How To Design A Pass-Through Room – REVEAL – The Portland Family Room

Elva Mankin

A “pass-through room” with lots of doors is a layout nightmare for anyone, including this designer. Welcome to the family room reveal of the Portland Project – otherwise known as the hardest room in this house to design, where we spent HOURS upon HOURS laying out, deciding on scale and […]

A “pass-through room” with lots of doors is a layout nightmare for anyone, including this designer. Welcome to the family room reveal of the Portland Project – otherwise known as the hardest room in this house to design, where we spent HOURS upon HOURS laying out, deciding on scale and location of furniture – until all of a sudden … it worked. This room needed to function as the family hang out room – fine, easy, we know how to do that. The kids can hang out while dinner is being prepped, with the option for a TV (wired above the fireplace but here is hidden by art), and yet it is a pass-through room between the kitchen and the dining room, smack dab in the middle of the house with 3 doors that had the annoying task of ‘swinging’ which takes up even more real estate. Sure we could have turned this into a dining room and boy did we consider it, but then there would be two sitting rooms next to each other (a living room and a family room), which could have worked but we made a choice. And now I’m so glad that we did.

The biggest problem was that the sofa had no obvious place to go. None. In order for someone to watch tv, it obviously needed to face the TV. We even thought about two facing sofas, to create a cozy area and you could lay down facing the TV to watch it. It just wasn’t obvious and it was driving us a little nuts.

Now since we are here to help you learn from our experience, we came up with some very useful tips for designing a pass-through room. This way you won’t have to go through the agony we did.

Find The Right Sofa

Once in the space, we decided that in order to make it a pass-through room and for someone to watch TV it needed to be shoved against the wall. Just floating it would be too close to the TV (as it had to be high to accommodate the indoor-outdoor fireplace which made the TV higher).

My brother even reacted saying, uh, aren’t you NOT supposed to shove a sofa against a wall, and while you aren’t supposed to in big rooms, of course in smaller spaces it’s often only what makes sense and totally works.

Ehd 180723 Portland Project Front Sitting Room8184

In order for that sofa to make sense against the wall it needed to be deep, cozy and low – it couldn’t be this high backed, shallow, fussy settee – we needed to make sure its purpose was known – to create a seating area, anchored by this flop down-able sofa in which to watch TV. It was the right scale for where we needed it to be and trust me when I say it’s one of the most comfortable sofas in which I’ve ever sat in – yet with low clean lines. EVERYONE loved it (including the buyer). It’s from Lulu and Georgia and I seriously considered it for the mountain house 95 times. The big cozy rug is from Lulu and Georgia as well and it’s the perfect amount of ‘busy’ that hides some dirt while still feeling light and airy. I’m very much considering this one as well for the mountain house.

Ovals Are Your Friend

Ok sure, we’ve figured the sofa problem but then what do we do about the rest of the room? It still needs to be a pass-through and we didn’t want to just have a sofa against a wall, we needed a coffee table and some other chairs to create a seating area. When choosing a coffee table we chose an oval shape for a reason. Hard corners like the evil “rectangle” take up more space, whereas an oval usually provides the same function, but with the ability to go around it, thus creating a better “flow”.

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We did consider a couple different shape options – a cluster of smaller round tables – could be nesting or a round table with a pouf. Ultimately they were no-gos.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Family Room11

The winner was this Thomas Moser piece and boy is it a beaut. The oval shape was truly perfect. It was long enough to be the right scale with the sofa, but narrow so it allows space to walk and no one is getting bruised by hard corners.

Vary Weight And Texture Of Furniture

This is something specific that I’ve found I have done over and over and over, and works even in non-pass-through rooms. It’ my favorite sofa/chair combo – the upholstered sofa with the more sculptural leather and wood armchairs. These chairs are a great medium scale but are visually light because of the open arms. This really helps make the space feel open and breezy. Now the texture of the leather takes it from basic to more high end and special. The pretty detailing on the wood arms and curved back also help make it special. HOT TIP: Leather/wood + linen and fully upholstered is a winning furniture formula.

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And yes, your chairs can have their backs to the TV. You can still have a conversation area in your TV room and in fact, this is a GREAT way to take the importance away from the TV. The future family of this house has an additional media room so this wasn’t where multiple families were going to watch TV. So it’s ok that those two chairs are faced away from the TV.

