Four years ago, craving more space, closer proximity to nature and a slower pace, my husband and I moved with our two school-age sons from Brooklyn, New York, to a rural agricultural town in Northern California. It was wrenching to leave our friends and the city where the boys had spent their entire lives. But it helped that we were trading our 1,200-square-foot apartment for a nearly 2,000-square-foot, three-bed, three-bath, modern ranch house with a sunny garden and pool that provided more room for us to pursue our favorite hobbies — indoors and out.
The California house was what real estate agents like to call "pristine," meaning it hadn’t seen a lick of work since the Nixon era. Think Pepto-Bismol pink plumbing, drab linoleum floors, wall-to-wall calico shag carpets and hall lights that flickered when you turned on the oven. The house needed so much work that if my husband, Ted, weren’t extremely handy, we could have never afforded the renovation.
A RENOVATION REVELATION
We sketched out ideas and fantasized about how we wanted to live in our new space. I wanted to host dinner parties, lots of them, and dreamed of a common area that would bring our family and friends together. Our plan was to move the kitchen into the old dining room and sunroom, then build a formal dining room where the kitchen used to be.
After some initial work, we made a discovery: The new kitchen area was plenty big enough for cooking and dining — we didn’t need a separate dining room at all.
So we had the happy problem of figuring out what to do with our empty room, which could serve as our new common area. Our imaginations ran wild with possibility. Should it be an office? A library? A music room? A den? Which would get the most use? We couldn’t decide!
That’s how we came to create what we call our Anything Room. By stripping the space to its bare bones and eliminating the door, we created an airy, inviting blank slate that could evolve with our family's interests and needs. We wanted to dictate how we should live in the room, not the other way around.
You don’t have to live in a mansion to have an Anything Room.
Right now, the kids are taking piano and drum lessons, so the Anything Room is currently a music room. It also has a large dream board and a single wall of bookshelves providing access to our most-loved books.
THE BEAUTY OF THE ANYTHING ROOM
Already, the Anything Room’s purpose is poised to shift. Our teen's interest in the drums is waning, so his kit may soon be replaced either by a drafting table for my husband or a chess table for the boys and me. We have a fantasy that we’ll play more often if the chess board is at the ready. One day, when the kids are in college and the house is quiet, we envision the Anything Room holding a cozy reading chair and writing desk.
I know, I know, not every family has the luxury of a whole room that they don’t know what to do with. But you don’t have to live in a mansion to have an Anything Room. Our family’s home is just under 2,000 square feet. If you’ve got even less space to work with, Pinterest abounds with examples of closets, corners and under-stair nooks transformed into cozy, soul-nurturing spaces.
Of all the renovation decisions we’ve made over the past four years, choosing to forgo a formal dining room for a more whimsical space that inspires our imaginations and brings us together has been, by far, the best. Sure, a formal dining room would have been a classier place to entertain dinner guests than our kitchen table (where a pet rabbit is often underfoot). But our Anything Room enriches our days, fuels our creativity and makes our lives feel abundant with choice (even when money’s tight). Who would’ve thought one room could do all that for the entire family?