We use our formal dining room at most twice a year. It was the most unused room in our entire home. Then my kids started using the big table for craft projects and homework and I got an idea.
I always say it’s important to make your home work for you. It’s okay to disregard what the room is supposed to be or how the home builder expected you to use the space. So, I turned our rarely used dining room into a space we use at least five days a week. Now, it’s one of the hardest working rooms in our home.
We turned our dining room into a homework room.
With two elementary school boys, we needed a dedicated space for them to study and do projects. My oldest son was in need of a quiet, distraction-free study space. The kitchen table was too distracting with his little brother playing in the living room and the pantry only steps away. He was sneaking 2-3 snacks per homework session…anything to get out of starting his math homework. A quiet study space was an unmet need in our home.
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Creating a Distraction-Free Study Space
Before I make big changes in my home, I always observe how we’re using the space. I look for what’s working in the space as it is and what’s not working that needs to be changed.
One thing I loved about our dining room is that the boys used it as an art space. They knew it was the one surface in the house where they could leave in progress projects. When I reclaimed my laundry room from the kids’ craft supplies a few years ago, I moved them to the armoire in the dining room. They now have easy access to their supplies where they prefer to work.
One thing that wasn’t working in the room, though, was the six bulky upholstered dining chairs. They crowded the table and weren’t actually all that comfortable for young boys that like to move around a lot. I couldn’t part with the head chairs that I slipcovered in a special tablecloth, but I had no problem getting rid of the four side chairs. Apparently, getting rid of furniture is my favorite thing lately.
As soon as the chairs were gone, the room felt so much bigger and more usable. I brought up two small metal side chairs from our basement to add extra seating without overpowering the room. Now, we can sit and help each boy with their homework at opposite ends of the table.
Once we started using the room every night for homework time, I started to notice a few other decorative things that weren’t working. For one, to keep the space distraction-free, I decided to remove a lot of the decor, especially small things leaning on the ledges around the room. Also, the crystal chandelier seemed a little too formal for the room. So I removed all the crystals and put on the little white shades that originally came with the light. The little tweaks really helped streamline the room and transform it into a full-time homework space.
The best part is we can turn it back to a dining room anytime we want. In fact, right after I made all of these changes, I found out my family was coming over here for Thanksgiving dinner. So, I borrowed the chairs from the kitchen and embraced the mismatched chair look for the occasion.
metal bistro chairs (still available in four other colors)
Adding a Mini Mudroom
One other big change we made in this room was adding what I’m calling a “mini mudroom.” It’s my favorite thing ever and has totally eliminated about 90% of the morning stress trying to get the boys out the door to catch the bus.
Before I added the mini mudroom, I was trying to wrangle the kids to the mudroom by the garage to put on their coats and grab their backpacks. Then, I was shooing them all the way past the kitchen, living room, dining room, and office to go out the front door. I felt like we were going in ten different directions at once every morning. I hated that we started every day in stress mode.
Then, after school, the boys were coming through the front door and hopefully dragging all their stuff with them to the other end of the house to hang it up in the mudroom. When it was time to do homework, they were heading to the mudroom to grab the books they needed and bringing them all back to the dining room.
Obviously, the mudroom is a logical place to hang coats and backpacks, but ours wasn’t working for us unless we were going out the garage door. It just wasn’t the right place for our kids’ school gear.
So, I added a second mudroom inside our dining room. I know it sounds weird, but stay with me. First, our dining room is an odd shape with one wall much longer than the other. There was prime real estate on the long wall not being used. Second, this wall is just around the corner from the front door and hidden from view when you enter the house. Third, we already started using the dining room as a homework room and it just made sense to start storing the boys’ backpacks in the same place.
One thing I didn’t want was anything bulky. I wanted to keep this mini mudroom simple and functional. All it took was one bench (this bench that I hand-wrapped with fabric) and two sturdy hooks. Instant mudroom. It’s out of view from the front door but you can see this area from our living room, so I still wanted it to look cute.
My favorite things are these iron wall hooks. I love the shape of them and they’re perfect for holding heavy backpacks. The kids just hang their coats overtop their backpacks. I added hand-lettered labels with each boys name.
Now, the boys come in the front door after school and immediately hang up their backpacks and coats in the dining room. When it’s homework time, they just grab their books and sit at the table to study.
Besides giving our dining room a purpose, creating a dedicated homework space brought peace to our home. It makes getting ready for school in the mornings less stressful. It makes the transition to homework time after school more natural (and tantrum-free).
Do you have an unused space in your home? What about unmet needs? Brainstorm the things you wish you had more space for in your home and marry those unmet needs up with unused spaces in your home. It doesn’t even have to be an entire room, sometimes an unused corner or nook is all you need to make your home more functional. If you’d like help reimagining what your home could be, check out my Figure Out Your Furniture Layout class. It includes a few fun exercises to discover unmet needs in your home and strategies to make your rooms work better for you.