Don’t Crowd The Space

Once we had the layout it all came together. You could pass on both sides of the coffee table as well as behind the chairs. That in and of itself is a HOT TIP. Make sure you can walk between your furniture pieces. You will be so happy that you didn’t crowd your room, making it feel like it’s closing in on you.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Family Room8

I can’t say enough about the ‘see-through’ fireplace. It’s actually an indoor/outdoor fireplace (I stole it for the mountain house and it’s WONDERFUL) – it pumps hot air both ways, which means that you can sit outside in the winter. I will say in order to make it actually warm out there it has to be up really high which is loud, so at the mountain house we have it on pretty low and its perfect for inside and great for more spring/summer nights when it’s chilly but not FREEZING. But the big design win of this piece is that it makes your room feel SO MUCH bigger and open. If you have the ability to add one of these puppies into your home, do it.

Let’s take a second to dive a little deeper into the rest of the fireplace. We used Ann Sacks tile and Metrie moulding to design the fireplace, and we had to limit the mantle in order for a TV to actually fit on top without it being too high. Having that fireplace definitely limited the design as there needed to be 6″ of non-combustible space on each side of the fireplace. But at the same time, we wanted it high enough to actually see out of when you are sitting on a sofa – almost like another window. It was tricky for sure.

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We debated hard about whether or not to put a TV up there to make sure that people knew it was all wired and possible – so they could see their lives (and we would likely put it on a mount that could lean down and angle left and right). But ultimately we had so much art (by MaryAnn Puls and Jennifer Urquhart) that looked so good, so it just seemed painful to me to put a big black TV where we could put art and we didn’t have a budget for The Frame TV, sadly.

Lastly, that fan was everyone’s favorite – my brother wouldn’t stop talking about it so if you are in the market for an attractive ceiling fan, I highly recommend that one.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Family Room51

There you go. The Portland casual family room reveal (did you see the basement media room?). It ended up being a room that we spent a LOT of time in and loved. It is casual and comfortable, but felt “intentional” and done well. In the above photo, I believe we cheated the chairs in so you could see all of them, but there really was enough space to live, walk and hang in this ever-so-challenging pass-through room.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Family Room71

A couple quick call outs of things I LOVE – that black vessel from Mantel by Bobbie Specker Ceramics (I bought it actually and had it shipped down), that wood side table by Vince Skelley from The Good Mod is insane. It was $750 otherwise I would have bought it and lastly, that blanket (not available. SO SAD) is one that I have used one million times because it’s just the perfect amount of pattern in a sophisticated way.

If you are interested in the products we used get out the ‘Get the Look’ below:

Emily Henderson Portland Project Reveal Family Room Get The Look

1. Abstract Art by Mia Farrington | 2. Throw Pillow | 3. Pillow Cover | 4. Pillow Cover by Rejuvenation | 5. LED Ceiling Fan by Rejuvenation | 6. French Doors by Milgard | 7. Floor Lamp from Schoolhouse Electric | 8. Sofa | 9. Rug | 10. Coffee Table by Thos. Moser | 11. Wood Sculpture via The Good Mod | 12. End Table from Room and Board | 13. Vessel by Bobbie Specker Ceramics from Mantel | 14. Metal Trays (set of 3) | 15. End Table from Room and Board | 16. Leather Chair from Room and Board | 17. Lumbar Pillow (similar)| 18. Banded Stripe Pillow | 19. Throw Blanket by Rejuvenation | 20. Marble Sculpture | 21. Stone Sphere Object | 22. Abstract Art by MaryAnn Puls | 23. Painting by Jennifer Urquhart | 24. House Painting by Jennifer Urquhart | 25. Crown Moulding by Metrie | 26. Candle Holders via Mantel | 27. Wood Flooring by Hallmark Floors | 28. Indoor/Outdoor Fireplace by Montigo | 29. Window & Door Casing by Metrie | Baseboard by Metrie | 31. Oyster White by Sherwin-Williams | 32. Pure White by Sherwin-Williams | 33. Fireplace Surround by Ann Sacks | 34. Fireplace Hearth by Bedrosian Tile


***Photography by Sara Tramp for EHD

Design and styling by Emily Henderson and Brady Tolbert (and team). JP Macy of Sierra Custom Homes was the General Contractor, and Annie Usher and the architect.

***For anyone following along with the Portland Reveals, make sure you didn’t miss out on any:

Living Room | Staircase | Office | Master Bedroom | Master Bathroom | Kitchen | Dining Room | Powder Bathroom | Guest Bathroom | Hall Bathroom | Laundry Room | Guest Bedrooms | Media Room | Playroom | Secret Room 

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