Once basement afterthoughts, game rooms have evolved into
bright, sophisticated communal spaces.
—by Shaun Tolson
Not too many years ago, even the most luxuriously appointed residential game rooms adhered to a traditional aesthetic. The vast majority of billiard tables, for example, featured carved wooden legs and were adorned in emerald-green felt. Naturally, the decor and accents of those rooms followed suit. Mahogany bar furniture was a given, and the lighting was intentionally dim. For decades, these spaces could best be described as cavernous, so it’s no surprise that the term man cave eventually took hold.
Today, however, game room design has seen the light—literally.
“Nowadays, people don’t want game rooms to be so dark and ominous,” says Jeff Andrews, Los Angeles– based interior designer and proprietor of Jeff Andrews Design. “They want them to be more bright and happy.”
As proof, Andrews references the 1974 film The Godfather: Part II, which includes several scenes shot in a moody, dimly lit game room in the Corleone family’s Lake Tahoe estate. By contrast, Andrews recently designed the game room for a Tahoe residence—on the home’s top floor. “It’s got the bright, airy vibe that you’d want for a lake house,” he says.
Even the moniker for these spaces has changed, says Andrews. “We don’t call them game rooms [anymore]. Now we call them playrooms,” he says. “They’re hangout rooms where a lot of different people can be doing different things at the same time. They bring family and friends together in one communal space.”
The game room aesthetic has undeniably grown more chic, sophisticated, and stylish over time. And while that evolution has been gradual, many would point to the bespoke furniture-design firms, such as Anaheim-based 11 Ravens, as the catalysts for the transformation. The company was founded a decade ago and specializes in a wide range of aesthetics, from midcentury modern to decidedly futuristic designs. It also creates bespoke game tables across all genres—billiards, table tennis, shuffleboard, foosball, air hockey, poker, blackjack, and mahjong.
“All of these pieces are furniture,” 11 Ravens cofounder Michael Zaretsky says of the one-off tables his firm creates. “But furniture is art,” he adds, “and these game tables are becoming masterpieces like a piece of art.”
Three out of four 11 Ravens clients are interior designers, yet all the firm’s clients are focused on how the gaming space assimilates into the look and feel of the home. “Some clients share the aesthetic of their home— the finishes and renderings—and they request that we design a piece that speaks to that space,” Zaretsky says. “Other clients know exactly what they want, like Mojo Stumer Associates, who commissioned a version of our Stealth pool table, but with warm, russet-color leather- wrapped rails, shiny stainless-steel detailing, and a brushed-steel base with altered proportions for a Miami penthouse.” In another example, 11 Ravens designed a billiards table clad partly in 24-karat gold and employed custom printing to replicate the colorful work of a contemporary artist on its playing surface.
“Homeowners are taking creative freedom over their game rooms so that they speak to the needs of the individual or family, to the culture, location, and lifestyle,” Zaretsky says. “The sky’s the limit.”
The gradual shift in game table aesthetics in recent years—a movement toward more artistic and inventive pieces—may be the nucleus of the overall shift in game room design, but others would argue that social media has played a significant role in that trend, too. “You can look into people’s homes much more than you could in the past,” says Ryan Claxton, cofounder of Fusion Bowling in Ponte Vedra, Florida. “People get inspiration from seeing what other people are doing.”
Claxton has overseen the installation of bowling lanes in many large game rooms and entertaining spaces in recent years, and in all those instances the spaces were explicitly planned from the beginning. Those living areas are “a deliberate choice made by homeowners, with good architects and good interior designers who really want to entertain and to open it up to friends and family,” he says.
Bohnne Jones, a franchise owner of Decorating Den Interiors in Nashville, Tennessee, has seen a similar trend among her clients creating game rooms. “They were afterthoughts in homes before, but now they’re planned into the architecture,” she says. “There is also a big shift towards keeping it open—making these rooms part of a big space for entertaining.”
The most common mistake homeowners make, she says, is enlisting an interior designer too late in the process, after making major decisions that can’t be changed. “To get the biggest wow factor, it’s good to bring us in first,” she says.
With game rooms—or play spaces, in today’s parlance—melding into the broader living and entertaining areas of the home, designers and their clients strive to combine elevated style with everyday functionality. “Comfort is key,” says Andrews. “Homeowners want their game rooms to be well- appointed, but also livable and comfortable. That’s the key component that pulls it all together.”