Whether it’s transforming an existing area or creating something in an untouched space, these living rooms show how to strike the balance between lounging and entertaining, and convert just another room into The Place To Be (especially if you can play a tune).
With any design project, there’s something freeing about starting from scratch, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy — no matter what stage a designer starts from, there’s still pressure to capture the client’s style within the existing layout. That’s why when this family of four wanted to finish their MacTaggart home’s basement, they took their time and hired help. “When I got there, it was just drywall,” says Jehan Hamdan-Fayad of Modern Era Design.
“I think they thought, you know what, let’s just hire a designer and get this right.”
So started Hamdan-Fayad’s process of presenting different options for mirrors, lighting, flooring, counters and the carpet, as well as 3D renderings of potential bar designs. That was stage one. “I ended up doing a little presentation and gave them all the information they needed,” she explains. “They took all that in and hired a contractor, then called me back when it was ready to furnish.” Stage two involved more lighting choices, the general colour scheme, deceptively real-looking metal cladding wallpaper on the feature wall and furnishing to go along with a few pieces they already had, including a bad-ass corner cabinet that matches the basement’s modern-yet-rustic tone.
But what sets the tone sits at the basement’s opposite end: A full band setup, complete with guitars, drums, amps, speakers and microphones. Both boys (11 and 14 years old) take lessons and play with dad, mom sings and friends join them for full blown jams next to an enlarged canvassed photo print of Cafe Wha?, the family’s favourite spot in New York that’s famous for giving a young Jimi Hendrix an early stage. “The whole family loves music,” Hamdan-Fayad says, “and it was something completely different than my typical projects. It was exciting and we just had fun with it. They were so easy to work with so it was a great experience for me and for them.”
But even family bands need a crowd, which is where the wet bar comes in, providing a tiled-floored space for guests to drink, cheer or even wait their turn for some live karaoke.
Working with a blank slate gives designers and clients total control of the environment, which is why unfinished basements are Hamdan-Fayad’s favourite spot to unleash her creative design ideas. “You don’t want it to feel like you’re in a dungeon, all dingy and dark. And I feel that basements are often left out, or considered just a place to put the kids. But I look at it as a chance to surprise people, to make a place where you’re comfortable, but still surrounded by beautiful things.” With its big comfy couch, industrial chic style and jam space, Hamdan-Fayad’s helped create not only a beautiful basement, but one of the most stylish music venues in the city.
When a family lives in a house long enough, the house eventually changes. In the case of this Riverbend family, the change they sought was to actually start using their living room.
“Everything is entirely different,” says Tracy Fortin of Flawless Interiors, who renovated the living area (and eventually the entire house). “The piano used to be in their other living room at the front of the house, which they never used.” That room became their new dining room and they knocked down a small office wall, opening the main floor and making space for where the piano now stands. The maple wood feature wall with the granite-ensconced fireplace used to be a bay window, but, by replacing it with a new, backyard-facing window, and knocking down the wall, there ended up being more light than before.
Growing up, the family’s five kids practiced piano and cello in the original living room. But with only the youngest still living at home, the family wanted an open area for guests to gather around and watch the adult siblings shine. Looking for a functional, scratch-resistant floor, Fortin convinced them to take out the original dark slate and put down porcelain tile in a herringbone pattern. “Probably my favourite thing on that job was that floor,” she says. “Most people are doing hardwood or luxury vinyl plank. So it was just a different, kind of unique element to the project.”
Despite a nearly empty nest, the space is still family-focused and, for this family, that means TV is optional — they’re more likely to binge-read books by the backyard window than stare at a screen.
“Mom was a nurse and a music teacher and dad is an anesthesiologist, and they’re all very scholastic,” Fortin explains. “Sitting around watching Netflix from four to 10 isn’t really them, so being able to sort of tuck the TV away and not even know it’s there when they’re spending time with family, I think was was a nice feature for them to have.”
Formerly a closed-in space with yellow walls, the room represented the home’s early ’90s heritage well. And while the leather sectional remains, the room now represents a transitory time for the house and household alike. “I would describe it as a family-friendly transitional space,” says Fortin. “They wanted to feel less broken up around the house and more comfortable for their big family to share when they’re all there.”