Big Ideas for a Big Room

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Dec 18, 2013

How to make a 1960s-era space work for a modern family.
Big Ideas for a Big Room - overview of living room area
A main floor family room is the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail when house shopping. Who wouldn’t love a home with room for the whole family to sprawl out in casual comfort? The problem is that most older homes in the inner city weren’t built with family rooms as part of the plan. My clients had opposing viewpoints on whether to stay local or hit the highway in search of a home with enough open area. In the end, they settled on a 1960s-era ranch style home that boasted privacy, lots of space, and a giant main floor family room oozing with vintage character - but in dire need of a major makeover.
Big Ideas for a Big Room - stair detail

Strip It

If your home is stuck in a bygone decade, the only solution to achieving contemporary style is likely somewhat drastic. You don’t need to tear down walls, but you may need to peel back a few layers of “decorative” enhancements to arrive at a simple and streamlined base for moving forward. We ripped up broadloom, tore off trim, unloaded an old wood stove, and ripped out a cartload of stained oak. Suddenly, this split-level space looked more like a sleek, light-filled studio than a retro rumpus room, and its underlying strengths were revealed.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - Contemporary family room

Smooth It

One of our greatest obstacles in this house was an overabundance of stucco. We’re not just talking stippled ceilings here, my friends, but stucco everywhere! I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again : I hate stucco on any interior surface. I spend too much time getting rid of cheap stucco finishes. So how do I suggest you smooth out your stucco? The most economical approach I’ve found so far is to skim coat with plaster. It’s painstaking and it’s dusty, but it costs less than putting up new drywall. It wasn’t me spending days smoothing out all the bumps, sanding, and dealing with the mess, but one thing I do know is that having an envelope of smooth walls makes a huge difference to the room.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - family room
Big Ideas for a Big Room - sitting area white chairs with teak table, tempered glass stair railing on birch steps

Unify It

Among the challenges with this home’s original space was the multi-level plan, the sloped roof lines, and the combination of materials. Somehow, you have to overcome the design discord and make all these distinct elements work together. In this case, the answer was gallons and gallons of white paint. Suddenly the brick walls brightened, the ceilings soared, the views to the garden became more engaging, and the whole room began to read as one light, bright, contemporary cocoon. A little harmony goes a long way.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - sitting area white chairs with teak table, tempered glass stair railing on birch steps

Contemporize It

My clients expressed two different design briefs: one wanted “institutional modern” while the other wanted “mid-century warmth.” My job was to marry these two agendas and the solution rested on two elements with big impact: floors and glass railings. Six hundred square feet of engineered oak floor with a limed stain introduced the natural beauty of wood grain while still maintaining the stark monochromatic palette that would deliver the minimalist look. The raised dining platform offered its own set of challenges in terms of sightline and flow between living and dining areas. A custom glass-railing system allowed the dining room to “float: in the space. While the templating and installation of the railing is custom, the railings, connectors, post and base moulding are all stock components that can be mixed and matched for best results. The choice of floor and railing were a bit of a splurge, but getting the fundamentals right is the key to success.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - Fireplace view

Bling it

I wish I could show you the original wood stove. It had a log cabin on it - and just didn’t work in any way with our new direction. It had to go. In its place, we brought in a new element to redefine the room: A long, lean, gas fireplace that’s elevated to create a commanding focal point from every angle. Whether it’s walking in the front door, sitting in the living room or dining on the elevated platform, the new fireplace is on display from every angle. Slabs of marble or natural stone were way out of the budget , so I chose to clad the entire fireplace in 1- by 2-foot pieces of ocean blue limestone. Since there’s little variation in the veining, the tiles blend together and give the look of a monolith of stone to address the clients modern brief, yet the soft tonal striations running from side to side create an ocean horizon effect that’s calm and textural.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - dining area

Streamline it

Let’s face it, once you’ve finished overhauling a huge room, the budget has all but disappeared and you’re left to figure out how make the most of what remains. But furnishings are the all important elements that you come in contact with each and every day. It’s no time to give up and throw in the towel; it’s time to aim high, and shop wisely. My best advice for furnishing a big room like this is to use the fewest number of high impact, large scale pieces to create commanding vignettes and ample seating. Forget about little bits and bobs, and opt for simple, modern, streamlined pieces that compliment the cool, quiet backdrop you’ve just created. Pick simple, natural materials and covers that can be washed and removed for easy care, and you’ll always be able to give the room a fresh look with an accent colour if the desire ever strikes.

Big Ideas for a Big Room - family room sofa and coffee table
Big Ideas for a Big Room - family room coffee table detail
Big Ideas for a Big Room - kitchen island area - subway tile with chrome fixtures
Big Ideas for a Big Room - Three Bubble Lights
Originally published in:
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Source Guide:

dining chairs, custom media unit, bar cabinetry, sectional sofa, lounge chairs & white side tables , IKEA | hardwood flooring (Summit Designer: Cape Cod Oak, HCU64223), Torly's | glass railing supply and installation, 416.785.6309, Adanac Glass | fireplace (P Series, Model P52DF with glass beads), Montigo | fireplace, bar countertop & backsplash tile, 115 Tycos Dr., Toronto, ON, 416.441.2224, Saltillo Imports | wooden balls, mirrors in dining room, rug, lamps, baskets, silver leaf vase, chrome balls, light blue bowl, leaf plate on media console, grey vase, cutlery, cylinder vases on stairs, grey fur pillows, chevron pillow, throw on sofa, pair of chairs, silver bowl, water glasses, round vase on dining table, tortoise glass bowls, napkins & concrete stool, Homesense | dining table, glass side table, glass console table, bar stools, white vase on coffee table, frosted glass vase, vase behind sofa, dinnerware & metal stool between chairs, Urban Barn | custom pillow fabrics on sofa and chairs Kravet Fabrics | custom pillow sewing & inserts, 215 Spadina Ave. Toronto, ON, 416.596.8489, Dreams | Carlu chair, Sarah Richardson Design Inc. | dining room pendant, Morba | pendant light in bar, candle holders, metal vase, small glass bowl on coffee table, glasses on bar, pitcher & dessert bowls, 249 Gerrard St. E, Toronto, ON, 416.934.9009, Eclectisaurus | metal bowl on console & cable knit throw, Structube | living room side tables, UpCountry | coffee table, white and clear art glass piece, geode & orchid pot, 150 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, ON, 416.546.1760, Around the Block | cabinetry hardware, Lee Valley Tools | bar faucet, Home Depot | metal wall art behind bar, CB2 | cowhide rug, Craft Home and Decor, 600 Queen St. W., Toronto, On, 416.364.4497 | drapery fabric (Ditalis: OO, 32257) and drapery hardware, 1360 Queen St W., Toronto, ON, 416.531.2810, Designer Fabrics Outlet | baseboard & trim, Brenlo | windows, doors & installation of windows and doors, 8985 Woodbine Ave, Markham, ON, 905.470.0599, Fieldstone Windows | flowers, Jong Young Flowers, 28 Avenue Rd., Toronto, ON, 416.922.4421

Trades

contractor, MBKL LTD. Custom Contracting, 416.836.7295 | installation of fireplace tile, JAV Contracting Inc., 905.760.9600 | installation of cabinetry, IKEA Installation Services, IKEA | electrician, Spindel Electric Inc., 416.725.3222

Paint Colours

ceiling, walls & trim - Natural White (50YY 83/029), Dulux