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How to design family-friendly entertaining spaces

With the festive season drawing near, it’s time to think about the inevitable influx of visitors as you prepare to host celebratory drinks and dinner parties. But does the thought of mass entertaining fill you with joy or dread?

Here at RWD, we think the key to successful family entertaining is about getting the interior design absolutely spot on. If your entertaining space has been designed with care and expertise, hosting friends and family will be a breeze. It’s all about creating a beautiful, flexible, functional space which will really come alive for the party season.

living room entertaining space with large sofa and built-in joinery

A flexible space

When you’re designing an entertaining space for use by both older and younger members of the family, it’s important to factor in a level of flexibility. Getting the initial layout right is obviously crucial, but to meet everyone’s needs it is also useful to ensure the space can be used in a variety of ways.

In the case of our Carlton Hill project, our client wanted their open-plan living and dining space to work equally well with large or small groups. To meet this requirement, we designed elegant pocket doors to separate the dining room from the sitting room. This means that the space can either be enclosed or opened up, depending on the family’s needs.

sliding pocket doors between entertaining spaces

With a brief to be able to comfortably seat 14 for dinner, we designed a 3 metre-long bespoke gloss timber dining table which can accommodate 10 people along the side and two additional diners at each end. To soften the impact of this huge table, we then added two ceiling pendant lights which emit a gentle, atmospheric glow perfect for evening entertaining.

large gloss timber dining table with elegant dining chairs and pendant lights

Take a seat

Relaxed family entertaining means always having enough seats when those extra guests arrive, so make sure you allow for more seating than you think you might need. Large, L-shaped sofas such as the one we used in the living area of our Richmond project are perfect for soaking up additional guests. And don’t scrimp on cushions and cosy throws because these can help create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

eclectic living room with large L-shaped sofa and bay window seating

It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which different guests are going to use the space, whether they will be socialising, playing a game or watching TV. These activities can then inform your seating choices.

Consider creating a reading corner as well as a communal area so that people have the option to withdraw if they wish. Modular sofas work really well as a way of providing adaptable seating because the different parts of the sofa can be moved around as required.

cosy reading corner with deep blue velvet chair

Keep it practical

A family-friendly entertaining space needs to be practical as well as beautiful. After all, you can’t trust little ones not to drop food on the floor, so you need to make life as easy as possible when it comes to cleaning up.

Most of our clients opt for timber if they’re looking for practical flooring because it’s durable, easy to clean and compatible with underfloor heating. If carpet is more your thing, natural wool is a great choice for practicality, but it’s best to avoid rugs in luxurious materials such as silk and viscose because they’re very hard to clean. We recommend Scotch Guarding rugs as well as sofas and chairs to keep stains to a minimum.

In the case of our Broad Walk project, the scheme we created for the media room brings together a combination of both practical and stylish features. For this masculine space we chose modular coffee tables which can easily be moved to the side to open up the space for large scale entertaining. Their circular shape brings a playful edge to the predominantly linear scheme, and once loaded with glasses the tray tops can be picked up and carried to the kitchen. The perfect practical helping hand for any busy host!

media room with large sofa and modular coffee tables

Be smart with storage

Allowing for adequate storage will make all the difference when you have a houseful over the festive period. Built-in joinery maximises the available storage space and provides plenty of room to stash away all those DVDs, books and games.

For our family-orientated client in Richmond, we designed an entire wall of fitted storage for their cosy TV room. We chose an asymmetric formation to enhance the relaxed vibe in the room, and the joinery combines both closed and open storage sections to house the client’s extensive book collection. The timber doors add texture and warmth to the space as well as serving to contrast with the stone-coloured sofa.

tv room with large L-shaped sofa and bespoke joinery

Make it fun!

When you’re designing with children in mind, don’t forget to include the fun factor. All kids love a bean bag, but they can be rather bulky to leave lying around the living space. One solution we’ve come up with is to design a space in which bean bags can be hung on the wall. This means they’re up and out of the way when not in use, but they still create an interesting visual feature. Alcantara, a kind of faux suede, is one of our favourite materials for bean bag casings because it’s stain repellent, super soft and looks great up on the wall.

Another fun touch when designing a family-friendly entertaining space is to add in some quirky, large-scale artwork. Brightly-coloured interactive art or bold neon installations appeal to both children and adults alike and make a really striking visual statement.

cosy mock-Tudor dining room with rustic chair covers and exposed beams

Photography: Richard Waite and Mel Yates

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