Jen O'Brien turned the dining room in her East Moriches home...

Jen O'Brien turned the dining room in her East Moriches home into an office. Credit: Jennifer O'Brien of City Farmhouse

As an interior designer, Port Washington's Amy Luria has turned basements into theaters, bars, and lounge areas. Storage spaces have become wine cellars and workout facilities at her hand. 

For one client, Huntington designer Amal Kapen, of Amal Kapen Interiors, turned a spare bedroom into a walk-in closet and dressing room. The mirrored vanity could serve double duty as a desk, Kapen said. 

But not every project has to cost much. A pattern Luria has seen in her work lately — at all price points — is that clients are looking to maximize their existing space.

This has meant turning basements into family rooms, repurposing closets and using under-stair space as office space. 

“People are just using space as much as they can because the market and the interest rates are so crazy right now that it’s cheaper to do the work in their house than it is moving,” said Luria, who founded the firm Luria Design & Style. 

And sometimes, just moving existing furniture into different spaces is enough to give an old room new functionality.

We peek inside the homes of two Long Islanders with spaces they've adapted to their needs, and share tips for doing that yourself. 

Once a guest room, now a recording studio

Voice actress Kerry Manfredi turned her downstairs guest bedroom into a home recording studio in Dix Hills. (Credit: Morgan Campbell)

At Christmastime and maybe once come summer, a visitor would ruffle the sheets of a downstairs guest room with pale yellow walls in the Manfredi family’s Dix Hills home. 

Upstairs, voice actor Kerry Manfredi would record voice-overs for commercials and children’s learning apps in a walk-in closet as her husband waited to retrieve his work clothes. 

“Finally, I said, ‘You know what, we have a whole big room downstairs that we don’t use,’” Kerry said. 

The pair moved a Queen-sized bed and other furniture from the guest room into the basement, then Kerry’s equipment into what's become her new studio. 

“It was just a matter of moving furniture,” said Kerry, who has three children with her husband Dennis. 

There was no construction, only the removal of a ceiling fan. The only associated cost had little to do with the room itself: a sound booth ran the couple $15,000, including installation. 

“When you move into the house you’re like, ‘Oh, finally a guest room!’ And then you never have guests,” Kerry said. “I finally have a room that I’m using.”

The prospect of space is exciting throughout the homebuying process, Kerry said; but forethought is important. She recalled her own enthusiasm over her home’s dining room — an area now used for its intended purpose twice a year, if that. 

She likens her dining room table to “a school supply bin,” where her children — Emma, 18, Dennis, 14, and Andrew, 11 — leave- notebooks, papers and other discarded items. 

“That’s just what my dining room has become,” she said. “It’s kind of a waste.”

A multipurpose dining room 

Jen O'Brien turned her dining room into a home office. (Credit: Jennifer O'Brien of City Farmhouse)

Inside a Victorian-style farmhouse with a wraparound front porch, Jennifer O'Brien sits at a light wood desk. The East Moriches home she shares with her husband, John, and sons Shane, 17, and Jack, 12, once had four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a formal dining room she imagined as the backdrop for holiday and birthday celebrations. 

But as the family settled into a routine, O’Brien realized most meals were eaten at a 10-foot kitchen island.

“We buy these houses that are traditional and we’ve got the traditional living room, we’ve got the traditional dining room, and our lifestyles just aren’t cut out for that anymore,” O’Brien said. “We eat together at a bar and not at a dining room table.”

O’Brien was also in search of a quiet place to write as a City Farmhouse home décor blogger and novelist. In her mind, the dining room morphed into a cozy space with a couch and a desk — a den-office hybrid with French doors and a view of Moriches Bay. She talked to her husband, who did not mind losing the dining room. 

“My husband and I kept thinking when the kids were getting older, ‘Maybe we need a bigger house,’” she said.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t need a bigger house; we just needed to reformat the house that we had to serve our needs.”

— Jennifer O’Brien, East Moriches 

The project aligned with O’Brien’s work centered on helping others create a home on a budget. She sold the dining room table on Facebook Marketplace, painted the French doors black, hung a shade and brought in the appropriate furniture. The rectangularity of a typical dining room makes it well suited to adaptation, O’Brien explained.

“I picked up pieces here and there with the knowledge that it was going to be a den, sitting room, office,” she said. “It was just a matter of switching out furniture and planning.”

Creating your own budget-friendly space

"Everybody's on a budget," Kapen said. "Even if you've got a big budget, you still have a limited amount of funds, and you want to get as much done as possible." 

Affordability is relative; but no matter what "affordable" means to you, O'Brien suggested starting each project by making a plan.

“Once you have your plan, you can take your time,” she said. “You can take a year. Because you know what your plan is; and you’re not going to get confused when you go to HomeGoods because you know what you want.”

She recommended starting by looking at the color scheme of a clothing closet in the home. “That’s what you love, that’s what you want to wear and usually it translates to your home, too,” she said. 

With the priority to keep costs low, Luria noted that the budget determines the details. 

“For the gym, you could do luxury vinyl tile on the floor, or you could do something more expansive, like mats,” said Luria. “It depends on the client, and it depends on the situation.” 

Kapen advised avoiding impulsive purchases at big-box stores.

“I think that you buy cheap and you regret for a long time,” Kapen said. “I always say to people, ‘buy less, and buy good quality.’”

Cutting costs means taking the time to shop estate sales, auctions and Craigslist, Kapen said. She suggested looking for pieces at consignment stores like Valley Attic and The Perfect Find in Locust Valley, or Attic Door in Oyster Bay. 

“Good decorating just takes time,” Kapen said. “Buy the pieces that you absolutely need, and then look for the rest.”

To Kapen, shopping secondhand and taking her time to cultivate a collection of old and new is about finding the best value, no matter how big the budget. In her experience, projects evolve. 

“And by the way, secondhand furniture’s wonderful,” Kapen said.

In conjunction with browsing shops, Kapen recommended taking advantage of social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. 

“A good room is really like your client’s personality made manifest,” she said. “You want it to reflect them and be the best version of them, right? But you also want it to be attractive, and it takes a while to put together — you really have to put some thought into it.”

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