Whether it's Scrabble, poker or air hockey, nothing brings people together like a little competition. And if that means silencing the cellphones, all the better. But getting everyone together for an unplugged evening can be challenging. That makes designing a game room as much about family as it is about fun.
The first rule of game room decor is that there are no rules. "Take a lot of risks," says Port Washington designer Keith Baltimore. "Be adventurous, and don't be boring. Make the room inviting enough that everyone wants to play a game."
The room should be conducive to play and be fun visually, even if someone isn't playing, he says. "Game rooms are about reverting back to your childhood and coming back to what is play and what takes you to that spot where you want to play," he says. Incorporating trophies, vintage game pieces and cheerful artwork into a space is not only playful but can help put people at ease, he says.
It's also important to have some practical considerations. Manhattan designer Jeani Ziering says she asks clients to think about lighting, ventilation and even noise. "Think about having carpet for soundproofing, because some games are noisy, and sound carries," she says. Colorful accent rugs can help dampen sound while also setting the right mood. "Also, don't let your game room be dark," she cautions. "Think about having high hats and ceiling fans to move the air around. Track lights are also good if you can't recess the lights."
One way to inspire the family to use the game room is to get kids involved in decorating. "If you want your kids to hang out with you, the room should be child-friendly, and it should be fun," says Locust Valley designer Susan Bloom. She says it's crucial to have a choice of activities in the room. "Bring a game in that the entire family can enjoy, like air hockey, or you could have a table that incorporates chess, checkers and backgammon that four people could pull up to very easily," she says. "It could even be a drop-leaf table, if it's for a small place."
In fact, a game room doesn't have to be a whole room. Bloom suggests that for smaller areas, families have a designated space, such as a cupboard or an armoire, filled with games. "It also keeps everything tidy, because games can be messy," she says.
Baltimore suggests using a bar cart for games if there's no space for a cabinet. "Wheel it into a corner and wheel it out when you're ready to play," he says.
HUE IS THE BOSS
Colorful walls and playful touches add timeless charm to this midcentury-inspired space in Port Washington. Designed by Keith Baltimore, the basement game room had to appeal to the two teenagers living in the house. "By using off colors, such as nontraditional periwinkle and orange on the walls, we made it hip," he says. "That made it cool for teenagers and a bit more sophisticated so kids could feel like they were in a nice club."
Cozy white marshmallow chairs are begging to be curled up in. And although the room gets very little natural light, mirrors on the walls -- framed with darts, pencils and paintbrushes -- add both charm and brightness.
But the space also is practical. "All the games are hidden in the console under the television set," Baltimore says. "It was a good place to store everything, and a good way to keep the space clean."
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Vintage metal advertising signs bought at auctions, a refurbished Coca-Cola dispenser that works, pinball machines and beechwood wall paneling make stepping into this family game room in Quogue feel like you're taking a trip back in time. "It's like going to Nunley's," designer Jeani Ziering says. "We gave the panels a rustic look."
There are darts and an air hockey table that converts to a ping-pong table and, of course, video games. But the room's views are just as entertaining. The 500-square-foot space has an impressive 20-foot-high ceiling, with windows on all sides and French doors that overlook Quantuck Bay. Some of those views were captured in the 2013 Woody Allen movie "Blue Jasmine," which filmed at the beachfront house.
ROOM AT THE TOP
To accommodate eight children -- ranging in age from about 18 months to 15 years, and including triplets -- this Cove Neck game room, designed by Susan Bloom, needed to have room for many pastimes.
The 70-foot-long space, on the top floor of the family's home, is divided into several sections, each with its own purpose. The main space has various arcade games, table hockey and foosball. There's also a sleeper sofa in the room to encourage slumber parties. Then, behind red velvet draperies lies a small movie theater, complete with a large-screen television. Open a nearby armoire and, instead of clothes, there's a special hidden space inspired by C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" stories.
"I lined the floor with white shag carpets, and since it's on the third story of the house, it's not like they're coming in with muddy shoes," Bloom says. "There's no furniture, just two white beanbags. It's an imagination room, with the trees and squirrels painted on the walls."