Fundamental Principles to Family Spaces

Mary Cook contributed to this story. Cook is the founder and president of Mary Cook Associates. Her new book, “The Art of Space, Seven Fundamentals that Guarantee
Great Interior Design” demystifies interior design and makes it accessible to everyone.
It’s available on Amazon.

Homes are beginning to grow again. But, this time, it’s interesting to see where the square footage is being added. The hot places to add space are the family gathering areas.

Equally interesting is the fact that as family room sizes are going up, their walls are coming down. Floor plans where family rooms open to kitchens, breakfast areas or casual dining spaces are the favorite choice across all age groups, all across the country. These open and airy spaces are inspiring to experience. They’re actually stimulating to the senses.

So what’s driving the trend? As usual, it’s driven by the way people live today. There’s a very real and pronounced shift toward a more casual and relaxed lifestyle. And families want their homes to accommodate the way they want to live.

From the book “The Art of Space”, there are certain fundamental principles that need to be considered to make these spaces really work.

Seamless Blending

These open, casual spaces may feel like a single room, but they’re not. They’re actually smaller areas that have been joined together to create a large space. To make them work together as a unit, while still letting them fulfill their individual function can be tricky, but it’s far from impossible.

Toll Brothers at Bent Creek, South Carolina

Open Sightlines

One of the keys to creating connectivity between spaces is open sightlines. Strategically placing the television so it can be seen from, and shared by, all the different areas automatically pulls the spaces together into a unit.

Regency at Emerald Pines, Massachusetts

Furniture That Crosses Borders

You can also plan your furniture layouts so that people in one space can interact with people in another. Using furniture that lends itself to different configurations is a great way to do it.

A Trip to the Islands

The kitchen island is the very heart of the family gathering space.  Its design is critical to how the surrounding spaces work. Think of it as furniture. Its aesthetic will contribute to or detract from each of the surrounding spaces.

Toll Brothers at Bent Creek, South Carolina


You have to think about all FOUR sides of the island when you design it. You can make every square foot of your island space work for you by planning and integrating as many functions as possible.

Kitchens are performing more functions. A lot of that is driven by technology. Today, kitchens are a lot more than places to eat and cook. They’re more central to our lives. In addition to having the coffee maker, espresso machine, KitchenAid mixer, toaster, and spice rack sit on the counter, we also have computers, tablets, televisions, recycling bins, wine coolers, warming drawers, water filtration systems and smart technology systems joining them and becoming the norm in the kitchen. Look for appliances that can be integrated into cabinet designs invisibly, so, when they’re not in use, they can be tucked away, keeping countertops clutter free.

Finish with Finishes

Finishes can be a major, unifying force. When you select finishes and materials that flow through the spaces they blur the lines between where one space starts and another ends. It’s a natural unifying factor.

Entertaining in a casual and relaxed style…

…is back, driving home designers to devote more space to family gathering areas. Innovative design elements that support and enhance entertaining are being put to work throughout main gathering areas. Fortunately, these are not the dreaded “wet bars” of yesterday’s bachelor pad! They are beautifully executed designs that contribute to aesthetics, function, and livability!


But consciously focusing on the fundamentals in “The Art of Space,” your gatherings will be more relaxed, more fun and more comfortable than ever.

For more ideas on how you can turn an open space in your home into the perfect gathering area, please visit Toll Brothers’ Pinterest page.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ryan Hart

    Great tips, Mary. I agree that creating high-quality family spaces is more important than ever. It’s also becoming more challenging now that so many different activities are happening within multiple rooms. I’ll be sure to pick up a copy of your new book!

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