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Design for Entertaining

The return of the dining room


To entertain means to show hospitality. This gracious art can range from a sit-down dinner for two to gatherings of dozens of guests in your home. Getting together with friends and family at home is more popular than ever, and architects and home designers are adapting to the needs of people who love to entertain. Whether it's designing a home for a formal sit-down affair or a cocktail party for 50, there are some trends worth noting.

Marshall Erb, ASID, IIDA, of Marshall Morgan Erb Design Inc. in Chicago, caters to a large clientele of city dwellers who love to entertain. Erb says his clients have a penchant for throwing elaborate dinner and cocktail parties and need space and function to support their entertaining needs.

Erb says he likes to create space conducive for all types of socializing--large family gatherings, informal get-togethers and networking and fundraising parties. Chicago Life asked Erb about how home design is changing to accommodate the needs of party givers.

What is the biggest trend in home design for entertaining?

Perhaps the biggest trend in design for entertaining is the return of the dining room. These are separate dining rooms, not the kitchen/family, all-purpose room [that was] so popular for many years. Our younger clients are getting more and more traditional. There is a renaissance of parents using the dining room table. They are anxious to break out the wedding china. It seems like everyone wants to stay in and have parties at home on weekends.

The dining room is the epicenter of mega entertaining. More and more of our clients are big cooks. They are specifying the best in kitchen appliances and taking careful consideration of how they want their kitchens to work. As a result of all this cooking, they are returning to the dining room. Clients want an elegant space for dinners at home with friends and family. Tablescaping is very popular right now.

Typically most of the daily meals will be eaten at a table near the kitchen and family room. For larger groups, our clients really want to be able to use their best china and crystal and linger around the table after dinner. We encourage this by making the family dining area near the kitchen very small and cozy, whereas the dining room table will seat up to 12 people. This makes you use the room whenever you have a larger group. Cleaning up for 12 is not that different from cleaning up for 24.

What if you don't have a dining room?

We call that multi-function entertaining. We recently designed and installed a round dining table in a duplex apartment that is used as an "in city" weekend home. [The table] rises via remote control from cocktail table height to dining height. This allows clients in this smaller space to have friends over for drinks before heading out to a restaurant, or they can eat a meal in the same space. We have two sets of chairs in the furniture plan spread throughout the apartment so they can create a lounge feeling or a dining room feeling depending on the combination.

Another way to get around the dining room issue is to place multi-function tables in other areas of the house that can be used for sit-down dinners or be called into action for buffets during cocktail events. These are gateleg and drop leaf tables--any table that can be expanded for multiple uses.

How do you keep guests from hanging around the kitchen?

When clients have a large party, I encourage them to spread the drinks and hors d'oeuvres throughout the house to encourage guests to mingle and move around. This helps to alleviate the logjam that always surrounds the island in the kitchen.

What changes are being made to design kitchens more conducive for entertaining?..Because of the increase in entertaining, pantries are getting huge. They need to accommodate all of the cooking equipment and serving dishes that are used. In the age of Costco, everyone has a "Costco closet" to store supplies like paper towels and toilet paper.

There is usually a "mini mom office" in the kitchen, which is large enough for a laptop to print out recipes or directions. We don't want to put a major workstation there, which could be a desk clutter gatherer.

Where do men typically want to gather?

Guys are usually looking for an area where they can recreate a bar atmosphere in the comfort of their own homes. That way the men can congregate in one area, while the women entertain upstairs and the children are in the playroom. The "man room" in the house usually includes a large plasma or projection TVs and a fully stocked sit-down bar. These rooms sometimes have multiple TVs so multiple sports can be viewed at the same time. There is usually a television behind the bar in case you are sitting and facing away from the other sets.

Some homes include a "man floor," which may have an office, card room or movie theater. Incidentally, movie theaters are falling out of favor due to the fact that movie rooms are not conducive to multiple uses and are not areas where you can interact with guests. We usually plan an area for smoking cigars with proper ventilation. We had one project that involved installing professional sound deadening material so that they could have their band practice without waking the newborn.

What about spaces for children?

In the houses we design, there is always an coming from our clients' travels. They are looking to recreate these amenities at home to entertain their senses and give themselves the feeling of being at a spa or a five-star hotel. These touches aren't just luxury--they are practical. Some of these city homes are four stories high and the thought of descending three flights to grab a cup of coffee could be enough to keep you in bed.

What about entertaining outdoors?

Many of our projects include a hot tub area for the family with heated floors to melt the exterior snow. There is an area for barbecuing that is usually near the family room and kitchen and another play area for the children. Grills are getting more and more involved. There are different cooking stations, and fire pits and fireplaces are common.What's new in bathroom design?

Once again, clients are traveling and bringing back ideas. Even if the house is traditional, we try to make the bathroom more like a spa. The design is more Zen-like and may be a departure from the rest of the house. For example, rolled up towels in baskets are more like being in a resort. There is usually a spa bath near the exercise area, and there are the usual heated floors and heated towel bars.

How do you and your friends entertain at home?

Even among singles, there are a lot of big get-togethers, like mixers and social networking in our homes. It's more intimate than being out in public. More multi-function design is usually required.

Some of these parties are ultra casual. One interesting trend is in the drinks served. Younger people are drinking manhattans, old-fashioneds, scotch and rum and cokes. I keep a fully stocked bar and serve very basic snacks like cheese and nuts. I place these all over the house to keep people mingling.

Published: December 01, 2006
Issue: Holiday 2006


Marilyn Soltis/Roscoe Jackson
Lifelong residents(40+yrs)ofLSq-readthe piece on Intelligent Design.Sue-student of Art Hist(UofC)liked setting of stools shoot-where is this? & how do we contact the above? J/S
Susan/John Steinkellner, Feb-08-2009