Get the most out of an apartment with multipurpose rooms

By Judy Stringer
Plain Dealer, September 07, 2014

When it comes to living in cramped quarters, the secret to making the most of the space available often involves using rooms for more than one purpose. A 120-square-foot apartment living room, for instance, may have to act as a family room and a play room, or the guest bedroom in your two-bedroom rental may double as a home office.

Unfortunately, it is easy for these double-duty spaces to become cluttered, disorganized and downright eyesores. Local organizing guru Patty Clair said with a little creativity and good design, it is possible to create attractive mix-used spaces in your apartment.

Getting Started

Begin by thinking about the interests and needs of those living in your apartment and the kind of space required to support those activities. For example, most at-home workers are more productive when have a dedicated workspace rather than a makeshift area that has to be cleared for dinner or houseguests. Most playrooms are best situated where adults can supervise the playful youngsters while completing other tasks, such as meal preparation.

Then take a look around and decide which rooms (and closets) are underutilized in your rental. Clair, owner of Shaker Heights-based-based Keeping It Simple (, said formal living rooms, dining rooms and guest bedrooms are typically the most underutilized rooms in any home. Renters should consider how those spaces might be reconfigured to support multiple purposes.

Living/dining rooms

When creating a double-duty living room or dining room, install a barrier to separate the spaces, Clair said. A couch or a shelving unit to partition or section off a portion of the room can help create the illusion of two different functional zones. If the size of the room will support pulling the furniture away from a wall where you might normally place a couch and two end tables, consider this as an option as well.

"By doing so, you can create space against that wall to house an office space for you or a play area for your children," Clair said. "Many furniture companies, such as Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and Ikea have a number of great against-the-wall desk components or fun storage units for children's toys and games that will fit almost any size wall."

Also, utilize vertical space to maximize storage, she said. Cubbies and shelving can go a long way in providing functional and practical storage for items you need within reach on a daily basis.

If space in the room is tight, consider using an armoire as a potential desk area. "Your living room/dining room remains as such when the doors to the armoire are closed, yet this one piece of furniture provides you with a great space to multi-purpose the room," she said.

Guest bedrooms

Setting up a small home office, craft area or sewing room in a guest bedroom is also another great alternative. Under-utilized guest closets, Clair said, can become a perfect place to work quietly and uninterrupted. When guests need to use the room, simply close the door or curtain to the closet, and the room is ready.

Or, you can maximize the "available" space in a guest bedroom by replacing a standard bed with a fold-away bed, daybed, futon or sleeper sofa. These alternatives are more compact, yet still functional and fashionable. While you're at it, consider under the bed drawer units to alleviate the need for a dresser.

The extra floor room created becomes the perfect place "to set up a workspace, some exercise equipment or a small nursery," Clair said. "As always, utilizing vertical wall space will help to create more living area in the room and allow for a second zone."

Whether your multipurpose room is working overtime as a home office, craft room or playroom, you can design great-looking rooms that have more than one use by taking time to consider what you need from the room and getting creative with the space you have.

Home offices spaces can be a challenge for renters

As more and more people transition to working from home, finding designated office space in an apartment is probably one of the biggest multi-purpose room challenges. Some renters resort to working at a kitchen table or breakfast bar area, but that solution can "get pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly," according Brie Reynolds, director of online content for online telecommuting job site Renters without a "spare" room who want to carve out a dedicate office space will have to think outside the box, she said.

Closet offices are some of the more creative solutions Reynolds has seen. By installing a small desk and a chair in even a modest-sized closet, renters can have a workspace that is all their own. As an added benefit, leave the door intact and you can make the office disappear when hosting guests or entertaining.

Often a guest room or living room can also double as a home office. Reynolds suggested buying a folding privacy screen or repurposing tall window shutters as a room divider to define the space.

"It helps break up the room, so that when you are working you really feel like you are in your office and not just sitting in the guest bedroom or living room," she said. Renters who live in a home with a garage can consider setting up an office there. Some free-standing garages have lofts which make the perfect workspace, but even attached garages can be spiffed up and outfitted with a desk area so long as they are not "too cold or too hot," Reynolds said.

Wherever you find the space, to make the most of your home office:

  • Keep personal use to a minimum. It helps mentally if the office is a place where go to work, not to hang out or watch movies.
  • Keep the area around it clean and organized. If the office is in your room, for example, make your bed and put away your clothes. It's too easy to be distracted by a messy surrounding.
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