North Americans have a history of entertaining at home. In spite of appealing restaurants, movie theatres, concerts and plays, sporting events and other places to gather away from home, the trend becomes stronger every year to gather at home. The reasons are many:
• Homes are increasingly more beautiful and accommodating of small and large gatherings. This will be discussed more extensively below.
• Food prepared at home is safe, delicious and can be prepared with greater ease than at any time in history. Even take-out and home-delivery items have improved dramatically in quality and variety. High-quality food preparation equipment is often a preferred investment. From small to large appliances to outdoor kitchens, this is a major incentive for many people to entertain at home.
• Friends and family feel safe in a home setting. It is a controlled environment where security—everything from locked doors to elaborate security systems—can provide substantial peace of mind. There is no concern for the privacy of conversation.
• If guests arrive early or late or if they must depart early or late, there are no reservations that result in time constraints. This makes everyone more relaxed.
• Communication is much easier in a quiet atmosphere where you control the music and the environment. There is no need to yell to be heard. Civility and good manners are gracious and easy. Even a happy, noisy conversation or competitive board game isn’t a problem if the decibels don’t disturb the neighbors.
• Entertaining both indoors and outdoors—at any level of formality—can be accommodated at many homes, allowing for flexibility and variety in the type of entertaining possible.
• When families gather, children can be entertained in their own areas, building friendships and memories, while adults can converse at their leisure, catching up on each others’ lives and reconnecting with extended family and friends. For longer evenings, little ones and elderly family members even can be nestled into bed while the youths and adults continue to participate together late into the evening.
CREATING GREAT SPACES FOR ENTERTAINMENT
What makes a great interior for entertainment? The answer depends on the type of entertainment, and that begs a look at the lifestyle of the homeowner. In interior design, this is part of the “process of design” where we gather data—asking as many questions as necessary to frame a picture of what the interior should accommodate. For example, where food becomes a key element in entertaining, does the cook prefer to work alone or in partnership with only one or two others in the kitchen? If so, does this cook prefer to be in separated facilities so the mess of food preparation is not seen by guests? Or, does the cook feel his or her job is to orchestrate and enjoys bringing together many helping hands in creating meals where everyone participates? Or does the cook enjoy preparing food with occasional help, but wants guests nearby to visit with as the work progresses? If so, does this space need to accommodate more people and should it be a great room atmosphere including a table and seating area?
Next, what kind of entertaining is to be accommodated? Is the preferred entertainment in a formal setting with fine furniture? Is it in a great room setting where the pasta goes from the stove to the sink to the table in short order and no one worries about the colander in the sink? Is the entertaining mostly outdoors near the patio or pool or lushly landscaped private garden? More people are looking at their yards and saying, “Hmm . . . this has possibilities . . . ” then making spaces for beauty and entertaining, including outdoor plumbing for sinks, outdoor fireplaces, outdoor cooking surfaces and free-standing grills. Outdoor seating includes weather-resistant woods (natural, recycled and engineered), plastic and metal with cushions covered with fade-proof and stain-proof fabrics. Water features, decks and professional-appearing landscaping make outdoor settings dramatically appealing.
Other indoor rooms for entertaining that are receiving designer attention include not only the great room, but other specialty spaces such as the media room whose purpose is to show movies on large plasma screens with digitized surround sound. Seating is typically more comfortable than theatres, although some homes include theatre seating, some that accommodate drinks and snacks in the arms and speakers in the seat and which may recline and even heat and vibrate or massage!
Special attention is given to the décor in which a theme is often followed to give a particular ambiance. This special attention includes paint and wall covering colors, patterns and textures, carpeting, upholstery, kitchen/bar planning, lighting and sound expertise and perhaps even automated draperies over the screen.
Entertaining beyond dining is not limited to media rooms. Game rooms may include electronic media from computers to gaming devices. Indoor sport facilities from exercise rooms, spas, swimming pools or racquetball courts may spill into the yard to become swimming pools or spas, sport courts or a big stretch of lawn.
The important thing is to ask the right questions at the beginning of the project—determine how customers live, how they like to entertain, how many people come and how often for what kinds of activities. Then a custom plan can be created for each installation. Lifestyles will be specific for gender, stage of life and to what extent family or friends are to be accommodated.
THANKSGIVING DINNER AND MORE
At this time of year, a special kind of entertainment is on the minds of many people. In America these events include Thanksgiving
dinner and end-of-year celebrations such as Christmas and Hanukah. Americans also celebrate holidays such as Umoja Karamu (the fourth Sunday in November) and Kwanzaa (December 26 to January 1). These all are events that form bonds within families and between friends. As the ethnic diversity in America increases, each culture brings its own traditions and celebrations. And most of these include gathering and feasting.
Enjoying great food in a beautiful setting with people that are interesting and enjoyable is one of lives sweetest pleasures. It is worth the time, effort and expense required for it to happen. I speak from personal experience, as many special events have taken place in my own home. For Thanksgiving dinner this year we are expecting around 50 guests. Bringing people together for rewarding, interactive social experiences that revolve around food has long been one of my highest personal priorities. In order to make the dining spaces pleasant, stimulating and well designed, there are a few concepts that are consistent.
Flooring for crowds should be both beautiful and durable. For example wood and stone show little to no dirt or spills and are easy to maintain. Carpeting with a subtle pattern or two-tone texture hides soiling far better than solid colors. Patterned area rugs over hardwood have a great advantage in hiding foot traffic and those accidental spills. Select a carpet with a stain-resistant feature. Spot cleaning after the guests have departed may require minimal effort. Generally, lighter colored flooring hides dirt better than dark colors, which seem to reveal everything from dusty footprints to lint or crumbs on the floor.
Walls for crowds should seem to expand to make spaces appear larger. Lighter colors, beautifully textured or subtly patterned are a good choice. Where smaller groups are entertained, darker colors, patterns or more dramatic textures, including wood or the popular red wall, suggests inviting intimacy, warmth, enhanced appetite and intellectual stimulation.
Window treatments are critically important to control light and glare, assure privacy and provide both beauty and sound insulation. Often an alternative window treatment—blind, shutter or shade—is used beneath a lovely drapery or valance. Custom fabric treatments are a natural for more formal dining and living rooms as they provide tailored beauty and a sense of quietude. High-placed windows, such as clerestory windows, give an expansive quality to an interior making spaces appear larger. Vertical space is effective in making guests feel less crowded.
Accessories are important finishing elements that are often selected for the specific season or event and easily changed or manipulated. These items provide individual personality to each room. For example, autumn-themed accessories can transform a space into a richly inspiring room perfect for appreciating harvest time at Thanksgiving. As year-end festivities commence, those accessories may take on a specific theme such as Christmas décor or the traditional blue and gold and white color theme of the menorah at Hanukah.
Above all, the atmosphere should evoke graciousness. That means that as guests enter they will have an instinctive desire to become well mannered and cultured. Host and hostess will welcome guests who appreciate their efforts to create an enchanting ambiance. Holiday event spaces that evoke a sense of wonder and elegance make life more enchanting and memorable. People also feel more valued and important where the space has been created to be beautiful—as if just for them.
Thus, sweet memories are formed that give life flavor—and like a good turkey dinner—are savored!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Cov-erings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.