Kitchens for entertaining – essential design advice and tips for sociable kitchens

More than ever, we are using kitchens for entertaining – interior design supremo Irene Gunter of Gunter & Co explains how to design a sociable kitchen

Kitchen with kitchen island
(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

Designing kitchens for entertaining is something that first came about when open-plan layouts came into fashion – and there's no doubt that the popularity of kitchen-diners will endure.

Designing an 'entertainment kitchen' is important to get right. This type of kitchen is a space into which we can welcome guests as well as one we can enjoy ourselves day to day – for everything from cooking and eating as a family to working from home. In other words, this type of needs to multi-task – so the associated kitchen ideas need to be clever.

'With the winter almost upon us and the festive season looming, our minds start to veer towards accommodating guests in your home space,' says interior designer Irene Gunter of Gunter & Co (opens in new tab)

'It’s never too soon to start considering how the design of your home could impact home entertaining and for us, that consideration will always start with the kitchen. In fact, nearly all the kitchens we design for our clients are designed with home entertainment in mind. 

'Considerations include the shape and size of a kitchen island or breakfast bar, what dining space we need to integrate and how much fridge and freezer space we need to include as well as ensuring there’s enough space for a general family/relaxing area.'

Below, Irene takes you through the steps to take when designing a kitchen – for entertainment.

1. Make space for a drinks' fridge

Kitchen cabinetry with wine fridge

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

'First to consider are the appliances, particularly refrigeration space. For a household that entertains regularly, we recommend installing a decent wine fridge. Whilst they can be an investment purchase, serving wines at their optimum temperatures is a sure fire way to add some magic to your home entertaining. 

'If budget is an issue, we like to install a second fridge within the kitchen island. Where possible, we recommend installing this on the working side of the island so that it’s out of the view of guests. 

'If you have a utility room or walk-in pantry, including a fridge within these spaces can be a good solution too. You can also use this space to store extra food you’re serving up if it becomes a bit of a squeeze in your main fridge. We’re big fans of a fridge drawer too! They make for excellent storage space for cans or mixers in particular. 

'If your guests are staying a while, having a space within your kitchen where guests can help themselves to their own drinks. You can also add some breakfast basics here so they’re not reliant on you being up and about in the mornings to cater to them. When your party is in full swing, you can use this area as a drinks prep station – just don’t forget those ice buckets!'

2. Make a kitchen island central to your design

Kitchen with red bar stools

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

'The kitchen island is the heart of the kitchen. It’s where we can relax over a coffee, catch up on the weekend newspapers, have a quick natter or scroll through our phones. If you have children in tow, it’s also likely to be a homework station after school! 

'But when guests are round and entertaining is in full flow, the island is typically where guests gather or pull up a stool whilst enjoying a glass of wine and some nibbles. It becomes the epicenter of the party. 

'We recommend getting some extra bar stools in for special occasions. Don’t forget the added extras make all the difference – a seasonal flower display, some candles or lanterns or even some fairy lights will create the perfect atmosphere to impress your guests.'

3. Get kitchen lighting right

Kitchen with kitchen island

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

'Never underestimate the importance of good kitchen lighting ideas for entertaining. Think atmospheric mood lighting. We love collections of candles and lanterns dotted around but in-built lighting shouldn’t be ignored. 

'Pendants (or a series of them) looming over the kitchen island and dining areas are a firm winner. Ceiling spotlights will make your whole room perfectly lit and by using different circuits and remote controls, you can adapt for the ambience. If you’re including interesting floor lamps, make sure you integrate floor-mounted sockets so there are no cables in sight!'

4. Ensure kitchen extraction is efficient

Kitchen in blue

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

'Make sure that any open plan space has good air circulation. You don’t want last night’s food aromas to loiter. Extraction needs to be carefully considered, especially if it’s over an island. 

'Remember that a ceiling-mounted extractor can sometimes be quite intrusive, especially if housed within a conservatory-style kitchen. If this is the case, a down-draft extractor set into the surface of the island, or a discreet integrated ceiling-mounted model makes for a good solution.'

5. Think seating

Kitchen with banquette seating

(Image credit: James Merrell / Future)

When guests are going to be seated at the dining table for a long time, comfort is key. Upholstered chairs can provide the support that’s required for several courses and a coffee. Your dining chairs should still have the correct ergonomics, though. 

You might want to include dining chairs that have arms in the mix, too. Even if your table doesn’t have the dimensions to fit these along the sides, they’re still worth considering for each end of the table.

For space efficiency, you could also consider built-in seating for the dining table. Banquette seating ideas can create the same balance of support and comfort as an upholstered dining chair and can be positioned along one wall or linked to kitchen cabinetry. 

Like an upholstered dining chair, it offers the opportunity to bring in color and/or pattern to the scheme and enhance the decorative detail of the room.

6. Take acoustics into account

kitchen for entertaining

(Image credit: British Standard by Plain English)

Kitchens are necessarily full of hard surfaces, which will affect the acoustics of the room. Bear in mind, too, that if you're entertaining, you're likely to have music on and lots of people talking. 

The remedy? Including soft surfaces and furnishings in the design of your entertainment kitchen. These might be in the form of upholstered chairs and banquettes, window treatments, and even rugs although these should be positioned away from cooking and preparation areas.

And when you're looking for kitchen flooring ideas, consider a timber floor rather than tile, which is softer underfoot.

How do you build a kitchen for entertaining?

To build a kitchen for entertaining, it's vital to focus on the room's layout so that there is enough space for guests to sit comfortably, without getting in the way of the cook. This might mean dividing the cooking and dining zones with a kitchen island or peninsula so that the cook can face outwards while she/he caters and can still socialize with guests. Ensuring seating is comfortable so that you can linger in the kitchen is also important. Lastly, you may want to consider a separate space for dirty dishes and some prep, too – a walk-in pantry with a sink may provide the perfect setting.

Irene Gunter
Irene Gunter

Irene studied Art History before training at the prestigious Inchbald School of Interior Design. As Creative Director of Gunter & Co, Irene oversees the design for every project alongside her team of designers who manage the day-to-day implementation. Inspiration for each project comes from a myriad of sources: from historical architectural details to contemporary building materials or vintage furniture to contemporary sculptures. Irene contributes to Homes & Gardens, writing about interior design and architecture.