This is one of my favorite projects, yet—and the living/dining space is the first of many reveals!
Creating spaces that feel custom-tailored to the people who live there is the best part of my job, and Project Homecoming has been no exception. This design transformation was about creating a memorable space where family could get cozy and connect. The lovely homeowners are originally from the Philippines, and are so excited to live near their grandchildren.
Their daughter reached out to me in order to make their house feel like home, because her parents deserved having a place where they could finally relax. Her mother has never been a very emotional person, preferring practicality in order to meet very real needs.
“As an immigrant, you come to the states, and you get a job to buy a house: four walls and a roof. It’s enough,” she said. But by the time we were done, they saw that a home can be so much more than just a place to live!
This is the place where our most intimate moments will play out, and we can design the space to help create the moments we most want to have. (I wrote a book all about it!) In my Home Therapy method, we focus on the relational element of any room to create positive loops, facilitating healthier, happier relationships—especially in the Communal Domain, which includes living/dining spaces.
In this case, the homeowners envisioned themselves surrounded by their kids and grandkids—all their extended family! They plan to host family movie night, and gatherings for sports games. It was important to set them up for success in these bonding moments.
Following the Flow in a Living/Dining Space
One of the most important things we did for this space was removing the pony wall. It was so unnecessary! The builder was trying to delineate two spaces, but we don’t need a wall to make that clear. We already know that these are two different spaces, simply in the way that we’re using them—and instead of helping us feel connected, this extra bit of drywall blocks the flow. See for yourself!
Our goal is to remove any barriers between the people using the space, so they can connect freely. The furniture placement also plays a huge part in making this room work, centered in the space so energy and conversation can flow. People are able to move easily between spaces, coming together wherever they want to.
We’ve also removed any heavy visual barriers in the room. For instance, the coffee table is clear, which adds to the lightness and creates the feeling that there’s nothing between you and the person across the room. Everyone feels so much closer!
You’ll notice a lot of round and curved elements in this room which help to facilitate a sense of gathering together, from the couch and lounge chair to the dining table. The family didn’t need a huge dining room table, since they plans to share meals buffet-style. This contributes to the feeling of community—and only increases our need for movement throughout the space.
And this living/dining room features plenty of space, with none of the distance. The seating area faces the door for an immediate sense of welcome. From the moment a guest walks in, they are face-to-face with everyone already seated in the room. They can easily decide whether to take a seat at the couch, greet someone in the dining room, or head for the kitchen to load up a plate.
On Builder Grade Niches
There was the briefest moment when I considered keeping the entertainment niche. The cane is such a nice detail, and there could be some way to make it work… But then I decided: nope. It’s gotta go.
But there was no such hesitation when it came to all the other ‘details’ the builder added. These little cutouts and hidey-holes are supposed to make the room feel more ‘customized,’ but really, they only create pressure for the homeowner to use the space a certain way—so much pressure that some people never decorate at all! And now there’s just some hole in your wall. 🙄
Not to mention, the WHOLE POINT of building something custom is that it’s specially created for you and your needs. But how are we supposed to find something custom for this generic niche? The dimensions are always weird too, either not tall enough, or not deep enough for what you’d planned to put there.
In our case, it was way too limiting for the TV we wanted! In order to use the space the way we wanted to, we removed the niche from the wall. This way, we were able to mount the HUGE TV that Grandad really wants in order to host all the game days and movie nights his heart desires.
This wasn’t the only wall we flattened. Check this out. Like, what is this strange recessed doorway?
In order to flatten the wall, we removed the wooden bits from the shelves, and added framing with 2x4s and drywall to extend the wall up to the ceiling, and create a simple, square entrance. Travis designed the whole thing—Mr. Meticulous saves the day again!
Creating Character in Cookie Cutter Homes
If you’re truly looking to customize a builder-grade home, it’s all about creating drama with more dynamic wall treatments. This helps us to navigate the space with visual cues, directing the gaze to a desired focal point. In a multi-use space, like a living/dining room, we can use multiple focal points to attribute ownership within the space and separate different areas.
When you’re in a mixed-use space, it needs to feel special–especially when it’s a Communal Domain! By elevating the room, we add weight and presence to the space, so it feels important when we inhabit it together. So, we needed to be a little more drastic in order to stand out. We upped the ante with temporary wallpaper in the dining area, and the slatted wall in the living area.
You guys, this is so much more than a niche!! The midcentury modern style echoes the furniture they had already—which is so beautiful. That’s what truly inspired me to bring in some of my favorite Japandi minimalist vibes, which adds a lovely third dimension to the space. Everyone in this family had such amazing taste, and they were really onboard!
A bold wall detail also makes the television stand out a lot less. Adding a big TV to any space can be a tough design challenge, but with the architectural elements we brought to the walls, the space feels like a movie theater. It’s all about cohesion! The slatts add texture and visual interest when the television is off, but they aren’t too distracting from the action when the movie is in full swing.
The Final Touches
The details in this room feel luxurious thanks to Fireclay Tile and Luxury Vinyl tile wood floors. This space was dark, so it was important to stay light to maximize the natural light the room gets. We used light wood and white paint, and most importantly, light floors! A lovely neutral floor makes such a difference in brightening up a room.
Our homeowners were so grateful to come home to this bright and airy design, which prioritizes comfort and communication. The design is so much more than they could have imagined, and they’re totally converted to the Home Therapy method! Their Grandkids can’t wait for their first movie night, reconnecting with the family and creating memories together.