Real Estate

How to use your home to its full capacity

Follow the Neanderthals for better organization

Your home should support your life. Are you using your home to its full capacity?

If you are not sure, look at the overall floor plan. Imagine that there are no labels (living room, dining room, etc.) and it is a blank canvas. What are your hobbies and passions and how do you share space with others? You may be surprised at how the room designation changes.

Recent findings of a Neanderthal site unearthed in northwest Italy, reported recently in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, suggest they organized their living spaces according to tasks and were purposeful in how they separated their activities. Researchers found that evidence of fire building toward the rear wall of the cave (perhaps for sleeping and socializing next to the hearths), while stone tools and chips, as well as animal materials were found outside the cave.

Such terms as living room, dining room, powder room, butler's pantry -- all have meaning, but are they relevant to today's lifestyle? People seem to struggle with fitting their life into these categories and functions. From youth to old age our individual needs as well as family functions change.

Living room

A young couple who enjoys entertaining may wish to use the living room for parties and other gatherings. A family with small children may move their socializing to the family room off the kitchen to keep an eye on the children. When the children become teenagers, they may want to have some separation. When the children leave home, the living room may become more of a focus for quiet activities or visiting with family and friends again.

Living rooms are often associated with more formal social events. They usually have the most beautiful furnishings. Enjoy these rooms! I suggest reading with small children or playing musical instruments, chess and board games. Children can associate special time with this environment and learn to value and care for nice belongings.

Dining room

Throughout history, dining rooms have been separated from the cooking area. In today's homes a dining room is usually adjacent to the kitchen, furnished with a long rectangular table with arm chairs at each end and side chairs along the sides. Furniture for serving food and storage of china and silverware is also included.

If formal meals are not part of your lifestyle, dining rooms can be used for game rooms. Why not table tennis? Take down the net and pass the turkey and mashed potatoes! Billiards, dancing, tumbling or any activity that needs some space could be fun and appropriate.


Traditionally, kitchens were utilitarian and often separated from the main house. The trend now is "open kitchens" where the cook is part of the socialization. Good ventilation and a variety of appliances have made the kitchen a showcase. Kitchens are central hubs for families.

Include lower drawers for children to put their bowls and plates away and counters of different heights for cooks of all ages. A homework space for younger children is also inclusive.

Butler's pantry

A butler's pantry is used for storage of serving items. In large historic homes the butler was in charge of the silver, wine log and merchant account books and might have even slept in this utility room. In today's homes the butler's pantry is usually located between the kitchen and dining room and used for serving platters, staging meals, especially salads and desserts. It may include a wine refrigerator and a small sink. An alternative use would be to store extra food items or any entertaining supplies or hobby items.

Powder room

Powder room is a small room for a toilet and sink, usually located near the entrance. It is primarily meant for guests. In Victorian times women politely asked for the room to powder their nose. While the name sticks and the function is the same, most people try to create a special place with color or décor that is more dramatic than other areas of the house.


Bedrooms are sometimes shared and can be personalized for need. I have known older people that moved out of their beautiful two-story homes because they could not navigate the staircase. Their large home could have been repurposed to include a bedroom downstairs, but the labels of "dining room" and "living room" got in the way. I encourage people who are building a home or remodeling to include one bedroom downstairs and make sure that the door to the room, the closet and the bathroom is wide enough for a walker or wheelchair. This accessible room could be used by guests, high school students during recuperation from a sports injury or an older home owner.


Yes, a garage could be used for cars, bikes or other modes of transportation. It is generally shared with storage items, tools and toys.

Think of your home as a flexible living space that meets your needs.

Risë Krag, ASID, associate AIA, IESGG, is founder of RKI Interior Design, a full-service interior-design firm. She can be reached at 650-854-9090 or RKI Interior Design. Design problems can be sent directly to


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