Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
New Living Rooms for Everyday Life
Designers, builders, and homeowners are looking to new secondary living spaces near bedrooms to provide a cozy secret getaway from the rest of the house. Sometimes called a “pajama lounge,” it’s a room where a family can comfortably gather without worrying about entertaining nonfamily members.
November 1, 2018
By its name alone, the living room sounds like a comfortable repose for all. But with open floor plans and busy lives defining factors for many Americans, this shared public space often epitomizes the struggle between enjoying real life and keeping a home prim and ready for visitors. A family room or even a kitchen with seating can be too large, open, busy, and associated with entertaining guests. That’s why many seek an alternative space in which to unwind together.
Chicago designer Rebecca Pogonitz, founder of GOGO Design Group, credits the Scandinavian appreciation for a simpler, more soul-nourishing lifestyle—often known by the Danish term ”hygge” (pronounced hue-guh)—for this move toward coziness and comfort. “My clients crave time for self-care and family,” Pogonitz says. “Many had this growing up but now find their family members aren’t together at home even for dinner. They want to recreate that human connection.”
Now, this desire is finding its way into home design by way of spaces that are sometimes called “pajama lounges,” a cutesy name that suggests a room in which to gather before bedroom, literally in PJs or sweats. This space is usually closer to bedrooms, often upstairs, as an intermediate area for intimate evening hours after dinner and before heading off to sleep. “It’s a place that has a totally different identity from a downstairs living or family room,” says Stephan Burke, a real estate salesperson with Cassis Burke Collection at Brown Harris Stevens in Miami.
Many existing layouts can accommodate this trend, as multipurpose, flex, or bonus rooms can easily be staged to this aesthetic. Madison, Conn.–based architect Duo Dickinson, author of A Home Called New England (Rowman & Littlefield), says it’s important for homes to keep evolving to better reflect how people today want to live. “Homes are just like our clothes. They need to move, grow, and shrink as we do,” he says.
Be aware that buyers may be looking for such spaces, even if they don’t yet know it as a trend or haven’t heard the “pajama lounge” term. While few listings will explicitly include this room as a feature, you can take cues from the examples below and apply them to extra bedrooms, oversized hallways, finished basements, or attic spaces.
How New Construction Tackles the Trend
Like most home trends, the new-home construction industry can most easily incorporate this change, sometimes by paring the size of bedrooms. Industry groups such as the National Sleep Foundation and the Better Sleep Council suggest scaling back bedroom furniture and accessories to create a more dedicated space for sleep. Dickenson agrees, and says he’s seeing consumers shift away from bedroom designs that accommodate other functions such as homework, reading, and hanging out. “Our clients are increasingly asking that their bedrooms are sized to the beds, plus adequate space around them. The once typical 20-foot-by-20-foot floor plan is decreasing to 14 feet by 16 feet. Closets, however, never shrink,” he says.
Builder Ralph Ramirez, founder of ICH Builders in Coral Gables, Fla., has been including pajama lounges for several years and says they can be pretty small—as little as 10 feet by 10 feet. He often makes them larger, though, so they can serve other functions such as working out, paying bills, and doing homework.
Toll Brothers Inc., a national builder based in Horsham, Penn., has incorporated this type of space for years in its larger homes (6,000 square feet and up), though CJ Ametrano, vice president of national interior merchandising, says the company prefers to call them flex rooms. She adds that the company recently began to incorporate them in its smaller 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot houses by scaling back the size of other rooms.
Another builder that focuses on large luxury homes takes the concept a step further by giving the pajama lounge some of the best views in the house. Architect Paul Fischman of Miami-based Choeff Levy Fischman puts the spaces near bedrooms on the second level so they overlook water views, as most of their houses face the ocean or intracoastal waterways.
And even when a site seems impossibly tight, Lexington Homes has found a way to squeeze in these spaces. The Chicago builder is adding pajama lounges to the three-story townhomes it’s constructing in the city’s Avondale neighborhood, on the third floor near the master bedroom suite. “The idea,” says co-principal Jeff Benach, “is that children whose rooms and bedroom are on the second floor will come up to the parents’ level so all can hang out together.” For those parents who don’t want to climb an extra flight of stairs, the master suite and flex room might be switched with the second-floor children’s bedrooms. The floor on which the flex space is placed is less important than ensuring that there’s a bathroom close by, Benach says.
Staging Existing Spaces
The key to furnishing a pajama lounge is a mix of comfortable seating upholstered in natural materials, a soft rug underfoot, some tables for games, a bookshelf or two, and good lighting—all in a soothing spa-like palette. Boston designer Frank Roop of Frank Roop Design Interiors put together this look in a second-floor room in a former fisherman’s cottage, which also takes advantage of water views. He custom designed an unusually large sofa that’s more like a big bed at 4 feet deep and 10 feet long. “Users can lie down and stretch out rather than sit upright,” he says. Other creature comforts: an ottoman with a flip top to store blankets and also a TV cabinet.
Because the pajama lounge is often used by children, more whimsical touches might be considered, as Chicago-based architectural firm Morgante Wilson Architects did in recent construction of a suburban house. Taking advantage of the 20-foot-high ceilings on the second level, the design team built a loft into one end of an extra bedroom, reached by a ladder, where the three children in the home can play. “It’s a place where the family can crash together,” says K. Tyler, the principal in charge of interior design at the firm.
Having the option of food close at hand rather than having to traipse downstairs is another worthwhile addition, says Santiago Arana, a real estate salesperson with The Agency in Los Angeles and owner of Cutting Edge Development Inc. A few features he recommends in this space are a minifridge, microwave, sink, and espresso or coffee machine.
The Screen-Time Question
Some families gather specifically to watch movies or favorite TV shows. But others may want to make these lounges tech-free to avoid disrupting family conversation, games, and relaxation. “It’s a place where [family] members might meditate and take a break from everyday life, talk, or read a book,” says broker-associate Carol Cassis, a colleague of Burke’s in Miami.
Cindy Graham, a licensed psychologist and founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center in Clarksville, Md., considers it a matter of personal family preference and balance. “Many millennials who grew up with technology are now raising children and helping to push the pendulum back the other way. They are advocating to spend time together without as much technology as they may have had, and the results can be positive,” she says. “The family is the first place to learn to interact with others, and, in my work, we are seeing better language development [with less technology use] since there’s increased opportunity for conversations and social interaction.”
Graham and her husband, a Linux systems and software engineer, waited to introduce a Friday movie night routine until their younger child was two years old, since the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen media other than video-chatting before 18 months. She encourages adding blankets and other tactile objects to the room and allowing eating there. “Food becomes another opportunity to bond, learn manners, and talk about preferences,” she says.
However a pajama lounge is furnished and wherever it’s located, the goal should be to reflect the needs of the family who will be using it, according to Sherry Petersik, co-author of Lovable Livable Home. “You need things that will drive your family into the room,” says Petersik, who also manages the blog Young House Love with her husband, John. “If your family no longer includes young children, don’t make it a playroom.”
The couple furnished a room down the hall from all the family bedrooms in their two-story, colonial-style home in Richmond, Va., as a pajama lounge. However, they call it their “lazy room.” Says Petersik: “It works for us with tons of cabinetry for storage, window seat, and three chair lounges pushed together. A lot of people like to use updated bean-bag chairs.” Instead of spending evenings there, however, the family gathers in the morning before heading downstairs. Petersik says the timing doesn’t change their casual dress code. “We’re still in our PJs,” she says.