A spare room can offer so much more than just a place for the occasional guest. Holly Koenig, 55, for instance, decided to take the extra upstairs bedroom at her Westbury home and turn it into a homework area rather than opening the wall and giving her daughter, Lauren, a bigger bedroom.
"I remembered my days as a student -- there would be a corner desk in my room where I'd do my homework," says Koenig, vice president of Kellen, a professional services company. "When I got to high school and was privileged to get my own TV on a rolling TV stand, the distractions started. . . . I didn't get to my homework."
So Koenig opted in favor of a study spot for Lauren. "It's not pretty or comfortable; it's functional," says Koenig. "Desk, shelves, computer and books. That's it. No distractions." Lauren says she actually loves the place -- she gets two rooms for the price of one, says her mother.
When Shari Zimmerman's children left home, she slowly began transforming their former bedrooms at her Westbury house into more usable areas. One became a studio-office and another a library. "I wanted a place for all of our books, including a spot for my grandson's books," says the 61-year-old high school art teacher. She and her husband, Glen, did the renovations in about three weeks. "Everyone loves the library," she says. And with a sofa bed, it doubles as a guest room.
Spare space is a valuable resource. Dee Kemper, from Domoore Designs, whose locations include Baldwin, suggests looking at the possibilities and thinking, "How can I make this area more functional?"
She's turned spare rooms into everything from game rooms to mudrooms. "Your spare room must be a room you will always need and use," she says. "Think about what you need most and start from there. Give it a theme and stick with it."
Since it's a spare room you're working on, you can afford to take your time with it -- after all, the space isn't essential, like your kitchen. So don't rush into anything. "Think about your hobbies -- do you like reading? Crafting? Sewing? Peruse online inspiration galleries and magazines to spark inspiration," says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. Those ideas can serve as a starting point. "Don't be afraid to try something new, big or bold. Is there a color you've always wanted to paint? Do it," she says. "It's a room just for you and should reflect what makes you happy."
Give yourself permission to be creative when decorating such spaces, says Suzanne Costa, a Northport interior designer. "People want to invest their money in a safe way, and they don't always take the risk to do the room they dream to do." So when one client wanted a sport-focused spot, she created a fishing room, filling it with a boat hull, custom shelving and a stainless-steel table on which to clean fish. She suggests that homeowners with children can create a multipurpose art room for the whole family to enjoy by painting one wall with chalkboard paint and filling one with cork to hang masterpieces, and then including art tables or easels. "It's a great place to go when you want to take a break from technology," she says.
NO ROOM? TRY A NOOK
Even without an extra room, you can have that spare space effect. By setting aside small parcels of a room, you can create a place for specialized activities. Jody Sokol, of Jody Sokol Design in Northport, envisioned a window seat to replace dead space in a dining room she was decorating. So she added one, building it out a bit since the windows had a lip, to create a charming reading nook that extended the use of the room beyond mealtime.
She says that a room can offer more than its intended use. A bedroom, for instance could serve multiple purposes, especially in a small home or apartment. She suggests, for instance, putting the bed on a high-riser, adding a few bolsters and pillows, a side table, a comfy couch, a TV, some artwork and, suddenly, the room also acts as a den. The bed almost "disappears into the space," she says. Costa also says that those without a spare room can still make a meditation room by reconfiguring a closet or using a small nook -- blocked with a screen to keep the calm in and the household chaos out. She's even brought the outside in for a client by installing a tree swing in a traditional living space.
AN OUTDOOR 'ROOM'
Sokol recommends tapping unused space and repurposing it. For example, she designed an outdoor living room from a covered porch by installing a fireplace and a TV set and using outdoor wicker furniture and pillows. At the end of the season, all that comes in are the pillows. Costa says, too, that tree houses are hot at the moment -- both Donna Karan and Sting have one at their Hamptons homes. She suggests creating a more easy-to-get-to version by making one with a closed-in gazebo. "It provides another place to go'' in nature, she says.
Wantagh retiree Eve Glasser, 72, took another route in spare room design by recreating her space physically.
Nine years ago, unhappy with the small room she used for entertaining, she decided to indulge her love of nature by adding a 16-by-14-foot addition built on a platform in her backyard. She's dubbed it her "sunny room," since it features a skylight and a glass wall resembling a hothouse. "To me, this is the nicest thing we've ever done," she says. "I love nature. I love seeing the birds out here. There's a bunny that comes into the backyard. . . . It's like a sanctuary. . . . It makes you happy."
Whatever innovative space concept you'd like to pursue, remember to trust your instincts. "We get so caught up in making a mistake that we don't take a design risk," says Fishburne. "I'm not saying mistakes don't happen -- they do, and I've definitely made them. But I think I appreciate the end result so much more if I know I tried something in the room, it didn't work but then I ultimately got to a better place."