The flex room is the biggest buzz in homebuilding since the coronavirus pandemic made us all woke to the way we live in our homes. The flex room builds on the concept of the bonus room, that popular open area (usually located upstairs) for movie-watching and video-gaming.
Today, we expect much more from our living space. It has to multitask to meet our dynamic lifestyle needs and wants. Yesterday’s bonus room is today’s modern flex space, and it can reside anywhere in the home, from a hallway to an alcove to outside.
To call it a trend is to underestimate the staying power of the flex room, now a mainstay in new home construction and on the wish-list of many home renovators.
“Many people are rethinking their spaces. Flexible spaces are more critical today than pre-COVID. These spaces don’t have a specific use; they are multipurpose,” says Phil Kean, an architect and homebuilder based in Winter Park, Florida.
Silas Baca, a top-producing real estate agent in El Paso, Texas, says many of his clients are looking for a single-family home with a fourth bedroom that doubles as a flex room. “A flex room provides the option to have a game room, nursery, a movie theater, office, craft room, or a fourth bedroom. I recommend looking for a three-bedroom with a flex room that offers more options,” Baca says.
“We are seeing an increase in interest in flex space because people are using the square footage of the house differently. As a result of COVID, people are thinking about how the house ‘lives,’ and this is a permanent change in mindset,” says Joe Duffus, Chief Executive Officer, Builders Design, an interior design firm specializing in single-family and multifamily projects
For those looking for more flexibility with living space, we put together this basic primer on the essentials you need to know to make your rooms multitask. Let’s start flexing!
What is a flex room?
A flex room goes by several names — experiential zone, specialty room, and bonus room are some popular monikers. The basic definition of a flex room is a space that does not have a fixed function, so that it can change roles in a home.
“Builders don’t necessarily call a room a flex room, but they typically design it to get two or three functions out of the space. That is how we need to think these days,” says Duffus.
A flex space can be any space in the home — a hallway, an alcove, a large pantry or even a closet. “I’ve built homes with several flex spaces for kids and adults, including a children’s playroom, craft room, an adults’ humidor, and a poker room,” says Kean, who designs high-end, custom homes throughout the United States.
Does a flex room boost home value?
The general consensus is that adding more functions to your living space adds value to your home, whether it’s perceived value or an actual boost in the market value. The National Association of Home Builders lists flex space as a top design trend to maximize space. The National Association of Realtors® also lists flex space as a top trend in home design.
“For years, people wanted smaller houses, and now new homes are becoming bigger because people are spending more time at home. I think flex spaces work to enhance home value,” Kean says.
“I believe a flex room increases the demand for the house. Does it increase the home’s value? I have seen properties valued a little higher with a flex space — but not by much,” Baca notes.
Flex room design considerations
Any space in a home can become a flex space, whether it’s a hallway with a desk or a mudroom with a craft table. With a bit of creativity, areas can take on multiple functions.
“When people are looking to buy a new home, they need to think about how they can maximize the space. Every room needs to work harder,” Duffus says.
Experts suggest several considerations when designing or creating a flex space or a flex room.
The height of your ceilings determines the design and function of your flex space. “Ceiling height is essential. Typically, 8-foot ceilings are a little low for some activities. A 9-foot ceiling height gives you enough flexibility in the space. The 10-foot ceiling is becoming the new standard,” Kean explains.
For proper acoustics, insulation is vital in a flex room, especially a workspace where you need privacy, peace, and quiet — or in specialty rooms, such as a music room.
Pocket doors and sliding doors are ideal for privacy and can help buffer noise from the rest of the household. Sliding doors, such as barn doors, can close large openings without installing a doorway.
Windows that let in plenty of natural light are essential to high-functioning flex space. Windows help amplify the spaciousness of a room and provide necessary illumination for tasks, whether exercising or crafting.
Flex rooms tend to be smaller than other rooms in the home, so experts advise choosing furniture that does not limit your space or make it feel smaller.
Designers at Progressive Furniture recommend selecting pieces that multitask without taking up too much space.
“The proper scale of each furniture piece is important because we don’t want pieces that will overwhelm a space,” says Julie Carpenter, Progressive Furniture merchandise manager.
“Think about the function of space you are filling because it has to be capable of many uses,” says Stephanie Austin, Progressive Furniture Vice President of Merchandising.
Pieces that perform well in a flex space include counter-height tables that can double as a desk and eating surface.
“A side table with a cantilevered top is a great option as a landing spot for your keys and your phone,” says Austin.
Consider staple pieces such as a trunk that doubles as a coffee table, a bench at the foot of a bed, or an etagere shelf for multiple uses.
“You can use an etagere as a nightstand, as bathroom storage, office shelves, or a dining room display,” says Carpenter.
