The old rec room needn’t be a wrecked room

This finished basement transforms the old rec room into a sports lounge.
“No one space can be all things to all people, but with home design, as with all other things, coming to the process with care yields the most rewarding results,” writes WAG Wares columnist Jane Morgan.

What was once known as the rec (for recreation) room has really evolved. If you’ve bought a house recently that needs upgrading, chances are good that the family room or playroom will have fake wood paneling, linoleum floors or shag carpeting, acoustic tile ceilings and a junky collection of cast-off furniture. It may include a crusty bar sporting mirror decals, conjuring an image of swinging parties with neighbors whom time forgot. 

Because of its basement location, poor ventilation, poor lighting and faulty heating, you may have more of a “situation” than an oasis.

In the past, people would throw the kids in there while they pursued more sophisticated entertainment elsewhere, but these days, the former rec room needs to appeal to every age and function. Since TVs have moved to every room in the house, the old “TV room” has now supersized into accommodating home gym equipment, arts and crafts tables, a yoga space and of course, the traditional pool or pingpong table. Regardless of how many square feet you’ve got to work with, the key is to figure out your priorities, create defined areas within the room and respect its functions. If you treat it like the Island of Misfit Toys, you will never feel comfortable there.


Define different areas and their functions. Use furniture groupings to distinguish one area from another. For example, create a comfy conversation grouping in front of the TV separate from a games table, with chairs designated to go around it. Or, if you plan to play games on a coffee table in that same lounge space, make sure that it has generous proportions. A large square shape lends itself well to gathering players around an activity. This may seem obvious, but make sure your games and puzzles are readily accessible. Tech is basically inescapable now, but can you dial it back to some degree if there are other choices that don’t take a shovel to uncover. Similarly, art supplies, books, sports paraphernalia and basically everything else should be housed in attractive and well-proportioned shelving and storage units. Built-ins immediately streamline any space and smooth out quirky corners. As always, remove clutter.


Treat the basement as you would the rest of your home. Many rec room spaces receive a notoriously masculine design, with heavy leather chairs and dark wood accents, but you do not have to settle for the “frat house” or “man-cave” look. If it’s in the basement, introduce a color scheme that is light and bright. Use changes in flooring or vary the color palette to define spaces visually. Any structural issues such as water leaks, mold, insulation or HVAC problems must be corrected before decorating begins.


Installing proper lighting in a basement cannot be overstated. The three types of light that should be present (in every room) are overall lighting, accent lighting and task lighting. If you only use one type, I guarantee the space will look dingy no matter how many watts are in play. 

A word about treadmills 

I’m sure that there are loads of people out there for whom the home gym is a source of health and replenishment. Unfortunately for everyone I am personally acquainted with, that same treadmill or elliptical machine can also become an irritating reminder of failure, not to mention a giant space-sucking hog. We all have good intentions when it is purchased, but 9 times out of 10, after an initial spurt of enthusiasm, it becomes a hanging dryer for hand-washed clothing. So think long and hard before committing half of your usable square footage.

No one space can be all things to all people, but with home design, as with all other things, coming to the process with care yields the most rewarding results.

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