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Kitchens Designed for Entertaining

Plan a kitchen that’s great for get-togethers with these effective ideas.

Written and produced by Debra Steilen
  • Werner Straube

    Love to cook and entertain? Here’s how to plan a kitchen that’s perfect for parties.

    Beauty + comfort + functionality. That’s the recipe for designing a kitchen that makes guests feel welcome and hosts feel at ease while cooking and serving. In other words, today’s kitchens have evolved from being places for products into places for people, says kitchen designer Mick de Giulio. “We used to talk about door style, now we talk about lifestyle,” he says. “The kitchen is still about utility, but it has evolved from pure utility to a beautiful space where people want to be.”

    Shown: Wall ovens from Wolf are embedded in brushed stainless-steel cabinets on this kitchen’s cooking wall. Next to the ovens, a glass-front cabinet stores pots and pans on rods (with a drawer for lids)—keeping cookware organized and accessible. “Because the kitchen is so open to other living spaces, the homeowners didn’t want to see things on the countertops,” says De Giulio, who designed the space.

    Keep clicking to learn more about creating kitchens as social hubs.

    Kitchen design: Mick De Giulio

  • John Granen

    Explore an Open Floor Plan

    Open floor plans put kitchens at the center of the action, with other spaces—such as the living room, family room, and/or dining room—branching off in other directions. Such an arrangement makes it possible for hosts to mingle with their guests while cooking, serving, and cleaning. Architecturally speaking, it makes sense to repeat design elements from space to space—woodwork, floors, lighting, color palette—to make sure the connected rooms are perceived as one.

    Shown: This open kitchen and adjoining spaces (breakfast bar, banquette, and living room) share contemporary lines, traditional shapes, and rustic oak flooring. Such decor makes it clear that guests are welcome throughout the whole area.

    Design: Tereza Bajan

    See another beautifully open kitchen.

  • John Merkl

    Enjoy Island Advantages 

    Bigger kitchens that open to other rooms accommodate larger islands—an ideal arrangement for homeowners who love to entertain. Take this rustic California kitchen, for example. Since homeowners Bunny and Ed Berdick both enjoy entertaining and cooking, they asked their designers to create a friendlier and more functional kitchen.

    After reconfiguring the appliances, the designers created a layout centered on a 4x10-foot island—with a farmhouse sink that lets the cook interact with guests seated at the island and nearby dining table. Generously sized woven-rush barstools from Laura Lee Design offer comfy landing spots for guests. Stainless-steel appliances complement hues found in the hefty honed limestone countertops and distressed hazelnut-color cabinets.

    Interior design: Catherine Macfee and Justine Macfee 

    See this pretty kitchen’s befores and afters.

  • Brie Williams

    Find Room for a Dynamic Duo

    If the kitchen is large enough, the presence of two islands lets hosts entertain in style. Use the island closest to the range as a prep station. (The one shown here, which is topped with Absolute Black granite, includes an integrated chopping block, a prep sink, and a handy trash pullout.) Use the island closest to the adjoining living room or family room for casual dining and socializing. (Here, the second island includes a curved breakfast bar made of the same granite as the perimeter countertops.) Such an arrangement keeps traffic flowing outside the main work zone—without isolating hosts from their guests.

    Worth noting: In this kitchen, the wine cellar is designed to be seen—and admired. Behind the decorative-iron gate, a wine cellar holds bottles in ceiling-high racks made of Spanish cedar. A tall preservation unit pampers wine bottles with dual temperature zones.

    Design: Susan Brechtel and Christine Brechtel Thompson 

    Nab more great island ideas.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Call in the Cavalry

    Food prep, cooking, and cleaning don’t have to be one-person operations (unless that’s the way you roll, of course). Make it easier for others to help by creating a layout with multiple work zones. Each zone should house the equipment, appliances, and work surfaces needed for a particular task. A prep zone, for example, needs its own sink, ample countertop space, storage for equipment (such as knives and mixing bowls), and easy access to ingredients and seasonings.

    Shown: A center island outfitted with two large Kohler sinks and Waterworks bridge-style faucets offers plenty of work space for helpful guests. Side-by-side dishwashers shorten the amount of time it takes to clean up after a party.

    Architect: Bobby McAlpine
    Project architect: David Baker
    Interior design: Susan Ferrier

    Look through this lakeside home.

  • Francesco Lagnese

    Provide Room to Roam

    Good parties are all about the flow: the traffic flow, the flow of conversation, and in all likelihood—the flow of liquor. Whether you have one island or two, your floor plan should include wide enough aisles so party guests can move about without bumping elbows.

    Shown: Two Franke sinks—one in the walnut-stained island and another beneath the arched window—support dual work zones in this stylish kitchen. (Both sinks are paired with Bosch dishwashers and Dornbracht faucets.) Wide aisles keep traffic moving on floors crafted from Artistic Tile’s “Vestige Ash” in Chevron. 

