Traditional living rooms give way to creative pursuits

The living room has long been a misnomer. Little real living has been done in so many. Call them, rather, guest rooms, for their use has mainly been for entertaining, with family rooms serving as daily living areas.

But living space is diminishing. Greater numbers of people must choose apartments and condominiums rather than single-family dwellings.There, without separate family rooms, many are forced to bring their living back into the living room. Fewer people have the luxury of one communal room to live in and another to show off for guests.

As space becomes more cramped and population more dense, a home must have more flexibility to accommodate various activities in a single space. Separate studios or hobby rooms seldom exist. Drafting tables, looms, home offices, easels, sculpting areas, musical instruments, and sewing machines are becoming acceptable in condominium or apartment living rooms. To accommodate such creative activity, which can act as a refreshing retreat from urban living, people may need to eliminate standard uses of space not suitable to individual needs.

"It's a question of priorities," says California interior designer Carol Brown of San Diego's Designbank. "People have to be told that it's all right to spend their precious floor space in unconventional ways and on the activities that make them happy."

Many people without a separate activity room, garage, or basement are sacrificing formality and convention to provide space for their real living, their creative outlet. "In a sense, we're going back to the cottage where you did it all, where you lived and produced your livelihood," Ms. Brown says. "People are finding a certain relief in breaking away from the norm in interior decoration, partly because in condominium living there is uniformity and control on the outside of their homes. Their individuality can only be on the inside."

A loom, easel, or sculpting stand with a partly completed work of art need not be thought of as clutter, but as art-in-process.Viewed this way, it can be an attractive addition to room decor, expressing the individuality of the people and giving a healthy home- for-real-living fidelity.

Result: Gone is the traditional living room arrangement of sofa, two side chairs, coffee table, and television set. Gone is the formal dining room -- if it is used only for a few yearly events -- Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example -- computing the cost per year of maintaining that square footage makes those events very costly indeed.

Yet people do need to eat and, even though it's very expensive to leave a bed out, taking up floor space 24 hours a day, people need to sleep, too. A solution comes from multipurpose furnishings which use floor space flexibly. Furniture manufacturers are scrambling to meet these needs by producing scaled-down items using Scandinavian design, which has helped in space-short European countries where whole families have long lived in the space-limited conditions which many here are facing.

Here are some multipurpose or space-saving furnishings you may wish to incorporate into your space-short home.

1. Tall wall units, often built in, with components of drop-down desks, pullout and rotatting TV units, shelves, cabinets, drawers, and even files. Advantage: use of vertical space.

2. Coffee tables that rise to dining height or drop-leaf dining tables that fold to a narrow 10 inches, plus folding chairs, many attractively designed, to accompany these retractable dining arrangements.

3. Stealing from an age before built-in closets, the armoire for clothes storage, which uses vertical space rather than long, low dressers.

4. Plinthe beds in which night stands are attached to headboards and therefore have no legs. The visible floor space adds to the illusion of space.

5. Trundle beds, one rolling under the other, sofa beds, and pedestal beds with storage base or drawers below.

6. the old-fashioned Murphy bed, either a self-standing unit or attached to the wall and dropping down at night. Look in antique shops or consult a cabinetmaker. Not yet generally available on the ready-made market.

7. Trunks, sea chests, or decorative boxes serving as coffee tables with storage.

8. Glass or molded clear acrylic furniture that gives the illusion of spaciousness because the floor is visible.

These can help to free floor space for the activities that really contribute to your happiness. People who have to drag the typewriter, sewing machine, or drafting table out of the closet produce less.

Discarding the sofa or the dining table to use space for another purpose is a radical change, so it must be done in an orderly way. Most people feel the need for assistance in these design matters. No longer are interior design services used only by owners of expansive suburban homes. The design service of a California department store estimates that 50 percent of its clients are now condominium and apartment dwellers.

The first thing a good design consultant does is to help dwellers with limited space to determine their real space needs. Usually clients are asked a series of questions to help them set priorities. Perhaps these can help you to set yours in terms of spending your valuable floor space:

1. What activities at home make you happy? What things do you look forward to doing when you come home from work?

2. What things would you like to do at home but can't accommodate?

3. How do you entertain? Sit-down dinners? Buffets? Barbecues? Do you take people out? How often do you entertain? Do guests usually gravitate toward the kitchen? Do you involve them in meal preparation?

4. How often do you have weekend guests?

5. How many people do you ever need to seat at one time in your living room? How often do these occasions arise?

6. How often do you watch TV? Where? When? During dinner?

7. How often do you do desk work at home? Do you have a typewriter, desk, filing cabinet, and bookcase scattered throughout your home or are they all in one place?

8. How often do you play bridge or table games?

9. Do you sew? How often? Would you sew more often if your machine were more accessible?

Your next step is to use this information in designing floor space to fit your life style.

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