to update a family living space, rest assured you don't have to spend a fortune to corral toys and clutter, streamline the space, and create a fresh look for a new year. It just takes being a little creative and looking at space in a deliberate way.

When considering how to freshen up any room, including family, bonus or playrooms, professional organizer Molly Gold of Go Mom! in Apex recommends that you edit out what you don't need in the room.

"Keep the word 'fresh' in your mind. Write it down and define what the essence of the word means to you. Ask yourself, 'How does it feel to me? How does the room need to be different?'" says Gold, a mother of three.

Think of the family room as a space for renewal and the playroom as playful for both children and adults, she adds.

Clear the clutter

"Sometimes just cleaning out clutter in spaces gives a whole new look to rooms. Opening them up often makes the rooms seem larger and more comfortable," says Martha Burpitt, professor of human environmental sciences and interior design program coordinator at Meredith College in Raleigh. "Think of how great a space looks when you've cleaned it up for a party."

Pare down the accessories such as knick-knacks, plants or photographs, says Burpitt, a nationally certified interior designer. Removing just one or two pieces, whether a piece of furniture or a decorative item, from a room totally changes its look and feel, she adds.

Gold's advice is similar: "Don't clutter the space," she says, adding that you need clean visual lines. She recommends thinking about how you can modify the room so it's not cluttered. Ask yourself:

Is an item important?

Is it a key cornerstone of the space, like a sofa or TV?

Does it have sentimental value?

Does it have a function?

Everything in a room needs to engage, entertain or endear you to the space, Gold says. For example, books engage, media entertains, and photos and mementos endear.

Make space for people

Gold believes the family room and playroom spaces need to be soft — think of pillows, rounded corners — and clutter-free. The furniture needs to be inviting and comfortable, and she suggests getting rid of heavy draperies. The most people gather in these areas, so make room for them, she says.

Instead of a coffee table, Gold recommends an ottoman that is big enough to function as a footstool and coffee table.For serving food or drink, she suggests adding a big serving tray to use as a temporary coffee table. "It changes the nature of the room," Gold says. "The serving tray functions as a coffee table for food, and it doesn't get cluttered."

For playrooms, Gold recommends against having a couch or chairs since the area needs to be open for physical play. She suggests beanbag chairs instead. Strategically placing them in corners brightens that area and provides space to play interactive gaming systems, she says.

Organize toys

Toys can quickly overtake a room. To keep them manageable:

Use a small play tent (around 4 feet by 4 feet) for toy storage, Burpitt suggests. It's ideal for kids younger than 5. At the end of day, all toys go in the tent so the area looks picked up. This is especially useful in a combination family room/play area.

Organize toys in baskets or plastic bins and cubbies.

Gold encourages parents to help their children go through their toys and eliminate what they don't need.

Just add paint

"Paint is always a good way to go if [you're] looking for an affordable change, one that can be a [do-it-yourself] project and can make a bold statement," Burpitt says.

"Changing paint can make a room seem more open, especially when using lighter colors, and darker colors can make a room feel cozier," she says.

You can paint the entire room a different color or paint just one wall as an accent. Burpitt suggests pulling the new color(s) from the sofa upholstery or window treatments.

Change wall decorations

What's hanging up? Changing or modifying the wall decorations can make a big impact. The following suggestions don't require buying major new pieces:

Look at the art on the walls throughout your house, then move a piece of art from one room to another, Burpitt suggests. In a new location, you see the art all over again.

Pull two to three small pieces of art together from different rooms into a single grouping.

Freshen up a piece of art by getting a different mat color but keep the frame and glass.

Add decorative words, e.g., Live Love Laugh.

Apply a silhouette. Some companies make stick-on stencils of various patterns, such as vines, flowers, birds, butterflies or playful designs for kids' areas.

Use a photo bulletin board instead of having lots of little frames everywhere. Cover the entire surface with photos of vacations, friends, family, etc.

Get new accessories

Considering a new lamp to enhance an area? The following are economical options:

Change table or floor lamps. "You can find them not just at home stores, but at yard sales and thrift stores," Burpitt says.

Repaint a lamp, perhaps with bubble paint, or glue on broken tiles, pieces of china, glass beads, wooden letters, small toys, or action figures. Apply a stencil or sponge paint it. "It's especially fun for children to create one for their own spaces," Burpitt says.

Adding pillows or throws also brightens up a room. "They're a nice addition to a room without breaking the bank," Burpitt notes.

Change window treatments

New window treatments can be expensive, but Burpitt has several low-cost ideas, especially if you sew:

Install inexpensive valences or flounces.

Create a cornice by gluing cloth napkins, turned on a diagonal, to bendable fiber board, foam core or foam insulation board. Alternate solid and patterned napkins or inexpensive material.

Find inexpensive material to sew a drape swag or make a pocket for a curtain rod in napkins or material. You can even add inexpensive tassels.

Have fun and enjoy your cozy "new" space with family and friends during the winter days when more time is spent indoors.

Cathy Downs is a freelance writer who lives in Cary with her family.


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