    Worth noting: The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends that work aisles with appliances should be at least 42 inches wide to accommodate one cook. Planning on multiple cooks? Make the aisles at least 48 inches wide.

    Kitchen design: RitaLuisa Garcés
    Interior design: Jack Levy

    Tour this tone-on-tone kitchen.

  • Werner Straube

    Sink Back and Relax

    Kitchens transform into gathering spaces when they provide cozy, beautiful surroundings that persuade guests to linger. Create that atmosphere by softening all those hard stone and stainless-steel edges with upholstered armchairs, plush barstools, comfy sofas, cozy banquettes, and even a fireplace that lets friends kick back while chatting with the cook. “These are the things that make a room warmer and make people feel more comfortable,” says kitchen designer Mick De Giulio.

    Shown: A two-sided fireplace helps traffic flow easily between the kitchen and family room, while adding a cozy ambience in both areas.

    Design: Mick De Giulio 

    Learn more about how kitchens have evolved.

  • James Yochum

    Offer Outdoor Connections

    Link your kitchen to the landscape, and you increase the amount of space you can dedicate to entertaining. Take the kitchen shown here, for example. It was designed to suit empty nesters who love to entertain. Along with an open floor plan, the kitchen boasts glass patio doors that push back into the wall to create a 12-foot-wide opening. The disappearing doors essentially triple the kitchen in size—giving guests a wide-open area in which to mingle.

    Architect: Elaine Keiser
    Kitchen design: Liz Firebaugh
    Interior design: Laurie Seltenright 

  • Andreas Trautmansdorff

    Power Up for Parties

    When you regularly cook for a crowd, you need serious cooking power to make sure everything is served according to schedule. Here are some appliances worth considering. A 48-inch- or 60-inch-wide range/cooktop with enough burners to ensure that the entrée and side dishes are served at the same time. A powerful ventilation system that removes smoke, steam, and grease that could otherwise cling to your guests’ clothes. Stacked wall ovens that make it possible to cook and/or bake multiple offerings at once (make one of them a microwave-convection oven for even more versatility). A warming drawer that helps you serve dishes at the right temperature and cater to the needs of late arrivals. And double dishwashers that let you separate china and crystal from pots and pans.

    Shown: This traditional-style kitchen works like a commercial kitchen, thanks to its steam oven (cooks most food in 20 minutes or less), a built-in coffeemaker, an undercounter refrigerator, two free-standing ranges (one 30 inches, the other 36 inches), a microwave drawer, a warming drawer, an indoor charbroiler, and a 48-inch refrigerator.

    Design: Dee Dee Taylor Eustace

    See more of this beautifully efficient kitchen.

  • Peter Rymwid

    Keep Your Spirits Up

    Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, or just want to keep your guests happy, installing a wine refrigerator shows off your collection while keeping bottles chilled to perfection. Full-size models make a dramatic design statement; make sure you display your bottles with the labels facing out so guests can see them. New combination units, which pair a wine refrigerator above with a pair of refrigerator drawers below, offer a great way to incorporate space for wine, beer, and other beverages. Many models feature dual temperature zones for storing reds and whites at the same time.

    Shown: This showhouse kitchen’s work zone is grounded by a large center island that houses a prep sink, a microwave drawer on the range side, and bar-stool seating for up to five people on the other side. Behind the island, a stainless-steel 18-inch wine preservation column stores up to 56 bottles behind tempered, UV-protective glass doors. The black-painted Shaker-style cabinets and island base are topped with quartz surfacing and accessorized with brushed brass hardware.

    Interior design: Lisa Herring Mende
    Cabinet design: Melonie Plotkowski

    Tour this fabulous showhouse kitchen.

  • Gordon Beall

    Slide Into Versatile Seating

    Tired of making extra dinner guests sit on folding chairs? Incorporate a banquette into your kitchen and you can squeeze in a lot more visitors for a holiday dinner, birthday party, or pizza party after the big game. Best of all? A banquette is just as suitable for one- or two-person seating as it is for a crowd. Decorative throw pillows boost the comfort level.

    Shown: This comfortable corner banquette is paired with a trestle table that seats up to eight people. One side of the banquette sports an extra-deep bench seat that’s perfect for watching TV or reading. The banquette base, which includes handy storage drawers, is Essex Recessed Square in Vintage Lace on Maple from Wood-Mode. Dining chairs are backed in “Biron Check”/Truffle fabric from Vervain.

    Architect: Michael Rouse
    Kitchen design: Nadia N. Subaran
    Interior design: Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey

    Learn more about this kitchen.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Disguise the Disorder

    You want your kitchen to be party perfect? You’ve got to do something about all the untidiness that goes along with food prep. One of the best ways to manage the clutter is to use a butler’s pantry for assembling appetizers and putting the finishing touches on entrees. (Butler’s pantries also make great stations for caterers.) That way, guests won’t see the cluttered countertop and dirty dishes you leave behind. Just make sure you treat the butlers’ pantry as a real room, not a closet, and outfit it with the same quality of materials you used in the kitchen—especially if any part of the interior can be seen from adjoining rooms.

