4 Features That Make a Home Perfect for Holiday Entertaining

Designers reveal the things that make a difference when hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s

by Gwendolyn Purdom on Houzz.com

A house that lends itself to entertaining is a boon for holiday hosts. But other than enough living room real estate for a Christmas tree and a dining table that has seating for all the guests, what features should homeowners and pros consider incorporating to maximize a home’s holiday hosting potential? We asked home professionals to share the festivity-friendly design details they love.

1. Easy-to-Decorate Exterior and Entryway

Certain outdoor features especially can allow for a celebratory tone before you even step inside a house. Interior designer Monique Varsames of Moka Design in New York says a long, tree-lined driveway is a favorite canvas for holiday decor that greets guests immediately. Clients have requested large front windows on her projects, Varsames says, specifically to display Christmas wreaths and lights. Pillars on the porch or along the driveway are perfect for wrapping in twinkle lights too.

Kelly Fitzsimmons, who designs holiday light displays professionally through her business Light Up Your Holidays in Chicago, says most home setups can work for holiday lighting — the trick is arranging the lights in such a way that the look feels balanced and the house’s architectural features are showcased.

More practically, Fitzsimmons says the perfect holiday house would have a dedicated 15-amp outlet on either side of the house in the front yard and one in the backyard. This would separate the outdoor power from the internal power of the house.

“This just gives [homeowners] the flexibility to create any display they want for any holiday,” she says.

It’s also a better bet than having outlets in a house’s eaves, which she says she sees a lot in new construction. “If you need to adjust a [ground fault circuit Interrupter outlet] or replace lights, you have to get out the ladder and go up to the eaves,” she says. “All should be on the ground.”

The exterior is a prime part of a home for embracing holiday spirit, Fitzsimmons says: “There’s nothing better than driving home to a magically lit home with your kids in the car and getting everybody excited and anticipating all of the holiday festivities.”

Read more pro holiday lighting tips

A front porch or landing with room to display seasonal decor, such as groupings of gourds or fresh holly wreaths or garlands, is another plus. And it’s a chance to get creative.

“Because holiday decor is temporary, it’s an opportunity to explore new ideas,” interior designer Michelle Dirkse in Seattle says.

The design team at Beautiful Chaos in Minnesota believes the front entryway is a prime place to showcase special touches as well. “This is the first room in your home to welcome guests,” Beautiful Chaos designer Sarah Martin says.

A few elements can make the space work for any holiday. An entryway with enough room to fit a bench is ideal, as benches are a great spot for alternating seasonal pillows, Martin says. Similarly, a console table creates an area where garlands, candles or other meaningful items can be displayed.

Varsames adds that high ceilings in the foyer help if you plan to decorate with a tall Christmas tree or other dramatic decor.

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2. Multipurpose Island

A large kitchen island with plenty of seating is the top holiday-hosting must-have that several designers mentioned. As so many holidays revolve around big meals, an island acts as a bridge between those who are cooking and chatting and those who are mingling or relaxing at a holiday gathering.

“This space connects the family to the family room, where others could be watching a football game or engaging in conversation, yet everyone is in close proximity to each other,” Varsames says.

As the island often doubles as a serving station for holiday dishes, the Beautiful Chaos designers always install a Plugmold outlet strip with six receptacles underneath the counter overhang in kitchen islands to allow warming dishes and slow cookers to be plugged in during holiday gatherings.

“We finish the Plugmold in the same color as the center island so it blends in,” Martin says.

Smaller houses and homes like condos and apartments can be just as holiday-ready, Chicago interior designer Crystal Blackshaw says. In those spaces, something like a large island or peninsula, like the one shown in a condo Blackshaw designed here, can serve even more purposes — as an informal dining space and as a place to display seasonal decor.

“This was a condo with views of Lake Michigan, so we decided to decorate for the holidays with shades of blue,” Blackshaw says. “The home already had a modern-and-vintage mix, so we incorporated vintage Christmas decorations and live greenery to emphasize what was already there.”

