By: Aly Yale and Ana Connery
When you’re shopping around for a new home, flex rooms can be a pretty attractive feature. More rooms than your family needs? Yes, please! Builders love adding bonus – or flex – rooms to their house plans to lure buyers, and homeowners love having extra space without a clearly defined purpose that they can make their own.
The challenge comes in determining how you’ll use those rooms (and also furnish them). If you’re lucky enough to have a bonus room in your home, half the fun is figuring out what to do with it. Will you leave a room empty until you need it? Will you turn it into a useful space for you, your kids or your pets? The options are endless. Here are 12 creative choices you might want to consider.
One great way to think about a bonus room is like a blank canvas, a room that can be used for just about anything and everything, depending on what will fit your family’s lifestyle. They often lack doors, windows, or even closets, so you’ll have to take the actual configuration into consideration before you decide. But one of the great things about bonus rooms is they don’t have to serve the same purpose forever. What starts out as a nursery can morph into a playroom, a reading nook, or a home office. It’s like futureproofing your home for whatever comes next.
Depending on what you decide to do with a bonus room, it can also add value to your home. If you’re planning to turn it into another bedroom, you’ll likely be adding tens of thousands of dollars to your home’s resale value, so long as it meets local building code requirements for inhabitable rooms. Bonus rooms lacking four walls or windows may not necessarily have the same effect. Here’s a peek at eight fun ideas for what to do with a bonus room.
Any room can be turned into a media room or theater. All you need is the right furniture (comfy recliners, anyone?), a big-screen TV and some tiered flooring. Theater rooms are a great way to encourage more family time (hello, movie nights!), and they’re also popular hangout spots with young kids and teens. (And wouldn’t you rather those teens hang out at your place than at a party elsewhere?)
Having a casual place to curl up and watch movies or binge-watch TV shows is a luxury for families. The ingredients for the perfect media room are simple: A large-screen smart television, a few comfy chairs or sofas with plenty of cozy throws and pillows, and ottomans that can be used as snack stations or footrests. Adding a high-quality surround system would make a media room even better, and many DIY systems make it easier than ever to tackle the installation yourself. If you live in a luxury community, turning a bonus room into a comfortable media room can help when it’s time to sell, giving you a leg up on the competition. But if your home isn’t particularly luxurious, using the space for a home theater may mean fewer bedrooms or living spaces, potentially decreasing its resale value.
Add a Bonus Living Room
Who said you could only have one living area? If you have the extra space, outfit it with an additional sofa, TV (or maybe a projector?), some board games and a gaming system. If you have a big family, a bonus living room can be a great way to keep everyone from fighting over the remote (and to get some much-needed distance at times).
If you’ve got gamers in the house, or you frequently entertain friends for Cards Against Humanity tournaments, a game room may be the best use of a bonus room. Otherwise, all that activity has to take place somewhere else. This means transforming the family room, dining room, or even a bedroom –and most of those spaces aren’t set up for it (in other words, not comfortable). If gaming consoles are the main source of entertainment, pair a smart TV with comfy single seating options so everyone has plenty of elbow room to play. If you’ve got kids, casual bean bags and floor pillows, plus a set of two oversized chairs, make a perfect combo.
If it’s adults who are likely to use the game room, try a sectional sofa on one side of the room and a round table for four that can extend to accommodate more people if needed. Pairing a round table pair with a sectional sofa balances the shapes, so you don’t have a ton of hard edges. Plus a round table is easier to walk around than a square one, taking up less space.
If you’ve got a home full of bookworms and a collection of tomes to show off, turn a bonus room into a cozy library. Built-in or freestanding bookshelves that span from floor to ceiling make a chic and stylish home for your favorite books. Mix them with decorative objects and artwork and add a rolling ladder so you can reach the highest shelves. Comfy seating and layers of light — preferably a mix of overhead, tabletop, and natural light — are the only other requirements.
Add a desk, bookshelf, computer and printer and give yourself a handy work-from-home set-up. If you have kiddos, you could also put some homework stations in there and give each child their own designated spot for studying.
If your kids are still preschool age, a reading nook can be a good option. Just put a big bean bag in the corner, install a few bookshelves and start encouraging a love of reading from a young age.
The most obvious way to use an extra room is for houseguests. An extra bedroom is always a good idea, especially if you have a large family or you love to entertain. Get a nice bedroom set and paint the walls a comforting color. If you don’t love the idea of having a bed in the center of the room all the time, consider a modern-day Murphy bed, such as those from Resource Furniture. A wall behind the sofa can be pulled down directly over the sitting area, so you don’t have to move furniture out of the way when it’s time for guests to sleep. During the day, your guests will have a comfy lounge area to relax in — a setup that anyone in your family can use when it’s vacant.
Then invite friends and family to stay over for a little quality time. If you live far away from your loved ones, having a guest room can be a great way to encourage annual visits. (It can also serve as an incentive to grandparents for extra help with the little ones if you’re planning for a bigger family!)
Playrooms are a nice perk if you have young children. For one, they keep the kiddos entertained. Just install some shelves for books and toys and add a few puzzles and games and tons of crayons and coloring books, and they’ve got hours of fun ahead of them. Another bonus? It keeps the mess contained. Instead of toys strewn all about the house, they’re largely concentrated in one area, making clean-up much easier.
