How to turn a home into a social hub for any occasion

Most of us love entertaining in some way - intimate dinners, family barbecues, and even the occasional house party. Rin Hamburgh offers some tips on how to create a sociable hub.

One tip on how to make your home more socialable: Face-to-face arrangements across a rug and a coffee table look great, and be sure they’re close enough together so no one has to shout. iStockphoto.com
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Most of us love entertaining in some way – intimate dinners, family BBQs, maybe even the occasional house party. But how do you ensure that your home is well suited to having people round? It’s not just a matter of size. In fact, even the smallest apartment can be adapted to make the most of every square metre of available space and turn it into a social hub for any occasion.

First impressions count

Whether you’re welcoming close friends or a new acquaintance, overseas family or a business colleague, the overall goal when you have visitors is to make them as comfortable as possible – as quickly as possible. The most important thing is to ensure your home is clean and tidy, and that includes the path up to the front door and the door itself (you’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of soap and water will make). A vase of fresh, beautifully scented flowers in the hallway will instantly make your home feel welcoming, as will plenty of natural light – use carefully placed mirrors if yours is naturally dull.

Choose friendly colours

The use of colour in the home is in many ways a personal choice, but there are some general rules that colour therapists tell us will affect the particular energy of any given room. Red, for example, is a very stimulating colour and good for producing lively conversation – it’s also said to promote appetite, making it a good choice for a dining room. On the other hand, soft natural green is a calming, restful colour and is ideal for a living room where you’re more likely to have a morning coffee or a relaxed evening gathering.

Provide kitchen perches

Whether you’re preparing dinner or simply putting together a tray of tea and biscuits, most social occasions involve you – as the host– spending some time in the kitchen. Rather than abandoning your guests in the sitting room, why not allow them to join you in comfort by making sure they have a bar stool to sit on while they wait? If you don’t have enough room to have stools, consider foldaway designs that can be brought out whenever they’re needed.

Invest in special serving ware

While the idea of “saving things for best” is rather outdated (and a bit of a waste), there are times when you want to pull out the stops and make people feel a bit special. A gorgeous crystal decanter and glasses set, unique platters for serving food, a matching China tea set and tiered cake stand – all of these can add a sense of occasion to what might otherwise be a relatively ordinary get-together.

Create easy-chat seating

Too many living rooms today have the TV as their central focal point, which is fine if you’re having a movie night, but less useful for a gathering where the aim is for people to chat to each other. Make sure your seating is set at an angle where you don’t need to crane your neck to speak to someone on another chair or sofa. Face-to-face arrangements across a rug and a coffee table look great, and be sure they’re close enough together so no one has to shout. If you’re creating a design from scratch, use a combination of sofas (which are fairly fixed) and chairs (which can be more easily moved) to give the room flexibility.

Design social lighting

Lighting is incredibly important for setting atmosphere. Layering up a combination of permanent overhead or wall lighting (ideally fitted with a dimmer switch for maximum control) and more flexible floor and table lamps are the best way to cover every eventuality. An intimate dinner party will benefit from flickering candlelight as well as decent (but not too bright) downlighting over the table so your guests can see their food. On the other hand, low-level mood lighting is best for parties, so people can conduct private conversations in small groups – fairy lights are a great addition, as they bring a touch of festivity to the proceedings, but avoid live candles which can so easily catch on a passing sleeve.

Make your garden comfortable

If space indoors is getting a little crowded, move everyone outside to continue the fun. A sociable garden needs a bit of thought, especially in a hot climate. As well as comfortable yet durable (ie weather-proof) furniture, you’ll also need to think about creating plenty of shade with a parasol, awning or thickly planted horizontal trellis. If you want your socialising to go on into the evening, lighting is very important too, from candles for the table (choose citronella ones to deter bugs) to carefully spaced electric lights along any pathways and borders.

Remember the bathroom essentials

There’s nothing worse than nipping off to use the facilities at a friend’s house, only to have to dig through cupboards to find out where the spare toilet roll is hidden. Your bathroom should be well stocked at all times, with the essentials on view and within reach. Other things to include are plenty of hand soap and moisturiser, fresh towels, and even a few luxury additions such as deodorant, body spray or aftershave, hairspray and hairpins, and anything else that might help a guest freshen up.

Have a homely guest room

Overnight visitors need a whole extra level of care. First things first, be sure the bed is comfortable and made up with fresh sheets (with spare pillows and blankets close by), that there’s space to hang clothes and a drawer or two in which to stash other items, along with a decent mirror so they can check their appearance before joining you in the morning. Now for the niceties – a few books or magazines to keep them entertained, a carafe of water and a glass, a selection of toiletries, perhaps even tea and coffee-making facilities. A spare dressing gown is another lovely touch if you’ve got one.

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