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By Leah A. Zeldes
In the 20th century and before, many homes had stiff, formal living rooms. These showplace rooms were rarely entered by the family, but kept ready for entertaining guests.
That old-fashioned concept, "the formal living room that nobody touches," is gone, says Syril Lebbad, a designer for Baer's, a collection of fine furniture stores with 15 locations throughout Florida. In Florida, such formal rooms seem as foreign as snowshoes.
"The big thing is to arrange your home so it's comfortable for intimate occasions with family and friends," says Lebbad, while at the same time adaptable for entertaining.
Jessica Ralph of Tampa Bay events planners Parties a la Carte says celebrations in Florida are all about the sun and the sea — "definitely the amazing weather." Even when held indoors, she says, "You still have beautiful views of the beach, the water."
Bring the outside in
If you’re home isn’t blessed with an ocean view, your parties can maintain a tropical theme with accents. "Frozen drinks and beautiful flowers," suggests Ralph. In her Twitter feed, she points out ideas for combining fruit and flowers in clever centerpieces.
"Every party is different and unique," Ralph says, "A lot depends on your decor and your entertainment."
Great rooms, popular architectural features today, lend themselves to centralized entertaining, and can be readily transformed from everyday living spaces to party central, thanks to versatile furnishings.
Party stylist Chris Nease, editor of the website Celebrations at Home, describes a pair of matching credenzas with sliding doors she placed against one long wall in her home to serve as an entertainment center. For every day, she slides one panel open to access the electronics; when she entertains, the hardware stays behind closed doors, out of sight.
More than meets the eye
If a formal dining room isn’t in their plans, homeowners can look for transitional furniture that increases functionality, Lebbad advises, such as tables that work as a console but open up to create extra dining space for those holiday dinners when the whole family gathers.
Nease's dining room doubles as her office and photography studio: "My trusty white table serves as a desk when it’s not being used as a dessert table, and I keep our small dining table here for tablescape photos."
The key to creating an ideal party space is to arrange furnishings for good traffic flow. "People should be able move easily from one space to another," Lebbad says.
That includes the hosts: If you have a pass-through or an open kitchen, position seating so it faces you, allowing you to chat with guests while cooking instead of looking at the back of their heads. That design also helps keep everyone from crowding into the kitchen the way they so often do.
On party day, "set up specific activity stations according to where you want your guests to be. As the hostess you have the power to place your guests where you want them simply by setting up food, drink, or activities in a certain area,” Nease recommends on her site. “Make sure you have plenty of space for the designated task – you don’t want a bottleneck effect.”
Nease's party-friendly furnishing recommendations include bar carts, versatile for entertaining and stylish all the time. "These have become a big statement piece in the last year or so," she notes. "This is form and function at its best, and you can use it to serve food, create a bar, set presents on, or place party favors."
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