Running a family can seem a lot like managing a business. There are budgets to be balanced, events to be planned, supplies to be warehoused. Human resource issues crop up daily: What’s on everyone’s calendar? How can schedules be coordinated so that everyone will be in the right place at the right time?
Productivity is a priority. Homework is due, longer-range school projects need attention, and mom and dad will likely put in a few hours’ work once the kids are in bed.
To keep things running smoothly, many families are creating a central workspace that goes beyond the kitchen table or a parent’s home office. It doesn’t have to take up much room, says interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, but it does need to be planned carefully to maximize efficiency and style.
This one location – perhaps a corner of your kitchen or great room – serves many purposes:
Hang up a dry-erase board or chalkboard and a corkboard to keep schedules, invitations, flyers, shopping lists, messages between family members and pending mail in one place, says interior designer Janine Carendi.
Using the walls not only saves space, but it helps you stay organized, Carendi says.
“If you can see the items pinned on the wall, you’ll remember them,” she says. “Even if things are beautifully filed, you’re going to forget them if you can’t see them.”
Carendi likes Pottery Barn’s modular “Daily System” for organizing, but she says you can create your own personalized version.
Take a large, old frame from a flea market or your attic, cut a corkboard to size, cover it with fabric and place it in the frame. Tack pieces of ribbon on the corkboard to create separate areas for each family member, or do individual frames for each person.
Personalize a dry-erase board the same way – put it in an old frame or place pieces of wood molding around it. Carendi also recommends painting a section of wall, or even an entire wall, with chalkboard paint to create a huge space for messages and schedules.
Child psychologists and Internet safety experts say it’s best for kids to use a computer in a common area of the home so that their parents have a good sense of what they’re seeing and who they’re talking with.
Flynn suggests using a laptop rather than a bulkier desktop computer. Think “temporary multipurposing,” he says: The same desk that’s used for homework on the computer can be used for art projects when the laptop is stowed away.
He recommends using a vintage metal tanker desk, available online at sites like twentygauge.com or at flea markets. These old industrial office desks are sturdy, stylish and can be painted any color. They offer a wide surface area, plus storage space for school and art supplies.
If the work area is in your great room or living room and includes a desktop computer, designer Mallory Mathison suggests concealing it inside an armoire.
“No matter how good a computer looks,” she says, “you don’t really want it sitting out during a dinner party.”
The family workspace is a great storage spot and charging station for laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and handheld video game consoles.
Hang shelves near an electrical outlet (you may need to have an outlet installed for this purpose) and line them with small bins or boxes to hold small electronics. Carendi suggests buying little wooden boxes from Ikea, then drilling holes in the back so wires can be fed through.
If you have room for a small bookshelf, you can also keep bills, appliance warranties, phone books and other household paperwork coordinated here in bins or small boxes.
The key is providing space for everything you’ll want to store.
“No matter how hard you try, if you don’t have a place for everything, it’s going to look cluttered,” says Carendi.
Beyond organization, these designers say your goal should be creating an appealing space that the whole family will want to use. Make sure you’ve got good lighting and comfortable seating.
Mathison suggests using a bold color scheme to create a fun, cohesive look. It doesn’t have to cost much: If you’ve cobbled together mismatched storage bins, boxes, shelves and frames from elsewhere in the house, spray paint them in a few coordinating shades.
It’s vital, says Flynn, to make the space inviting, especially if it will be ground zero for stress-inducing tasks like homework, bill paying and complicated scheduling.