By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

Fall is the kickoff season of gathering. Just think of all the times you gather your friends and family together this time of year — college football in front of the big screen, Thanksgiving dinner, the neighborhood Christmas party held at your house, pot roast and potatoes on a Sunday afternoon with the grandkids.

Our homes are meant to be a gathering place. Every home needs space to gather in everyday life and on special occasions.

Traditionally, homes have a living room, dining room and kitchen on the main floor. The trend in newer homes is to combine these into a great room — a large, open space that includes the functions of a kitchen, dining room and sitting area. This becomes the perfect gathering place, as the kitchen is already the heart of the home and typically the center of a family’s activities.


A current renovation trend is creating a great room that combines functions of kitchen, dining room and living room. Separate the functions with pillars, ceiling beams or different floor treatments.

Now, many owners of older homes are converting their traditional layout to the newer great-room concept. This involves removing walls and rearranging space to open the different functions of each room to each other.

While great rooms fit well with a less formal, more interactive lifestyle, you may want to think about your family’s stage in life to ensure it will work well for you. For instance, if you have young children, you have toys — which likely don’t sit neatly on a shelf most of the time. If you have teenagers, they may not always want to “gather” with the family. Even if you have an “empty nest,” your spouse may want to blend up a smoothie while you are trying to talk on the phone. Maybe you just don’t like the idea of the line of sight from your living room including your sink full of dirty dishes.

Good design can provide solutions to these issues. One answer may be to design the great room in such a way that the messiest areas, such as the kitchen sink or the toy box, are screened from the entry. If a family member needs privacy or a break from the bustle of a gathering place, then you may want to maintain a smaller, enclosed area — like an office or study — on the same floor. You may also want to consider having a secondary gathering area, such as a family room in the basement, where young children can make a mess or teenagers can hang out.

A good design principle to remember for great rooms is providing order or definition to the space. One big room with three things going on in it may end up feeling like a warehouse. You can use architectural features such as real or false beams on the ceilings, columns or different flooring types to add definition to each area. The placement of furniture and area rugs can also help define each specific area within the room.

If you’re considering a great room to increase your gathering space, begin by analyzing how your family functions and allocate and arrange the space accordingly. A renovation that enhances and supports your lifestyle will embrace those who live in the home, as well as family and friends who gather there. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Great rooms are great places for gatherings