The mahogany table is dressed for dinner with a linen tablecloth and china for 12. Through a narrow doorway, the living room awaits nearby, adorned with fine furnishings, silk draperies and priceless antiques.
This is a scene from yesterday.
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Today, homeowners hang out with family and entertain friends in a free-flowing space. Open floor plans often include wide access to the kitchen, breakfast nook, sunroom, dining area and family room -- or one "great" room. Some builders refer to this area as the gathering space of the home.
With the popularity of casual living on the main level, we often talk about spaces rather than rooms because, in most cases, there are no "rooms."
Formal rooms are bowing out as informal open layouts reign in today's new homes, making it easy to interact with family and friends and entertain the whole soccer team.
This expansive space functions in different ways and accommodates a variety of simultaneous activities.
For example, kids dash in from school, eat a snack at the breakfast bar, then play checkers at the game table. At the same time, dad watches the news on TV and mom checks on dinner in the oven, said Joelle Tilche, sales associate for Shodeen Homes.
"We offer the open kitchen/family room layout in all our plans," Tilche said. "Buyers like it and expect it for their everyday living space. It's a functional space where everyone is together yet involved in different activities."
Often people like to congregate around a focal point within a space. The big game is on TV, and it's party time for serious Bears fans. Or what could be more inviting than a cozy furniture arrangement around a warm fireplace.
Airhart Construction's ranch model features one big room in its three-bedroom ranch model that is conducive to those activities, said Bill Whelan, marketing manager. "It's a really good plan for entertaining.
"It has a nice fireplace with marble surround and a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall that you can watch from the kitchen. The kitchen has a long island that seats five people. And guests can spill onto the patio through glass doors in the breakfast area. The home sits on the golf course, so people have pretty views, too."
Overstreet Builders expands on the open concept with an optional sunroom. "We put some kind of sunroom on 50 percent of our homes," said Doug Overstreet, president.
"It's an extension of the kitchen and offers more space to entertain. Most people are looking for that entertaining space.
"In most cases buyers move the (dining room) table into the sunroom and have a second island in the kitchen with an elevated breakfast bar. The arrangement allows them to do something unique."
Those who have a homesite with a view of a pond, woods or golf course enjoy the setting from the sunroom.
People also like to congregate around food, said John Sorenson, vice president of US Shelter Homes.
"We get buyers who like the more casual lifestyle but still want china cabinets. So for them we do an open dining room, but dedicate most of the space to the open area."
This makes it easy to serve a crowd as food can be spread throughout -- in the dining room, kitchen table and island along with small tables or ottomans in other parts of the gathering space. No matter where people are, they're within easy reach of something to eat.
The builder keeps the space open with a small pocket office that is hidden and not visible to guests. This has become a popular feature in today's homes. This nook, pocket or tiny appendage to the kitchen can tuck away a desk and adds a convenient space for holding mail and papers from school or office.
M/I Homes features several active townhouse communities where the lower level is often outfitted for a gathering.
Some buyers mount a plasma TV on the wall, set up a bar and put in a pool table or poker table to create a nice entertainment space.
Others may want to use the space for exercise equipment to work out or a home office with two desks to accommodate people working together at home.
"At M/I Homes, we recognize that every buyer spends their leisure time differently. We design our homes with flex spaces so that whether you love to entertain, enjoy wine tasting or just want the ultimate 'man cave,' we can help you design your home especially for you," said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chicago division of M/I Homes.
In fact, these informal great rooms get so much use, people often opt for a second similar space. While builders create lower levels and finished basements for entertaining or other activities, some builders are going up instead of down.
Shodeen Homes offers an optional bonus room on the second level in lieu of a fifth bedroom. "It's really a neat space," Tilche said. "It's a step up off the hallway into a large open area with no door. A lot of people are going with that option in our plans.
"They like it for a second family area or as a place for kids to gather and watch Nickelodeon or play games."
Buyers could carve out space for a couch, TV and chairs with a fun ottoman that converts to a game table. Then on one side, set up a homework station or air hockey table.
Airhart Construction shows something a little different with an optional upper level on its ranch plans, Whelan said.
"We're seeing a lot of people who really want a ranch, but would like a little entertaining area. We just sold a home where the buyer set up a home theater and used the space for entertaining. Another buyer uses it as an apartment for their college kids.
"Instead of going down the basement, we go up, which is not as expensive," Whelan said.
In the model, the upper level features a bedroom, bath and loft area that we use as our sales office. People see it, and they like it.
Twenty years ago, everyone wanted the same home; now buyers want different designs that fit their lifestyles, Whelan said. "It's no longer a cookie-cutter world. And builders have more flexibility than they did in the past."