Minimalist Family Room

Modern convenience meets the serenity of a Japanese garden in a stylish makeover.


Suzanne and Les have an exceptionally beautiful Japanese-inspired backyard garden. It's a wonderful expression of their Asian heritage- he's Japanese, she's Chinese and their daughters Amy and Leanne were adopted from China. Beautifully sculpted trees and greenery, stone walks and soothing waterfalls have made it a popular stop on the neighborhood garden tour. But if the garden is the perfect combination of yin and yang, the outdated sunken family room looking out onto it was far from being in balance. It was a mishmash of styles and inspiration-modern, shabby chic and even French country, with a dash of kid-toy overload thrown in.

Suzanne and Les asked me to bring the serenity of their Japanese minimalist garden into the family room while still accommodating their need for modern North American convenience and room for all the kids' toys. Kids and minimalism?! I took some deep, meditative breaths and called in my crew to raise this sunken family room to a new level.


One thing the room had going for it was the wood. This space was blessed with beautiful honey-oak floors, railings and trim in both the family room and the elevated dining area. I used that warm, golden tone and offset it with contrasting Japanese-inspired ebony. A cool, stormy-gray color on the walls was the backdrop for fantastic gold accents.

Job one was to get the space organized. Custom cabinetry provided plenty of storage and a strong focal point for the room. The base was stained a golden tone, with black-framed upper cabinets with shoji screens providing a modern Asian feel. Putting delicate rice-paper screens within reach of kids is inviting disaster, so I opted for sturdy white acrylic panels instead. The minimalist form of the cabinet also provides a contemporary function: One end houses a flat-screen TV, with cables and media components hidden behind drawer faces below, while the other end has plenty of storage for games and toys right by a kids table and chairs.

The overstuffed charcoal velvet sofa is a supercomfy place for the family to get in some quality TV time. Inspired by the Japanese style, I chose rice-paper and cherry-wood lantern-style light pendants and a chandelier. The area rug picked up the golden tones of the wood, and I added a few kimono-style throw pillows in gold and chalky blue. Two contemporary chairs in ebony wood and cream upholstery bookend the space.

In the elevated dining area, a leather-look, textured-vinyl seat provides both storage and easy cleanup for messy kids. An oak pedestal table pushed snug into the bench and a few simple cream contemporary chairs complete the setting.

The most important design element in this room is the view of the fantastic back garden, but it was hidden behind outdated horizontal blinds. I replaced them with shoji-inspired translucent stacking blinds that retract. They open to reveal a full view of the garden and, when closed, bathe the room in a soft, diffused light. Gold-painted graphics of koi fish and cherry branches on the walls enhance the illusion of bringing the outdoors in.

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