    Need a few more hiding places? A big enough walk-in pantry hides a multitude of sins behind closed doors. A two-tier island uses a raised countertop to conceal dirty dishes from people in the adjoining room. An appliance garage keeps the coffeemaker and toaster out of sight when not being used.

    Shown: Tucked behind the range wall, this butler’s pantry includes a square Whitehaus Collection sink, a Rohl faucet, and the same antique-white cabinetry and marble surfaces as the main kitchen. A coffeepot and toaster oven help the space function as a breakfast zone.

    Architect: Tim Adams
    Interior design: Nicole Metzheiser

    See more of this updated Atlanta classic.

  • Werner Straube

    Admire the View

    Let’s be honest. When you entertain, you like to show off your home as well as your cooking prowess—or your caterer’s talents. Glass-front cabinet doors let you bring the beauty of your collections into the kitchen: from leaded-crystal glasses and pretty platters to art pottery or heirloom silver. Add interior lighting to these cabinets to create a dramatic showing at night after kitchen lights have been dimmed.

    Shown: White “Southampton” cabinets from Wood-Mode include glass shelves that transmit light and bring out the sparkle in dishes and glassware.

    Design: Julia Edelmann

    See more kitchen cabinets with glass-front doors.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Hold Down the Noise 

    Open kitchens do have one major drawback: noise. The food and wine you serve may be superb, but if guests can’t hear each other talk above the sound of your appliances their enjoyment is diminished. So choose a dishwasher that’s known for running quietly—thanks to layers of insulation and components designed to reduce sound. Choose a ventilation system for the same reasons. If the architecture permits it, link your ventilation system to an external blower to cut down on decibels. Another tip? Include soft layers in the kitchen or adjacent rooms that can help absorb sound—such as rugs, curtains, or upholstered furniture.

    Shown: Hardwood flooring and Venato marble countertops could have added up to a noisy kitchen. But drapery panels hanging in a south-facing bay help muffle the sound. The ventilation system is by Wolf.

    Design: Lauren DeLoach

    Visit this Atlanta home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Serve Up a Beverage Station

    If you’re more likely to invite friends over for brunch than a cocktail party, consider adding a coffee bar or beverage station to your list of kitchen amenities. Install a coffeemaker or espresso machine outside the main work zone; stock the surrounding cabinetry with mugs, teacups, glassware, and mix-ins. Including an undercounter refrigerator or a pair of refrigerator drawers lets you keep canned or bottled drinks, milk, and cream at the ready.

    Shown: Just to the right of the island, a coffee center stands ready to dispense caffeine at a moment’s notice. The Miele coffee machine is installed within the same style of blue-gray painted cabinetry as the rest of the kitchen. Walnut drawers below the coffee machine organize spoons, tea, and sweeteners.

    Design: Matthew Quinn, Mary Kathryn Timoney, Laurie Lehrich, Kelly Carlisle, and Debbie Blumencrantz

    Tour this glamorous gray showhouse kitchen.

  • Peter Rymwid

    Look at Layers of Lighting

    Add more “oomph” to your entertaining landscape with accent lighting. Whether you install rope lighting above upper cabinets or interior lighting in glass-front cabinets, you’re setting the stage for a dramatic light show after dark. Just turn off the task lighting (recessed lights and undercabinet lighting) and dial back the kitchen’s ambient lighting (chandelier, ceiling-mount fixtures, or pendants) to emphasize the illumination up above. Link the ambient lighting to a dimmer to guide your guests out of the kitchen when it’s time to serve after-dinner drinks on the terrace.

    Shown: Three nickel-banded pendants from Lauren by Ralph Lauren for Circa illuminate the kitchen and visually fill spatial volume above the island. Lighted upper cabinets with glass doors break the monotony of solid wood doors. Undercabinet lighting illuminates work zones.

    Kitchen design: Julia Kleyman
    Interior design: Tony Manning

    See the before and after photos from this showhouse kitchen.

  • Werner Straube

    Tailored for Entertaining

    “[She] entertains on steroids,” says designer Julia Edelman about Sarah Nolan, an energetic mother of four. So Edelmann tweaked Sarah’s builder-kitchen layout to enlarge the space and add seating to the island. “The wood table was originally supposed to be attached to the island, but we made it freestanding for flexibility,” the designer says. When Sarah entertains large groups, the table is pulled forward to let a bartender stand between the table and island to serve drinks. Cube-shaped stools upholstered in turquoise provide comfy seating while repeating blue-green accents from the adjoining family room. Limestone floor tiles easily stand up to large crowds and heavy traffic. 

    Design: Julia Edelmann

    See more kitchen details.

  • David A. Land