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By Lou Carlozo, Brand Publishing Writer
There's never been a better time to think about home improvement, especially if you have a den project in mind.
Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies forecasts double-digit gains in home improvement spending for 2014, according to its Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity. Third-quarter spending in 2014
on home improvement is estimated to hit $158.9 billion - a jump of more than 14 percent from the same time in 2013.
But when it comes to how you should design and furnish your den, there have been tremendous changes over the past decade, says Janet Graham, an interior designer for Baer's Furniture, a 15-store family-owned company
that's been bringing fine furniture and accessories to Florida since 1945.
"In 2014, an office is no longer an office, it's a multipurpose room," says Graham, a 14-year veteran who works out of Baer's Naples store. "Today the den serves as a bedroom, an office and a TV room.
So the den is becoming more of an overflow space."
And that makes designing and furnishing a den tricky. When working with clients, Graham starts by asking them to think first about the office function. For starters, offices themselves have evolved in the digital age.
"For a lot of our contemporary designs, we will do custom build-ins into the walls," she says. "But you don't need as much storage in an office now as you used to because people keep a lot of the books on a Kindle or an iPad."
Gone also are the days of big, clunky desktop computers in every home. "In this day and age, everybody's going wireless and using laptops, so the den is more of an overflow room," she says. "There are desks, we're mounting the TV
above the desk, and a lot of times for the side table we do a file cabinet, and a lamp on top of the cabinet."
In many cases, "They want a nice, attractive desk that is not oversized," says Samir Hanna, a Baer's designer in the Sarasota store who's been there six years. "So it's not an executive desk like a credenza, but more a
writing desk with some "bookcases behind it.""
There's also another clever way to utilize small filing cabinets: Put them on wheels so they can be stored in a closet. "Casters allow people to bring the file cabinet close to the desk, and they can roll it out of site
(when not in use)," Hanna says.
Another major function of the den can be as a guest room when friends and relatives visit. That's a very popular use because Floridians are used to having visitors, especially during the winter months. Forget what you know about
sleeper sofas and their lumpy mattresses. The sleepers Graham recommends are comfy. Some of the best, she says, are made in the United States by American Leather. "The mattresses are so good now that you can't tell the difference
between a sleeper sofa mattress and a regula mattress," Graham says. "Some come in metallic leather that looks like pearl and kind of listens. In contemporary designs they love that look."
That also points to solving a related storage issue. "A lot of times instead of a coffee table, I'll do a trunk fabric ottoman on wheels," Graham says. "That way, you can store your blankets or bedding in there in case someone sleeps over."
As for what pulls it all together, Graham strongly recommends using a wood flooring - nine out of 10 times, in fact - to give the den a different look and offset it from the rest of the home. Cherry, maple, and bamboo
are among the most popular choices. "In Florida, we like to use engineered hardwoods," she says. "It's a tongue-in-groove design and very easy to install. And if one plank gets damaged, you can replace the wood very easily, too.
It just pops out, and the new one pops in."
For the most special books — say, the family bible or that heirloom first edition — you can protect the volume while turning it into a decorative objet d'art, Twomey says, with plexiglass cubes that rest on a beautiful wood stand. "That shouts, 'This is a special book!'" he says. There are also clamshell storage boxes for books, some of which are made to look like books themselves.
In terms of window treatments, "I'm seeing a lot of people in Florida who like to do woven woods or grasses," Hanna says. "That offers some flexibility in the amount of lighting so that when you pull the shades down,
they can still get some light into the rom. They can be very reasonable in cost and can rnage from $200 to $500 per window."
No matter what your notions are for designing the den of your dreams, Hanna and Graham strongly recommend enlisting the design team at Bear's to organize your ideas into a plan that balances beauty and versatility,
and that help you pick out just the right furniture combinations.
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