Getting a family organized requires more than a few well-chosen New Year's resolutions. Increasingly, homeowners are carving out a physical space -- anything from a single kitchen cabinet to an entire spare room -- that can function as a family information center and workstation.
In an effort to battle clutter and keep track of schedules, designer Brian Patrick Flynn helps clients kick the habit of spreading out items around their homes.
"These days, it's pretty much a given that families use their kitchen islands, dining tables and/or coffee tables as prime real estate for laptops, school papers, iPhones and mail," says Flynn, founder and editor of decordemon.com.
"When I'm designing entire homes, especially ones for young families, the first thing I focus on is locating a seldom-used corner, section or nook somewhere easily accessible to create a creative and organizational hub. This usually follows my tirade of, 'No more using the dining table or breakfast nook as a clutter station!'"
Here, Flynn and two other interior designers offer tips on creating the perfect family headquarters to wrangle homework assignments, invitations, permission slips, calendars and more.
What do you need?
The key pieces are:
•A calendar (paper, digital or both) that the whole family can access.
•Accessible storage space for incoming mail, invitations and permission slips where things won't get forgotten.
•A message board (dry-erase white boards and/or corkboards are popular) where family members can post and share information.
•A labeled bin or section of corkboard space assigned to each family member.
•A power strip for charging electronic devices, with shelf or desk space to keep those items while charging.
Ideally, the space will also include a work surface where kids can do homework and parents can handle tasks like filling out permission slips. Many families also include a laptop or desktop computer for homework or checking email. If you have a computer handy, you're more likely to enter information digitally and eliminate paper clutter.
Where to put it?
Homes built in the past few years often come with what Flynn calls a "bonus room" with no designated purpose. These small, spare rooms work well as a family organization center, as do mudrooms.
Atlanta-based designer Mallory Mathison has helped clients convert a pantry or small closet into an organizational hub. She suggests removing the doors to open up the space, then adding a deep shelf that can be used as a desktop. Tack fabric to the underside of the shelf and hem it just above the floor, creating hidden storage space and a place to tuck a bench or stool.
Shelves can be added to the wall above the desktop, along with a message board and calendar.
If you lack a spare room or closet, designer Cortney Novogratz suggests choosing one corner of your kitchen, since it's a room the entire family uses daily. Novogratz, co-star of HGTV's "Home by Novogratz" series, lives in Manhattan with her husband and seven children. She often works with clients who have limited space, so she advises them to use a single kitchen cabinet as their organizational hub.
Novogratz suggests lining the cabinet door with the calendar and corkboard or dry-erase board. Then add small bins on the cabinet shelves for each family member's items. A small laptop can be kept inside the cabinet and taken out for use at the kitchen table.
For additional storage, she suggests buying a rolling cart with labeled drawers where each child in the family can keep things like pending work or art supplies. This can be wheeled around the kitchen or other rooms as needed. Novogratz says it helps kids stay organized and feel a sense of ownership over their work when they have a permanent space for it, even if it's just a labeled drawer.
What furniture do you need?
The costliest option is hiring a carpenter to install a built-in, custom workstation with a desktop, shelving and closed storage.
Flynn suggests a cheaper alternative: Buy two kitchen cabinets from a big-box home improvement store, and two prefab bookcases. Assemble the cabinets, then the bookcases and stack them directly on top of the base cabinets. Mount them to the wall and add some basic molding to the front edges, creating "the look of custom built-ins, but for only a few hundred bucks."
To save even more, he suggests plundering the rest of your home in search of old furniture. "I recently took one hot mess of a bonus room, which was used for checking email, working on art projects and keeping kids' artwork and files stored, then turned it into a colorful, designer-caliber multipurpose space using 100 percent leftover pieces from other rooms," he says.
He placed two old dressers next to each other, using their surfaces as a place to collect mail and pending paperwork. He outfitted the dresser drawers with a hanging file system, then brought in an old table and chairs from a child's playroom.
"You can make just about anything work together, as long as disparate pieces are united with the proper color story. In my case, I gathered white, brown, gray and blue pieces, then set them all against a fire engine red backdrop."
Another option: If space is limited, Mathison suggests searching estate sales (or your own attic) for one large piece of furniture like a wooden secretary, which has a desktop and a mix of open and closed storage. Refinish it with several coats of glossy paint and, if necessary, drill holes in the back for power cords.
How do you make it work?
Even the best system won't work unless you use it. Flynn says beautiful, bright colors can help draw you to your organizational space, and successful homework projects and tests can be posted alongside your kids' artwork for added inspiration.
Plan the space carefully based on your needs -- do older kids need extra space for doing homework? Are you juggling lots of appointments and need to make your calendar the centerpiece? Novogratz suggests hanging up a family calendar and business calendar together so you can mark things on both, and kids can see when you'll be busy with work commitments.
If scheduling is key, post pending items like permission slips and invitations in a prominent spot or keep them in an inbox you'll check regularly.