House Party

The fun’s at home thanks to thoughtful living spaces that invite all kinds of entertaining

For the best in entertainment, you don’t have to head out. In fact, many of us are staying in thanks to living spaces that accommodate every kind of get-together from holiday pot-lucks to Friday-night Monopoly marathons, Saturday movie nights, and Sunday Packer games.

Keven Schmidt, owner of full-service remodeling company Dream Kitchens, says homeowners aren’t looking to confine entertaining to specific areas of the house. While we might put a pool table in the lower level, the kitchen still needs to be comfortable for guests who mingle during last-minute dinner prep. In other words, entertaining happens where we live and we live where we entertain. 

“The rooms are multifunctional,” Schmidt says. “I think people are spending more time at home, and it’s much more of a social center for the whole family.”

Amanda Funk, lead designer and product specialist for full-service general contracting company JG Development, agrees. “Rather than specializing, all rooms are becoming multipurpose,” she says. “The office converts into a guest bedroom, which converts into the craft room … the common theme in building and remodeling is flexibility.”

Homeowners want entertaining flexibility, too, says Crystal Cordie, an interior designer and remodeler with the Ganser Company. She says we want rooms that allow us to gather for a variety of reasons, whether it’s watching the Badgers, chatting with a book club, or playing Apples to Apples. “You need to be able to bring more people into the space,” Cordie explains, “because it wouldn’t really be entertaining unless there are people there.”

But these are rooms we live in, too, so they can’t feel empty or cavernous on a random Tuesday night. They have to be comfortable, day-in and day-out.

Enter the sectional. It seems no modern entertaining area—be it a family room, great room or finished lower level—is complete without one. And for good reason, according to Kelly Hofmeister, manager of west-side furniture retailer Woodworks. “Nothing says ‘comfy’ like the sectional,” she says. 

Modern sectionals offer comfort in the traditional sense since they allow us to spread out and sprawl out across the furniture however we choose and still find a way to see the TV or reach the popcorn bowl. Plus, connectors keep individual components together so they don’t slide apart when you sit down.

Sectionals offer another kind of comfort, as well. Modern features allow for personalization and flexibility, so you can use them in different ways on different days—or even at the same time. Individual built-in recliners let you find the right light and posture for reading, while your son can sit up or lean back to watch the game. On another night you can unfurl the pullout beds and have an old-fashioned sleepover for your daughter and all her friends.

Century House’s Tobin Morrison agrees that flexibility makes a wide variety of activities comfortable. The designer for the west-side furniture and gift retailer says that Century House offers sectionals from American Leather’s Comfort Sleeper Collection, which can “turn your family room into slumber-party headquarters or your home theater into a guest room.”

Both Hofmeister and Morrison note that sectionals often come in myriad colors, fabrics and configurations, so there is no need to settle on something that isn’t quite right. The experts also recommend working with on-site designers who can guide customers through selections to make sure they find furnishings that offer optimal function and style within allowed budgets.

And don’t forget fit. The perfect sectional isn’t really so perfect if it dwarfs the room or gets stuck in the doorway right off the delivery truck.

“Shopping for sectionals is all about size!” Hofmeister says. “The concern is not only about the size of the section as it’s placed in the room, but in being able to get it into the room. Often these entertainment spaces are in lower levels, and it can be a concern to get a larger corner sofa or curved corner wedge down stairs and around corners.”  

While the sectional might be a key entertaining component, it’s certainly not the only one. Hofmeister says many lower level rooms utilize pub tables for cards or extra seating because the extra height allows guests to see over sofas and sectionals to watch the game. 

“Think variety,” Morrison says. “Look at your overall floor plan … and try to offer a variety of seating options for a variety of purposes …Next, think about the critical details … Is there enough ambient and task lighting available? Are there adequate surfaces [to set] drinks and snacks?”

Ah, yes, refreshments. Schmidt says homeowners have learned that easy access to refreshments is part of comfortable entertaining. Dream Kitchens has put small bars in sunrooms as well as mini-kitchens with pizza ovens and popcorn poppers in lower levels. 

Cordie adds that many remodeled kitchens include a separate bar area with a sink, glasses, refrigeration and wine storage, along with other accessories. This allows guests to serve themselves and stay out of any cooking fray. 

While full-scale lower-level bars are also still popular, Funk says most homeowners want to extend the design and feel of the rest of their homes and not re-create the set of Cheers. Once again, ease and comfort are critical, so wet bars far outnumber dry bars. Plus, “dishwashers at the bar are popular,” Funk adds, “so that cleanup is easy after a night of entertaining.”

Jennifer Garrett

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