You may be adept at hosting successful dinner parties and family occasions, but your home may not be. Walls that normally embrace two or three family members can turn divisive and isolating with a larger group. Cozy hallways, with just a few more people added, can create a cumbersome circulation that is set on interrupting flow and causing traffic jams. Little annoyances with your home are proportionately exaggerated to unbearable as the number of people inside increases.
The truth is that despite your best efforts and desires as a host, not every house is designed to gracefully bear large groups. Planning ahead as a host goes beyond vacuuming the floors and cleaning the kitchen: It revolves around the spatial planning and architecture of your space.
So how do you design a house that easily accommodates groups and parties — without its feeling cavernous when you are not entertaining? Here are three key elements to consider when planning a redesign with your architect or designer:
• Create a smooth flow: Whether your dream home is a mansion or a house that could fit inside the closet of a mansion, there needs to be a smooth flow based on patterns of movement. This flow connects the core living areas of your house, which are typically the kitchen, living or family room, dining room (if there is one), and any outdoor room or exterior living space.
It is important to design a visual connection between each of these rooms yet maintain architectural distinction. An easy way to achieve this is by expanding each doorway to be almost as wide as the room itself. This opens the floor plan but still maintains defined rooms. It also dramatically helps to scale a huge space, so it will not feel as cavernous when it is empty.
There is a general assumption that the larger your house is, the more conducive it is to entertaining — and the smaller it is, the less conducive. This is not necessarily true: Larger homes with the ever-popular open concept can have terrible acoustics (sound travels much farther when there are no walls to cut it off or contain it), and what if you like entertaining but do not want to live in a big house?
Your architect will analyze how much space you have, how much you want and how much you need — which are often three completely different numbers — and let your goal and budget drive spatial decisions along the way.
• Create social zones: The next step is to define these different rooms as connected but distinct social zones. The kitchen is usually where guests gravitate — no matter how big your house is or how messy your kitchen is. But having equally appealing and inviting alternatives to the kitchen will reduce crowding and better allow people to mingle.
To do this successfully, designers will create a visual connection between each of the core living areas and determine a focal point in each room. (But just one primary focal point per room or space can feel chaotic and out of balance.) In the kitchen, this may be an island or spectacular backsplash behind the stove. In the living room, a roaring fireplace may be the draw; it could even be a well-lit, statement piece of art. Then they design seating areas around these focal points. With a visual connection between rooms to new points of interest and comfortable areas to relax, you are setting up zones for people to stretch into, mingle and explore. Conversation flows as easily as people will from one space to another.
• Create flex spaces: The final element is adaptability: creating multipurpose spaces with multipurpose furnishings. The oldest trick in the book is the transformative “bedroom turned coat closet,” but this is a great idea that can be applied at many scales. What parts of your house can you reimagine when you have company?
You can transform the purpose of the room (think a stylish Murphy bed in the office or library) or even smaller fixtures within it. For instance, I love designing in charming garden stools as guest room accent nightstands — keep them in place for smaller gatherings and overnight guests, but pull them out for extra seating in a pinch.
No matter the reason for hosting, designing your home’s architecture and floor plan to fit your needs and lifestyle will make your house as welcoming to guests as you are.
Stephanie Brick is senior architecture designer at Sustainable Design Group in Gaithersburg, Md.