By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

More people are exchanging formal spaces in their homes for more casual and flexible spaces.

They realize they use a formal dining or living room only a few times a year. So, they renovate existing space or add on to make their physical surroundings reflect their more casual and open approach to family life.

Before Robin Harmston and her family decided to remodel their Salt Lake City home, they shopped around. “Every house had some kind of formal space, a formal living room or dining area,” she says. “We just don’t live like that.”

Like many of us, the Harmstons usually entertain only close friends and family, so why would they need a formal room? “Plus, I didn’t want to waste money on furnishing an unusable space,” she says.

Family designs house for casual lifestyle

After remodeling, the Harmstons’ contemporary great room is a casual, open space.

While many clients can get a casual, open great room by just re-arranging their existing space, the Harmstons ended up doing a full tear down-and-rebuild project. Their family needed more space up and out, and their lot allowed it. The Foothills home maintained its 1950s look but added nearly 2,000 usable square feet.

The Harmstons home holds true to the casual living theme starting at the front door. To the left you have the laundry/mudroom directly off the entryway. Typically, you don’t see a laundry room so close to the front door, but Harmston says it is perfect for her lifestyle, especially since she was used to having the laundry in the basement. “I am more efficient as a mommy with the laundry room on the main floor,” she says. “I seem to get more done.”

Even though this room is usually hidden behind closed pocket doors, it is one of Harmston’s favorite casual rooms in the house. This long room also holds the computer as well as cubbies and coat hangers for the kids. The family traffic usually enters the house through this room’s side door. They kick off their shoes here, immediately offering the “stay awhile” kind of mood.

To the right of the front door is as formal as the Harmstons’ space gets. It is a music room with the same pocket doors for privacy. This room is set up like a library/music room for a quiet place for her girls to practice the piano and violin.

With the bedrooms upstairs, the main level (aside from the two rooms we mentioned) is an open contemporary style, great room and kitchen. Harmston says this layout keeps her family close but they still have their privacy. “If my girls need privacy, they just go upstairs to their rooms and close the door,” she explains.

The great room was on the top of Harmston’s renovation wish list, as it is on many homeowners’ these days. Harmston says she had five priority items that she wanted to include in her dream house. A great room and main floor laundry room were two items.

If you are thinking about remodeling your home, you need to analyze your family’s lifestyle and begin to set your own priorities. This information is critical in working through the design and construction process to ensure that the final result will live up to your expectations.

Harmston was lucky because she already knew her design style, but if you don’t know yours, you should begin to determine it. Look through magazines, visit showrooms and model homes, watch design shows on TV, etc. and take notice of what you like. You will find a pattern in your likes and dislikes that will help you to determine your design style.

Design professionals can do more to help with the function and look of your house if you know your needs, goals and style. One of the reasons the Harmstons are so happy with their new home is that they took the time up front to analyze and prioritize.

“I don’t care if people judge me for not having a formal area in my house,” Harmston says. “My house isn’t made for anyone else but me.” As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Family designs house for casual lifestyle