If your bonus room has sightlines to other rooms, you can keep your eye on your little ones while you prep dinner or check your email in another room. But if your bonus room has a door, that will come in handy later when you want to keep their noise to a minimum. Storage is fundamental to a functional playroom. Bookcases are great but they shouldn’t be so tall that kids will want to climb them while rummaging for a favorite game. Baskets and bins are ideal for corralling small toys and crayons. A table in the center of the room becomes command central for everything from arts and crafts and tea parties to homework sessions and milk and cookie breaks. Be sure to soften the floors with rugs and playmats and create a snuggle spots for cuddles and story time with bean bags, floor pillows, and perhaps a trendy play tent, like this one from Overstock.
Don’t have time to head to the gym but want to lose weight or shape up? Use your extra room for your very own home gym. Add in a treadmill, invest in a few weight sets and make sure to put down a soft mat to do your core work. You also might consider a wall-mounted TV to entertain yourself while you run or do cardio.
Whether you want to sweat it out or ohm it out, a home gym or a yoga and meditation studio will require a good sound system. A smart TV is great if you like virtual workouts and yoga sessions. Everything else is about equipment and wall decor. To create a home gym, list your workout essentials and take the time to draw your layout on a piece of paper before bringing anything in the room. Your drawing doesn’t have to look professional but taking the time to do it forces you to think about what you really want out of a home gym. For some, a mat, dumbbells, bands, and a kettle ball are just about all they need. Others want a home for their Peloton and a bench at least. Go bold on your walls if you’re looking to feel pumped up, or opt for a more serene look if you’ll be doing more deep breathing than heavy breathing. For yoga and meditation, mats and floor pillows are a must. If you use blocks, bolsters, and straps for yoga, a big natural storage basket adds an organic touch. Hardwood wood, vinyl, or cement floors are ideal for any of these activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave a huge boost to what was already a fast-growing trend — remote work — but experts say it’s here to stay as more businesses realize that productivity doesn’t decrease when workers out of sight. If you go all out with a renovation that includes built-in cabinets, turning a bonus room into a home office can become pricey. You may not see the return on your investment, in part becomes tech, which affects wiring, is constantly changing. But it’s easy to create a comfortable setup yourself. If the floors are cold and hard, start with a large, soft rug and paint the walls in neutral shades associated with high productivity, such as pale blue, feather gray, and off-white. Your workspace is the main focal point of the room, so choose one that functions well but looks great, too. Think about its primary use. If you need to spread out a lot of materials, you’ll need more workspace than someone who just uses a laptop all day. If you accrue paperwork and need to keep files, don’t forget storage space. A combination of overhead and task lighting will provide the most comfort.
Art, Music, or Writing Studio
Whether your art is your profession or your passion, turning a bonus room into space where creativity can flow freely might be perfect for you. A window for this room is ideal, so you can benefit from the energy that natural light provides. How you design the interior depends on your art. An easel, a stool, and a hardworking table for supplies are the key elements for a painter, but a musician likely has bulky equipment they need to accommodate. A writer, by contrast, may need little more than a desk by the window and a cozy spot to do some thinking before inspiration hits.
Flex rooms are good spaces to explore your hobbies, too. If you’re big into DIY, a craft or sewing room can be a good option. Is there a budding musician in the house? Add some soundproof panels and bring in a piano, guitar, drums or whatever instrument they’re interested in exploring. You could even set up the room to accommodate both your and your spouse’s hobbies.
Sometimes you can’t quite decide what to do with a bonus room. Maybe one of your kids wants a dance studio but you could really use a home office and a place for the Gramps to sleep when they visit. The answer might be to turn the bonus room into a flexible space where multiple activities can take place comfortably. One way to go about it is to split the room into zones based on the activities you’re looking to use it for most, then think about what each of those mini spaces needs to feel comfortable. Perhaps there’s a bar on one side for your tiny dancer to practice, a small desk and a reading chair for study sessions and “book worming,” and a Murphy bed to accommodate guests in a pinch.
Hand it over to Fido & Fluffy
Want your pets to have a space of their own? Then use your flex room for them. Add scratching posts and cat trees if you have feline friends or put in some oversized cushions and chew toys if your pets are of the canine variety. You can even add a doggy door to make coming and going a breeze.
Make It a Mudroom
Depending on its location, an extra room can also make for a great mudroom. Just take off the doors; add some benches, shelves and wall hooks; and don’t forget some storage for things like umbrellas, coats, boots and other bad weather essentials. You could also invest in some heavy duty rugs or, better yet, swap the floor out for tile or another easy-to-clean material. Mudrooms can get pretty dirty (at least when used right).
The Bottom Line
Flex rooms can provide a huge advantage to homeowners, but don’t let them go to waste. Come up with a plan for your extra rooms and determine how you and your family can best make use of that space once you move in.
Don’t forget: You’re not married to your choice. You can always change your mind later on and re-do the room to serve whatever purpose you might have down the line.
Need more ideas for your new place? Try these room-by-room interior design tips and make sure to avoid these all-too-common home furnishing mistakes.
There’s no limit to what you can do with a bonus room (craft rooms, teen hangouts, we could go on), but whatever you decide, one thing is for sure: It’s likely to impress buyers when it comes time to sell. After all, who doesn’t love a good bonus?