Lisa Antenucci: Home for the Holidays

Accessible and inviting kitchen. Photo by Greer Photo

Accessible and inviting kitchen. Photo by Greer Photo

The leaves have begun to fall, there is morning frost on your windshield, and the days are getting shorter. Forget about setting a reminder in your smart phone, nature is always on cue to remind us yearly that with the change of season comes the most wonderful time of year; the holidays.  Twinkling lights begin to line neighborhoods and city streets, cars drive around with trees strapped to their hood, stores fill their aisles with holiday table cloths, centerpieces, ornaments, silverware, candles and knick knacks, all to get us in the mood to celebrate this time of year with friends, coworkers and families.  We can just feel the excitement building!  This is the time of year when many of us open our homes to friends and family and in many ways design can help facilitate in creating a pleasant experience for both the owner and their guests.

A well-designed home is tailored to the needs of the user, whether it be a kitchen built for two cooks or an artist studio filled with natural light.  When opening your home to others it is important to make it feel accessible and inviting. When we begin to design a home, the very first thing we do is sit down with the client and listen to their needs, desires, and wants.  Do they have children and what age are they?  Are they planning to have children?  Do they work from home?  Do they cook or is their neighborhood pizza joint on speed dial? During this “getting to know you phase,” entertaining often comes up.  What kind of entertaining do you like to do?  Do you have couples over for a well-prepared, sit-down meal?  Cocktail parties for friends before hitting the club?  Groups over for the big game? Large gatherings with dancing and parties that last all night? Or, do you host overnight guests?  Is your entertaining more formal, where everyone is seated at the table, or more casual, where people tend to huddle around the kitchen island?  These are the questions that create an understanding of how the home is used day to day and at special occasions.  This process can be a bit personal but the more a client shares with us the better and will lead to a home that is well-designed to fit their lifestyle.

Each move we make in designing a home–whether it be the size and kind of a space, the placement of a window, or a material choice–we make with specific intent and awareness of how someone lives their life, what they value, and, more specifically, how they want their home to function.  We are trained to know that even the simplest moves can improve a person’s wellbeing – well placed windows can enhance moods and increase productivity, wellbeing of children can be ensured by views to play areas, and overall safety of the neighborhood can be heightened with views to the street.  We can design to allow people to recycle more easily, create spaces for working at home, and make day to day maintenance of our homes simpler.

A decorative sliding door can transform an open living area into a cozy dining space for intimate dinner parties. Photos by Rik Sferra

A decorative sliding door can transform an open living area into a cozy dining space for intimate dinner parties. Photos by Rik Sferra

Everyone is different and a designer cannot make assumptions about someone’s needs based on a stereotype.  For example, if we look into what it means to design a home there could be a lot of presumptions made based upon gender.  If we’re looking at a lesbian couple we could assume that there might be different needs if two women are sharing a master bathroom. Perhaps both like to wear make-up and spend time styling their hair before getting ready for work in the morning.  A vanity designed with adequate number of drawers to store small items might be more beneficial then an open vanity with doors.  Two sinks with enough counter space, as oppose to one, would also give each woman their own area when getting ready at the same time.  On the other hand, they both might just jump out of the shower, throw some gel in their hair and not look twice in the mirror before heading out so maybe they wouldn’t care to add the extra costs of a second sink and faucet or additional drawers.  Again, this is why the knowledge of how one uses the space, the family’s daily routines, and their personal values is so important in the beginning stages of the design process.

With the holiday’s approaching faster than one can save their pennies for presents,  let’s delve more specifically into how design can positively affect social interaction. For some of us, we have already retrieved our decorations from storage and have sent out the invites to our holiday parties.  We look forward to this time of year when we can entertain and have our homes filled with laughter and joy.  The design of the kitchen and social living areas can be a huge factor in fostering interaction during these times.  In the Twin Cities, many of our homes were built at a time when each function happened in a specific room, but the way we live today we desire open floor plans where many activities happen within a space.  The kitchen has become the heart and center of the home.  It is a place where we cook, drink coffee, read the paper, help children with homework, and host glamorous holiday parties.  By selectively tearing down walls and opening up the kitchen into the main living areas it allows the host to no longer be isolated in a kitchen but part of the action while prepping and preparing food.  As formal dining rooms are beginning to disappear a larger kitchen island is becoming desired for a landing place for people standing around at parties and a place to sit and eat in a more casual dining experience.

Social living areas are also a key component during the holidays when we are hosting parties.  Creating a variety of places for people to gather, sit, and talk is important in making guests feel comfortable in your home.  An open kitchen, as stated before, is a great place for people to mingle in larger groups around the island.  Along with the main kitchen entertaining area having separate break off spaces, whether it be a living room filled with comfy seating, a kitchen table enclosed in an alcove, or window bench fit for two, will give your guests options for interacting or simply observing others based on their comfort level.

Opening up the kitchen as hub of both home and entertaining activities means more involvement and less isolation. Photo courtesy of Shelter

Opening up the kitchen as hub of both home and entertaining activities means more involvement and less isolation. Photo courtesy of Shelter

For some of us the holidays can be a bit stressful. Hosting out-of-town family members for a week or more can be daunting for both the guest and the host.  For the most part we are used to having our own personal spaces to ourselves. A well-designed space addresses the fact that house guests and hosts alike can feel as though there is an occasional lack of privacy.  If out-of-town guests are an annual occurrence, investing in a separate guest suite might be ideal in the design of a home. This can include a bedroom with an adjoining, or nearby, bathroom located away from the family bedrooms and baths. It could also include a separate living room for guest to escape and relax while you go about your daily activities.  For same-sex couples this issue of privacy could come up more often.  Family members or friends may be completely accepting of our lifestyles but may have a harder time being actually submerged in it daily.  Giving yourself and your guests privacy might be the answer to making everyone feel comfortable during an extended visit.

Here is the best thing of all. When I sat down to consider the questions: “Do same-sex couples have different design needs? Are there concepts that need to be explored when hosting people for parties or family stays that are specific to same-sex couples?” I knew I needed to reflect more than my own experiences. So I posed the questions to some of our friends. One of them, a man in is 50s, hit the nail on the head: “The great thing about having greater acceptance and openness is that there are less and less differences/issues.”

And maybe this is part of the point. People are people – the tides have changed and the differences are less important than the similarities.

Lisa Antenucci is an award-winning dynamo at Shelter; an innovative, creative, yet accessible design studio specializing in the architecture and interior design of sustainable homes and unique commercial spaces. See her work at

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