Your house has a finite number of square feet, and it is incumbent upon each of us to make sure we are using that space to our greatest advantage.


Undersued space A Underused space b

A spare bedroom was an underused space that has been transformed into a music room. (Annie V. Schwemmer)

Many people come to us thinking they need an addition, and sometimes they are correct. But whether you add on to your house or not, the first step to improving your life is to stop and objectively look at the existing space in your home.

How are you using your space? What are you using it for? Is there space that is underused?

Next, analyze your family’s needs. Just because a family in the 1940s sat having polite conversations in their living room and ate dinner each night sitting at the dining room table does not necessarily mean you are going to structure your 21st century family in the same way. (Did people ever really live like that?!)

Anyway, a new movement in room redesign is afoot: If you don’t use a room for its original function, take charge and transform it to serve a better purpose. This concept applies to no room more than the formal dining room.

Think about your own home. When was the last time you used your formal dining room for a formal dinner? If you’re like many people, the answer is probably something like “Christmas 2009.”

The most common repurposed functions of a dining room are as an office, a library or a secondary living space.

Repurposing the dining room can be as simple as removing the table settings and all but one chair.

Now you have the home office you’ve been wanting. Use a couple of drawers in the adjacent buffet for file storage. Return chairs to table when company arrives. Easy. Done.

For an instant playroom, slide the table against one wall and bring in a couple of storage units for organization.

Get clever with toy storage to hide the toys when necessary. Choose a table that isn’t too delicate and looks better after a few beatings. Remember the worn look is trendy these days.

When company comes for dinner, pull the table back out, cover it with a pretty tablecloth and scrub crayon markings from the wall. Add some ambiance; everything looks better in candlelight.

For a bookworm, turning the dining room into a library may prove to be a useful solution. And if you also have family members who treat your house like a hotel, install a Murphy bed within your built-ins. This also helps to alleviate the problem of finding somewhere to stuff that pesky air mattress each morning.

Your dining room may be the space for your next side business. Turning the dining room into a music room for music lessons or adding a mirror and a ballet bar to create a mini-dance studio may open up your home to money-making potential.

If you’ve thought to yourself how nice it would be to have one of these spaces, and you don’t really use your formal dining room anyway, here are some steps you can take to ensure the newly repurposed room becomes a showcase and doesn’t look like an afterthought.

Decide on the new purpose for your room. Considering carefully the way you live in your home and use the current rooms.

Do you need a home office or a workspace? Are you lacking a great place to store your extensive collection of books, or have you always wanted a piano but just didn’t have a place for it? Do you need a space dedicated to getting homework done? Now think about the underused dining room. Will that space work for what you have in mind?

Will you need to make minor physical changes? As always, the function of the room determines what you need in the space. So think about use and plan ahead accordingly.

For example, if you’re designing a library or home office, you may want to work with a cabinetmaker to build custom bookcases or a desk storage system, and you may need to remove a secondary door to provide more wall space.

Consider the layout of the new room and ensure that you have the proper type of lighting and access to power outlets in the right locations. If you’re creating a home office for your burgeoning business, do you need doors for additional privacy or to be able to lock your new office?

These small, non-structural changes can be handled fairly simply by a do-it-yourselfer or a handyman-type contractor.

Decorative elements will complete the transformation. This is the part where you get to really have fun and infuse personality into your new space.

In any remodel, furniture, wall treatments (paint or otherwise), decorative lighting and window treatments all come into play to create the environment.

Remember when repurposing an existing space you need to consider how the look and feel of the new room coordinates with nearby rooms.

The dining room is typically in a more public space and may be considered a public room. What do visitors see when they walk by the public rooms of your home?

Make the space functional with the correct layout and furniture plan. For instance, if you’re creating a music room, how many seats will you need for a small recital? Will you need additional seating in your home office for clients? What is the best view of the room from the other public areas of the home?

What other decorative elements will complete the look? You might want additional lighting (a chandelier above a piano could have a cool Vegas vibe) or dramatic artwork.

Because this room has special meaning to you (since you’re creating it from something else), don’t be bashful about what you want.

Don’t be limited by tradition. Our homes are meant to be lived in and every family will use them differently. Find what works for your family and make it happen. You will be glad you did.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: Repurposing a home’s underused space