3. Fireplace With a Roomy Mantel

A roaring fire creates instant holiday atmosphere, but outfitting that fireplace with a substantial mantel can be just as important, the pros say.

A mantel sturdy enough to support Thanksgiving gourds, Christmas stocking holders and greenery, or Hanukkah menorahs or garlands, like the one shown here, can turn a living room from just cozy to just right for the occasion.

Elsewhere in the living or family room, areas that can accommodate trees, other seasonal decor, and seating for family and friends to open gifts work best.

“A simple change in pillows or flowers can have a big impact and change the whole look of the room,” Blackshaw says.

4. Party Basement

Varsames says a finished lower level is the feature homeowners looking to host holidays request from her the most. A basement can be a special place for kids to play during family gatherings.

A finished basement bar or game room is another feature that turns a home into a party home, the designers say. A bar that can serve up Thanksgiving football game beers or New Year’s Eve champagne elevates any celebratory space.

Trend Report

Design by Penny Black Interiors; contracting by Look Construction; photo by Christopher Dibble

Ceilings as the Fifth Wall

Metallic swirls above that echo the whorls of a natural stone island below. Trompe l’oeil wood-paneled wallpaper crowning an intimate room. Puffy clouds floating across a sky-like ceiling. Just like a top hat goes perfectly with tails or a fascinator complements an elegant dress, an eye-catching ceiling can provide the flair that finishes off a room.


Design by Roundhouse; photo by Darren Chung

Raise Your Gaze

“We’ve been drowned in minimalism for such a long time; people are happier to play with pattern and print right now,” says designer Stewart Horner of Penny Black Interiors in Portland, Oregon. “The natural thing is to explore the ceiling, a typically untouched white void.” Chicago designer Summer Thornton believes that people are looking for spaces that transport them. 


Design by Summer Thornton

Top Materials and Techniques

“Wallpaper makes the space feel cozy and enveloping, while a level-five high-gloss [paint] finish feels liquid wet and dramatic,” Thornton says. Designer Ariana Fischer in Portland, Maine, adores a high sheen because it bounces light around. She also likes an old-school shellack over hand-combed paint, with pale blue over cream. Horner prefers wallpaper, using geometrics along with cloud patterns, “because it’s what you’re supposed to see when you look up,” he says. For his own midcentury home, he’s creating an abstract ceiling mural in coppers and golds on a beige background.

Shine On

Horner recommends dropping crown molding a couple of inches down from the ceiling and then installing lights in the gap for a nice glow. Add a chandelier that sends light up as well as down, and use reflective surfaces around the room. “Add glass surfaces anywhere you can to make a connection between the ceiling and the rest of the space,” he says. “Try an angled mirror leaning against a wall, mirrored coffee tables or a domed floor lamp finished in chrome.”


Design by Ariana Fischer; photo by Erin Little Photography

Height Matters

Keep ceiling height in mind, Fischer says. “I don’t like to do drama on a low ceiling; it makes the ceiling come down. I only add beams and coffers and other interesting treatments when it’s at least 9 feet high.”

Design Dreams

Fischer wants to try woodsy wallpaper. “It’d be like sitting under a canopy of trees when the sun filters through,” she says. “I’d use it in a dark space where you need something special.” She’s also yearning to do a powder room with a pink grasscloth ceiling and romance-novel-theme wallpaper. Horner would love to clad a ceiling in etched mirror tile. “A mirror is the cheesiest thing you can think of overhead, but I want to do it in a way that’s undeniably gorgeous,” he says.


Design by TKD Architects; photo by Brett Boardman

Parting Words

Some practical advice: “Keep in mind that a ceiling fixture will subtly cast the ceiling color across the room,” Thornton says. “Get a young wallpaper hanger that’s up for doing a ceiling,” Horner advises. “And expect to pay more, especially if scaffolding is involved.” Fischer says, “Design can be like a painting, and it’s all based on balance. You don’t want the most important thing in the room to be a ceiling unless you’re in a cathedral.”

This article was originally published by the houzz Trade Program.

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This article originally appeared on houzz.com