- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In 1993, Rockville resident Lois Boylan found the perfect way to keep her four children close to home when they reached their teen years; she converted the family garage into the family game room.

“It’s a great space … it served that purpose well,” Mrs. Boylan says.

The game room still serves the Boylans well, especially when Mrs. Boylan’s now-grown children visit.

More and more families are integrating game rooms into their homes to keep parents and children together just a little longer.

These rooms don’t have to duplicate the local sports pub or stadium —a few sports jerseys and game tables often suffice. Some homeowners do get more serious about their leisure, transforming their spaces into reasonable sports-bar facsimiles.

Mrs. Boylan’s game room, complete with a pool table, punching bag and refrigerator, clicked with her children, in part because it allowed for a modicum of privacy.

“They felt like they were on their own and separate,” she says, though they were still within earshot.

Of course, she had ways of making sure all was well in the game room.

“If I’m in my dining room, I can peek in and look at what’s happening,” says Mrs. Boylan, who also uses the space to showcase her children’s sports awards and keep sports gear in one tidy nook.

Mrs. Boylan says her husband, Tom, initially wanted to turn the garage, with its high ceiling, into a makeshift basketball court.

“When I got involved, I said, ‘No, we’re going to make this nice,’” she says.

Once they settled on their plans, they turned to interior designer Gloria Capron, who suggested a green-and-navy color scheme for the room.

Ms. Capron, who runs Kensington-based Gloria Capron Interior Design, says today’s game rooms often look as if the homeowners want to create the sports-bar experience without having to leave home.

“Sports bars have been so popular in last 10 years. People are bringing that idea home with them,” she says.

Flat-panel televisions make that possible without taking up much valuable space.

“It’s so the sports enthusiast can multitask,” Ms. Capron says of the multiscreen approach. “If they happen to be playing pool, they can keep in tune with what’s happening in pro sports.”

The home sports bar doesn’t necessarily mean a steady stream of chicken wings and fried mozzarella sticks are on the menu. Ms. Capron says some game rooms embrace healthy alternatives. Some offer niches where workout equipment is stored or kept ready for action.

The move also speaks to a larger cultural trend, one that began with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s a great way for mom and dad to have the teens at home and socializing with their friends. They can keep an eye on them,” she says. “Post 9/11, people are entertaining more at home.”

One way to tie family history into the game room is to decorate it with hometown team pennants and other sports goodies.

“If a family has a hobby in the sports area, like tennis, have everything from antique to new tennis memorabilia up on the walls,” she suggests. “Banners and pennants are colorful, and in a neutral environment, you can do wonderful things with color.”

For many homeowners, it all begins with the pool table.

“It anchors the room. It can be a focal point,” Ms. Capron says. A game room can feature a full-size model, or if space is a problem, smaller options are available. Ms. Capron says some pool lovers opt for antique tables to create an added sense of ambience in what otherwise might be a carefree space.

Picking the right table might take a while, says Andy Phelps, store manager of Champion Billiards and Barstools in Parkville, Md.

“There are so many different styles … we sell 32 different colors of felt,” says Mr. Phelps, whose store sells such game-room staples as air hockey, foosball and poker tables, plus old favorites, including dart boards.

Mr. Phelps echoes the family-friendly sentiment others have voiced about the modern game room.

“Our big thing is being family-oriented. You know the kids are home instead of out on the streets [when they’re in the game room],” he says.

Interior designer Ricardo A. Ramos, owner of Studio Nuovo in Bethesda, says a good way to design a game room is to consider sectional sofas.

The segmented furniture is flexible enough to design around, Mr. Ramos says.

“Sectionals have become the trademark for these rooms,” he says, adding that families often entertain two or three other couples at a time. “They need lots of room to sit down and be comfortable. Sofas and love seats are OK for family rooms.”

Beyond seating arrangements, Mr. Ramos says homeowners are using game rooms for more functions than they once did. One of his clients has a small dance floor in the game room; another hosts wine tastings in the space.

Child-friendly spaces typically are well padded to prevent injuries and are loaded with computer games to keep the small ones occupied. Those games often work without wires; snaking cords can trip children and put expensive equipment at risk.

Anyone planning to create a new game room should consider how it will integrate into the rest of the home, Mr. Ramos says.

“Keep the interior the same way it is upstairs, continuous,” he recommends. And while many game rooms feature media centers for movie watching, his clients tell Mr. Ramos they don’t want to duplicate the whole theatrical experience.

His clients want the room to be warm, welcoming and comfortable, he says.

Mrs. Boylan says creating a game room doesn’t demand expert advice or significant planning. Any room with a preponderance of games and activities will be a hit.

“You really can’t go wrong,” she says.

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