Spokes of a Social Hub

November 17, 2013

Inviting floor planLike many homeowners, George Urvari and his wife, Julie Poirier, define entertaining in several ways — postgame drinks with fellow golfers, holiday family meals, cookouts for courting prospective clients. The couple’s new 2,900-square-foot house covers all the bases.

Urvari applied the keep-it-simple concept to his floor plan.

“We can have 150 people here without logjams because it flows,” he said.

Architect Jeffrey Veffer, of Design Incite in Toronto, anchored the open floor plan with a U-shaped kitchen island. It is flanked by a dining table that stretches to seat 20 and a main seating area with a fireplace and television.

Entertaining has evolved since the days when children just had birthday parties and grown-ups had dinner parties, said Jonathan Scott, half of HGTV’s “Property Brothers.”

“Now, parties are multigenerational, informal, last-minute,” he said. “Our homes have to be flexible.”

Jonathan and his twin, Drew, say the ideal floor plan for entertaining has few walls. That’s an easy call for a new home. But the typical older home has lots of rooms, so the brothers begin by opening the space.

How a family entertains dictates what type of entertaining stations an open floor plan should include.

“Do you have the whole block over for barbecues or just a few close friends?” Drew said. “Everyone congregates in the kitchen, no matter how many people. So the rest of the house should have places to attract small groups, like a TV for the big game or seating around a fire pit.”

To define areas within the open floor plan of the Toronto home, Veffer used varied ceiling heights and lights on dimmers. “Lighting tells guests to ‘sit here’ or ‘go to the buffet here,'” he said.

A kitchen island is a must for entertaining and a given in most homes today, according to the Scotts. Urvari’s island includes two dishwashers, two sinks and seating for 12 at a lower level “so guests don’t see the messy part,” Veffer said.

Whether you are remodeling or building, look at your house from your guest’s point of view. In the Toronto couple’s entry, Veffer made coat and boot removal easy, for example. “Guests leave their boots on the tile floor and put their coats on the bed in the guest room, which is just to their right,” he said.

Do not neglect the powder room, because it is the room solely for guests.

At one end of Urvari’s living area is a stairway to the lower level. The railing is glass so parents can keep one ear tuned to children downstairs. Putting game tables, exercise equipment and home theaters in the lower level means not losing valuable first-floor adult entertaining space.

A secondary food prep area is especially important to Indian and Asian families, said Robert Hidey, an architect in Irvine, Calif. A wok kitchen keeps the main kitchen clean for guests.

“Buyers want it with a window for cooking smells, so it should be on an exterior wall,” he said.

A butler’s pantry can become a wok kitchen by adding a high-Btu (British thermal unit) stovetop, exhaust hood and easy-to-clean backsplash. This minikitchen also works for families that cook kosher.

Linking the main living area to a patio can double entertaining space.

“People gravitate to the outside if they can,” Jonathan said. “So even in the North in cold weather, the outdoor space at least extends the space visually.”

Veffer used two French doors at the rear of Urvari’s house. One is visible from the front door so guests head toward it when they arrive. The other leads back into the kitchen. The circular flow allows Urvari to have more guests when the weather is warm.

You save money in the long run by designing for entertaining from the get-go, said Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, Calif. “You don’t need to do it all at once, but a plan helps you coordinate flooring, colors, patterns,” she said. “Do the kitchen first, then the living areas. The bedrooms are last, because they’re private.”

Downsizing baby boomers sacrifice square feet but spend money equipping their kitchens for parties, Kelly said. “An ice-maker and wine refrigerator at the end of the island allow guests to help themselves while you cook,” she said.

“‘Repurpose, reupholster, refinish,’ trims budgets,” Kelly said. “You can have the Restoration Hardware look with things you already have.”

If your guests are your kid’s soccer team, Kelly suggests using durable outdoor furniture indoors. “The new performance fabrics no longer look plasticky,” she said.

Every social hub should exude fun, Kelly said. She paints the inside of powder room doors with chalkboard paint for guests to write messages.

The Scotts use old-fashioned icebreakers.

“We have simple scavenger hunts,” Drew said. “Or we ask people to bring white elephant gifts. … It gets people moving around and meeting people they don’t know.”

This post was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 15, 2013.

About The Author

Read All Stories By Chicago Tribune