Other key pieces to furnish a flex space include bookshelves, small dressers, nightstands, and chests. “A desk that doubles as a workspace, vanity, and eating space works great in small spaces,” says Carpenter.
Experts advise selecting light-colored or reflective pieces that work to open up smaller spaces.
“Clear pieces made of acrylic and lighter colors tend to amplify a room’s illumination and make it appear larger, especially if you are working in a small space,” says Austin.
How should you use your flex room?
As people develop new hobbies, habits, and rituals due to spending so much time at home during the pandemic, the demand for specialty spaces is on the rise. Also known as experience zones, these specialty rooms can accommodate gaming, music, a library, or a playroom.
Experts say that craft rooms, exercise rooms, and meditation spaces rank among the most-requested flex spaces in today’s floor plan. Here are the top types of flex space homeowners are requesting.
A reading room or library with a desk can also function as a workspace or home office.
People want to workout from their home, which means a place to exercise and get active. A sunroom, garage, or outdoor space can work as a home gym — even a closet large enough to accommodate exercise equipment. Baca says many of his clients are converting the garage into a home gym.
Meditation and wellness spaces
The demand for wellness spaces is rising as people seek more mindful moments in their homes. The wellness space goes by several names — a meditation room, sanctuary space, spa room, or regenerative room.
Kean says several of his clients are asking for spaces for wellness, spiritual, and mindful activities.
“I’ve designed several prayer rooms for people to worship at home, a request growing in popularity since COVID because people were unable to attend services,” Kean explains.
“These regenerative spaces can offer a holistic approach to health that is safe, sustainable, and nurturing,” Duffus adds.
Craft and hobby room
Many people picked up new crafts and hobbies while spending so much time at home during the pandemic that required space to create. Craft and hobby rooms with counter space and storage are much in-demand in today’s homes.
The maker space is another version of this flex space that serves as a workshop for entrepreneurs making things at home for sale or as a side hustle.
An entertainment center or playroom
A place to entertain and play ranks high on the flex room list! Today’s game rooms come wired for video gaming and provide enough space to gather and play cards, do puzzles, or partake in other analog entertainment.
“Game rooms are making a comeback because of a renewed interest in board games and puzzles,” Duffus notes.
Package delivery room
Many builders are adding package delivery spaces to their floor plans for e-tail and grocery deliveries. These drop zones are accessible for the delivery person to deposit packages, dry cleaning, and other shipments, and they also provide security to safeguard delivered packages.
These delivery rooms typically can reside near the garage, kitchen, mudroom, or behind a backyard gate. Some have features such as refrigeration, or places to hang and sort items.
Duffus says some package processing spaces even have drone landing stations for package delivery.
Garage living rooms
The garage serves as a second family room in some houses seeking flex space. Experts see a trend of garage conversions into lifestyle spaces as homeowners turn the garage into a place to hang out, watch movies, play video games, and socialize.
Food prep pantry
Today’s kitchen is working harder than ever as people seek creative ways to make it a hub for working, playing, cooking, and entertaining. In large pantries, people are also creating food prep areas.
“Everybody wants their kitchen to look great. You might consider turning part of a large pantry into a secondary, messy kitchen where the food prep happens,” Duffus explains.
Cocktail room/wine cellar/bar
The rise of the cocktail culture is redefining the typical at-home bar with specialty features.
“The cocktail culture is very popular right now. We are designing bourbon rooms, bars that accommodate craft beers, in addition to wine bars and cellars,” Duffus notes.
An extra bedroom is an obvious choice for a flex space. People can outfit the room with a sleeper sofa or retractable bed to accommodate overnight guests and have space for a desk, exercise equipment, or another activity.
“In two-story homes, people prefer an upstairs flex room. They want the room to have internet wiring, but they are less concerned with having a bathroom attached to the space,” Baca explains.
Outdoor living space
Outdoor living expands with meditation areas and more space for entertaining, cooking, and relaxing.
Baca’s clients are asking for ample outdoor space with large patios, outdoor kitchens, and gazebos to extend their living area outside.
The takeaway: Flex space is here to stay
With this new demand for personalized space that performs multiple functions, the open floor plan is closing up with breakout spaces for different functions. The flex room is an umbrella term for all the lifestyle possibilities of the home, given thoughtful design, furniture, and decor.
“People fell back in love with their homes during quarantine and rediscovered its shortcomings and potential. They made their spaces work harder and added additional functions to make every square inch work,” Duffus says.
If you are in the market for a home with a flex room, you’ll want to find an expert real estate agent who goes above and beyond to help you find the right floorplan to fit your lifestyle, and to identify spaces that might work as flex rooms or areas that you might have overlooked.
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