The word plus holds a lot of weight in today’s condo market. As prices continue to rise, the average size of units has decreased almost 8% over the past decade, and the first place for developers to shave extra square footage is often in the den. Since square footage comes at such a premium it’s important to take full advantage of all the additional space we have. That said, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve visited condos only to find their den has become a second storage unit or a neglected, rarely used area of their home. In my experience something about this space – be it its size, location or configuration – tends to intimidate condo owners to the point very few use their den or achieve its full potential.
Here are a few tips on how to maximize your den and your investment in additional square footage:
Medium to Large Den
Depending on the vintage of your building most larger dens include pocket doors, some sort of partition or walls. Given the potential for some privacy, most people use this area as a guest bedroom, which, if lucky, sees occupancy once or twice a year. Instead of squeezing a single or double bed into this already small space, I encourage you to think dual purpose and multifunction when it comes to your den. Ask yourself what you’re lacking most in terms of functionality. It could be an office, a second bedroom, a quiet place to read or watch TV and it may be more storage. Regardless of the best use based on your unique requirements it’s important to invest in furniture that defines this space and meets your expectation at least 90% of the time.
If you need a second bedroom, invest in a comfortable couch (ideally not a futon) that pulls out. If it’s storage, convert this area into more closet space by adding built-ins that have esthetically pleasing doors to hide their compartments and contents. If you work from home, make this space yours by creating a room that reflects who you are – a room that you look forward to sitting in and working from all day. If it’s all three, convertible furniture has come a long way over the past decade as people move into smaller spaces and need multi function solutions. One company in particular offers impressive convertible furniture because of its function but also because it doesn’t look convertible. It can be a bookcase and desk one minute or a murphy bed with additional storage the next. The important thing is no matter what you’re using this furniture for it looks complete, well designed and as though it could be permanent.
A good designer can guide you through the pros and cons and also suggest the best vendors when it comes to multifunction pieces that are well designed and built right. If you’re truly looking to get your moneys worth by converting your room often, it’s important to invest in pieces that look great but also have strong hinges and are made from solid material that can stand the test of time. Although not inexpensive, nothing is more expensive than the investment you made in acquiring a plus den that’s rarely used, let alone used well.
Small Den or Alcove
Smaller dens are even more intimidating and a bigger challenge to most homeowners due to their limited footprint and lack of privacy. These days a wider hallway or larger entrance can qualify as a den, so it’s important to determine the areas function, based on your unique needs, and define the space well using furniture, colour, area rugs, accessories and other finishes.
The smaller the space, the more open and simple your furniture should be in terms of design. If you need an office, choose a desk with drawers or compartments that can quickly hide papers and office supplies that inevitably pile up. One desk I recently came across had two drawers while the entire top flipped opened for additional storage of tablets, laptops etc. Be sure to hide all electronics, cords and add a table lamp instead of your usual desk light so this area can double as a credenza or console with the simple addition of a few accents and accessories.
If storage is a necessity, balance bulky pieces with more open and airy details. If you lack a storage unit altogether or feel there’s no such thing as too much storage, use this area purposefully and leverage its height. Hang bikes on the wall or from the ceiling. Add a full height, custom storage unit or closet for seasonal clothing, sports equipment, books, supplies etc. Custom built ins are an excellent way to design a unit based on your exact needs and take full advantage of the space from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. If done well, they also add value once it comes time for resale.
Depending on where it’s located and what it’s near, try to see your den as a natural extension to its closest functional room be it for pots and pans, a pantry, a breakfast nook, cleaning supplies, a play area or a nice quiet space to curl up and read. The important thing to remember with small areas is that everything can be concealed and kept in its place. The less clutter and the faster you can contain said clutter, the more you’ll not only use but be be proud of your small den space.
Since most dens tend to be located in the front half of a floor plan, they often lack access to windows and natural light. An effective den therefore requires well-designed lighting as much, if not more, than other areas of your home. This includes layering all three types of artificial light to ensure sufficient ambient, task and accent lighting are present in the space. Proper lighting can make the smallest of areas seem larger and more inviting. Done well, I’ve even seen dens converted into a more formal dinning area but this is entirely dependent on good lighting to avoid feeling as though you’re eating in a cave. A good designer can help you achieve the look, function and feel you want whenever you enter this multifunction area of your home no matter what you’re using it for, any given day of the week.
Owning a den comes with a considerable amount of clout. Be sure the next time someone asks you about the size of your condo you can say “plus den” with pride not only because of its implied extra square footage but also its extra livable space.