In ancient Rome (one of the first societies in which affluent people entertained lavishly in their homes), a decent banquet featured an extravagance of food, entertainment between each course, and a literary performance after dinner. The wealthier Romans had homes designed especially for impressive entertaining, with multiple dining rooms built around outdoor courtyards that served as reception areas.
No doubt the Romans held parties for reasons both benign (sociability) and egotistical (the desire to dazzle). As citizens of a conquering nation, members of the Roman upper class were insatiable collectors, and parties gave them a chance to show off their treasures. Here in America, we have our own reasons. Sociability, of course, is one—the desire to hold weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and birthday, anniversary, and holiday celebrations in the setting we find most comfortable. Civic virtue is another—opening our homes for charitable functions and political gatherings. Sometimes there’s the need to use a private home for a business function. And sometimes there just might be the desire to impress.
Many modern homeowners go to great lengths to ensure that their home is designed for hosting memorable celebrations. A couple in New Jersey just finished a 32,000-square-foot residence with a magnificent ballroom as the centerpiece. “It’s the thrill of socializing in our own home, and knowing that we have complete control over how our events are planned, that makes it so much better than going to a sterile banquet hall,” they say. “Sure there’s a chance that something might get damaged or stolen, but we try to be very selective about whom we invite and not worry too much about the rare accident.”
Savvy homeowners factor their entertainment style into the design, construction, or remodeling of their residence. Irene Ioffe, of R.S. Granoff Architects, notes that at least 75 percent of her firm’s residential clients entertain on a regular basis. “We make it a point, at the very beginning of our design process, to conduct what we call a lifestyle interview with our clients,” Ioffe says. “One of the most crucial things we need to know is how our clients expect to entertain.”
From the information gathered in such an interview, an architect can tailor elements in the home’s design to make entertaining easier. It’s important to define the “flow” of the house. Corridors and doorways need to be wide enough to accommodate large groups of people circulating during parties. The spaces likely to hold the majority of the guests should be easily grouped off the main entrance, while the residence’s design should maintain some physical separation of the more private areas of the home.
Other issues that architects and their engineering teams consider when they know their client likes to entertain include parking, security, acoustics, kitchen and bar layouts, lighting, power, HVAC, and the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces used for entertaining.
Notes one Westport homeowner, “Our home design allows us to host parties both inside and outside for up to 200 guests. If we hadn’t found a house that had a natural flow from the great room out to the terrace area, it might have been much more difficult to make this happen.”
Jim Blansfield, of Blansfield Builders, points out, “Even though there are a limited amount of days in the year that one can effectively host a party in the Northeast, this certainly does not prevent homeowners from asking their designers and builders to include elaborate landscaping and substantial accommodations for entertaining outside.” Designers can make sure that cooking and serving facilities are available both indoors and outdoors; convenient power receptacles and distributed audio are also very common needs. Landscape architects can be brought in to create ideal exterior settings for social gatherings—botanical gardens, elaborate pools, and even small golf courses on estate properties.
Interior designers also play a big part in ensuring that the infrastructure, furniture layout, and décor all complement their client’s entertainment style. Their jobs don’t necessarily end when the home is completed. Victoria Vandamm, of Vandamm Interiors, explains: “Most of our clients have very strong expectations when they’re planning a major event in their home. Once we have designed the more permanent interior look of the home, we also end up helping them on an ongoing basis to customize their home to suit a specific function. From bringing in unique art pieces and furniture to ensuring that the lighting is set to accent the public areas in just the appropriate way, we find no detail too small to overlook in order to make the guests have the best time possible.” (Some details are acts of kindness, like ensuring that air filters are cleaned right before an event, in case one of the guests is extremely sensitive to allergens.)
Up-to-date technology will add greatly to your ability to entertain grandly. Forward-looking homeowners have the appropriate technical systems installed during the home’s construction. During—and even after—construction, a technology integrator like Alex Sulpizi, of Amnet Systems [see his article on page 75], can ensure that the audio, video, HVAC, security, and lighting in your home is set up appropriately for each event. “Some homeowners even want us to display slide shows of digital pictures on plasma screens located around the home to enhance the theme of the event,” Sulpizi notes.
Besides the ballrooms, home theaters, billiard rooms, libraries, and outdoor terraces that figure into grand entertaining there are live-concert rooms [see the sidebar on page 41], bowling alleys, wine cellars, nightclubs, basketball courts, rock-climbing walls, shooting ranges, and gaming arcades. The cost of just the technology for some of these entertainment spaces can run well into the six figures; factor in unique finishes, furniture, and the infrastructure required, and some homeowners are literally spending millions. But to those for whom entertaining—grandly, graciously, and lavishly—is a means of surprising and delighting their honored guests, the rewards can be positively priceless.