Home Touch by Mary G. Pepitone

Party Pad

Entertaining ideas that transform your home into a "party pad" blend both conviviality and construction. Whether you're watching the game with a big group or winding down with an intimate gathering, a home's design should accommodate eclectic entertaining, says Giles Sutton, senior vice president of industry engagement with Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), based in Indianapolis.

"People can entertain in a wide variety of spaces, as long as they are flexible and adaptable, not only in the physical space of the home, but also in the attributes of those hosting the party," Sutton said. "An open floor plan in a home is most conducive to entertaining: No one wants to be walled off during a gathering."

A progressively positive party generally has three physical places for gathering in a home: the kitchen, the media/great room and the outdoors. Ideally, these spaces flow into each other and are layered with mood lighting and the sights and/or sounds of a televised event or music. A homeowner can aspire to build a top-of-the-line "smart" home -- one in which lighting, entertainment systems/ television and stereo, heating/cooling, security alarms and/or cameras are automated and can be controlled by keypad in the house or remotely through the use of cellphones or internet-based devices.

But no matter how elaborate a home becomes with automation, Sutton says a wireless way of life isn't without its drawbacks. "With the explosion of connected devices, Wi-Fi in a home can be a blessing and a curse," he said. "No one wants to be streaming music or a movie, only to experience a disruption in service and the dreaded buffering."

While fewer wires may be needed as electronic components become more compatible with wireless equipment and controllers, the network for wireless systems still has to be hardwired into a home. "It's important to involve a certified integrator to make a technology plan before walls start going up," Sutton said. "Hardwiring a home is still the most reliable way to implement an electronic system, and with a range of technology that uses bandwidth -- from the doorbell to the home theater -- you add a group of partygoers with their own devices and your Wi-Fi can really be put through its paces."

Bring the Heat and Chill Out

A party begins and ends in the kitchen near the food and drink, says Ryan Herd, a consultant to the National Kitchen and Bath Association and entrepreneur in the audio-video industry for nearly 30 years, specializing in smart-home automation, based in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.

"No matter how evolved humans have become with technology, we still like to gather around the food," Herd said. "Today's kitchen isn't only the heart of the home, it's also a tech hub."

While many homes have charging stations for their cellphones and smart devices in the kitchen, more homeowners are borrowing design details from commercial kitchens. From creating a well-run workflow in the kitchen to the use of commercial-grade appliances in homes, culinary upgrades -- such as refrigerators -- are Wi-Fi ready, with internal cameras and door-ajar alarms that can be linked to a mobile device. The use of new technology in an induction cooktop heats liquids faster and is also a more efficient way to control the temperature. Under-the-counter refrigerator drawers are also an organized way to store bottled beverages and allow people to serve themselves.

The Great Room's Lounge Act

While the kitchen remains the heart of the home, an adjoining great room extends its heartbeat of food and fun. Outfitted with sofa, stuffed chairs and television, this place to lounge is a cozy space directly connected to the kitchen, where people can simultaneously be comfortable and keep company with the cook.

Furnished as a kitchen's living area, this great room space can also house a bar or fireplace so families can chill out and "lounge" around in a comfortable atmosphere. A home's dining area is simple by nature, but the space has evolved as the kitchen-dining layout has become more open by design.

"Entertaining isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition," Sutton said. "Whether you're having a sit-down dinner or a more casual gathering, it's about using the space to its full advantage, which can also include outdoor spaces."

The Great Outdoors

The great outdoors is the next frontier for entertaining. Sutton says to extend the party outside, one needs to look to nature for design inspiration. "Lighting and music can extend into the landscape outside," he said. "Even in the 21st century, humans have a primal need to gather in nature, whether it's in the garden, by the fire or poolside."

Keep the great room's windows bare or use light and airy window treatments so outdoor views are unobstructed. Motorized or easily movable floor-to-ceiling glass walls can replace windows to provide easy access to an outside deck, patio or porch. For many who entertain, "eating out" might simply mean walking into the backyard outdoor kitchen, which can also house an entertainment center.

But while technology informs the way people relate to each other in the 21st century, a great party is still about the human touch, Sutton says. "The use of technology in a home's entertainment center, lighting, music and cooking setup is no substitute for great human interaction," he said.

Party People

To find a certified kitchen professional, go to the National Kitchen and Bath Association's website, www.nkba.org, and click the "Find a Professional" box at the bottom of the page.

Consult a local Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association professional to help install automation or smart-home technologies at

www.cedia.org; click on "Find a CEDIA Professional."

The "Smart (Technology) Guy" Ryan Herd: RyanHerd.com