Why Dens Are Popular Again in the World of Open-Plan Homes

We love open-plan homes: large family spaces, open sight-lines, and the feeling of airiness that makes life so pleasant. But what do you do when you want a place of your own, where you can go and shut the door? Try the den.

A pregnant woman reads in a chair in a cozy den
Photo: Southern Living

In the ‘70s, people began calling their family room the den, but dens are traditionally small rooms devoted to non-work activities. Often, they are pass-throughs to other places, making them forgotten spaces.¬†Reclaim yours: Float furniture off the wall, forcing traffic to the edges of the room. Then add an octagonal ottoman for more seating, and to help all those doors and corners make visual sense.

A small den with dark gray walls and built-in shelves
Photo: Architectural Digest

Dens can be for entertaining friends, but most often they’re where we pursue activities in private (think: studies or man caves). Storage can be an issue in dens. Make the most of the wall space by building shelves up and over furniture. Throw away the old notion that small rooms have to be painted white. Dark shades, like PPG’s¬†Improbable), make the room feel taller because they lead the eye up to the white ceiling.

Feminine den painted with gray walls
Photo: 2 Bees in a Pod

Made for meditation, dreaming, and list-making, dens are the perfect space to escape from the world. Enhance the feeling of den-as-sanctuary by painting your room a soothing color, like Debonaire.

This traditional den is painted dark, glossy blue
Photo: Ashley Whittaker Design

A den should feel like it evolved, rather than being designed. To get that look, pull pieces from other places in the house and layer colors, patterns, and favorite accessories. Dark, glossy walls, in a deep blue like Midnight Hour, will make a den feel like a room in a gentleman’s club.

An open-plan library with white walls and built-in shelves
Photo: Thrifty Decor Chick

If you don’t have a den, you can make one out of a room you don’t use, like Sarah, who repurposed her dining room. While this den is off the living room (which still gets a lot of play), it’s now the place the family goes if they want to read, hang out with a friend or even eat a quiet meal. If they need more floor space to entertain, Sarah pushes the chairs against the walls.

Small den with white walls and gallery style art installation
Photo: Polka Dot Chair

In the last decade or so, builders put an extra room in the foyer, usually across from the dining room. Meant to be offices, they usually end up being junk rooms. To compound matters, these rooms typically have French doors, meaning everyone sees the clutter first thing when they walk in. If this rings a bell, take heart. Your space probably doesn’t need a complete overhaul — just some space planning, fresh paint and a new reason for being. Could it become a music room? Library? Kids’ tv room? Art gallery? A writer’s room? Find its purpose and the room design will almost magically take shape.

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