Reinventing the family room

21 06 2007

The Lucido family used to spend a lot of weekday time apart — kids in the toy room, mom Kelli working upstairs. So when they moved to a new house in Oakville, Mo., in December, Lucido says she came up with a fix: a whole-family home office, with mom-and-me desks and a new laptop for her 7-year-old. It’s the “heart of the house,” she says.

 (c) Dylan Ellis/Getty Images

In an effort to eke out more quality time, some families are designing group home offices in which parents and kids can work together. Some are renovating existing rooms, installing desks and adding laptop ports for every member of the family, while others are ordering them as custom-built options in new homes. In its new Menifee, Calif., development, Capital Pacific Homes has a model outfitted with an “education space”; the bright-yellow room can fit up to eight stools and has desks that adjust to adult and kid heights.

Results are mixed. Some families say the shared workspaces help facilitate intergenerational bonding, with parents learning about YouTube and kids getting their first taste of Excel spreadsheets. But others say the new spaces are counterproductive — after all, it isn’t easy talking to clients when your kids are doing vocabulary drills in the background. And kids say it’s hard to concentrate with parents interrupting their Web searches to give them unsolicited grammar lessons.

For Shannon and Fred Converse of Norwalk, Conn., a shared office has meant more time with their 13-year-old twins — and more noise when they’re trying to work. Since they converted their formal dining room into a space for everyone to work in together, the Converses say they’ve gotten to know each other a lot better. But when the parents, who own a tutoring business, are on the phone with clients, Eli and Jacob often erupt into cheers over computer-game victories, creating a “kind of hairy” situation, Shannon Converse says.

Eli says his parents can be a distraction, too: He recently wrote out a homework assignment, only to discover he had inadvertently copied down a transcript of his father’s phone conversation instead of the schoolwork. Now, he tries to do at least some of his homework in his bedroom. “It’s a lot quieter there,” he says.

By Kate Goodloe, The Wall Street Journal

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