Designing the perfect 'away room'

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 5:28 p.m. MDT

When a majority of the public space in a home is open, it is helpful to maintain a small space that can be closed off to contain or seal out noise.

Brent Murray, Renovation Design Group

Because our homes are filled with electronics, televisions, computers, appliances and people, our homes are filled with noise.

Noise is generally defined as unwanted sound. Both sound and noise are amplified and reverberate in an open floor plan where multiple functions are occurring simultaneously.

Most modern families live with a great deal of commotion; in fact, it has become so commonplace that we hardly notice it. However, this factor of noise creates a need for a quiet room, somewhere to escape the noise and find acoustical privacy. Therefore, when we design an open floor plan for a family to gather together, we also always include a discussion of creating an “away room.”

Depending on the family’s needs, the away room has several functions. “It can be both the cozy and slightly more formal entertainment space for you to sit with other adults, and it can be a quiet place where adults can retreat to read or work in the evenings,” writes Sarah Susanka in "The Not So Big House."

Your needs and the way you live as a family will determine the specific purposes and functions included in your away room. If it has a stereo and television, it becomes the quiet place to watch and listen. If the living area houses the television, the away room becomes the quiet area to get away from the sound (or noise, depending on the program).

Typically, the away room is either separated from the main living space by distance or actual walls and doors. Because it is its own separate space, it can have its own style that may be different from the rest of the house. Susanka explains that if the house has an open floor plan with vaulted ceilings, the away room can be “the cozy, book-lined alternative. If the rest of the house is designed with dark woods, the away room can be filled with light.”

An away room doesn’t have to be big. If you are hoping to create a cozy atmosphere, it doesn’t have to be much bigger than 11 by 12 feet. Basically, we design the away room with the design element of shelter around activity. If it is too big or filled with hard, uncomfortable furniture, you won’t use it as a quiet retreat. Obviously, when designing and styling a space, the furnishings are a large part of the mood and feeling created in the room.

In many families, adults will multitask an office to double as an away room. Whether you work from home full-time or just catch up on work in the evenings, the need for a quiet work space away from the noise of the busy household is often essential. An existing formal dining room can double as a study/library/quiet room because it is physically disconnected from the kitchen, which is the hub of the family (and most of the noise, as well). Another option is redefining a guest bedroom to provide for a small sitting area and the equipment that will support the activities you will engage in while in such a space.

Whether the away room is located in your public or private space is significant. If the room is strictly a family retreat, designating a spare bedroom or something in the private sector of your house will work. If the away room will be used during family or neighborhood gatherings as a spot to conduct a more private and peaceful conversation or phone call, then it needs to be located in or adjacent to your more public spaces.

Sometimes the away room is not the quiet space in the storm. It can also function to contain noise. This is especially useful if your family has someone practicing a musical instrument. Instead of the melodious tones filling the entire house, a smaller room with a lovely set of French doors can be a lifesaver for a parent’s sanity.

Today’s lifestyle favors open and accessible design to support our more informal and spontaneous gatherings of family and friends. Yet, we all crave some peace and quiet in our noisy world, so we must be intentional in our home designs about providing opportunities to get away from it all. The creation of an away room will provide balance for the activities and levels of interaction that take place in a home, giving a sense of calmness and serenity that will be welcomed by both young and old.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at renovationdesigngroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com

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