How to Turn Your Home Into a Gathering Space

How to Turn Your Home Into a Gathering Space

If you want your space to be the go-to destination for events both big and small, the first step is comfort.
Photos by
The Dwell+ library of how-to guides has been unlocked for free for a limited time courtesy of Level, whose smart locks pair high design with an intuitive approach to home entry.
Learn More

"My home has always been a place friends and family have gathered," says Meredith Owen, an Austin-based designer with ten years of award-winning interior design experience. "After several comments over the years from our guests about how inviting our home is, it got me thinking: What makes a home a place where people linger long after the meal you’ve served is over? What makes a neighbor feel comfortable to walk in without knocking just to chat on a Wednesday afternoon?"

 Owen, who founded her eponymous interior design firm in 2016, has had plenty of time to think about the answers to these questions—and to apply them not only to her own space, but also to those she helps her clients create. "I think there’s a few key elements that need to be in play for your home to be the gathering spot."

Guests feel comfortable when you’re comfortable

If you want other people to feel comfortable when they visit you, the first step is to create a living space that’s comfortable for you and your family. "Guests feel comfortable when you’re comfortable," says Owen.

If you enjoy your living space, your guests will too. If guests sense that you’re unhappy with your home—whether the space is too cluttered, the furniture too uncomfortable, or the rooms tasked with too many competing purposes—they’ll pick up the negative energy.

Some people assume that the best way to make guests feel comfortable is by playing the role of the perfect host, filling drinks and clearing plates as your friends and family members enjoy themselves. However, many guests find it hard to relax if their comfort depends on your work. "If they see you constantly cleaning up or refilling their drinks, they feel like an imposition." Owen suggests giving your guests the opportunity to serve themselves, setting up a beverage station and making it easy for guests to put empty glasses next to the sink and empty bottles into the recycling. "Guests tend to make themselves at home quite literally," Owen explains. "They feel like part of the family, they relax into the environment."

This isn’t to say that you should dispense with hosting entirely. Instead, think about the work you can do in advance so that you can relax when your guests arrive. "I always have music on and our guest bath is always clean and stocked," Owen told us. "I keep plenty of kids’ snacks on hand and even keep one of our refrigerators full of kid drinks, so even the kids and teens can help themselves."

Let your guests know how they can participate 

If you create a home that’s comfortable for yourself and your family, other people are likely to enjoy spending time in your space—and once your home becomes an enjoyable place to visit, your friends and family will be happy to participate in both planned and impromptu gatherings. 

"The expectation is set," Owen explains. "My home is your home and you are always welcome."

That said, many people still feel a little uncomfortable dropping by unannounced—so if you want to establish your home as a gathering place, you’re probably going to need to invite people to gather. These invitations don’t need to be formal, but they do need to be specific. "We typically invite groups of families over a week in advance," Owen told us. She lets people know what they can bring—"We’re throwing fajitas on the grill if you want to bring a side or snack for the kids!"—and gives her friends the opportunity to contribute to the gathering.

When people know how they can participate—whether you ask people to bring a side dish or invite them to bring a friend—it sets expectations and removes the burden of having to guess what kind of a guest they’re supposed to be. It also turns the gathering into a group experience. "My guests naturally help serve, clean up and generally pitch in because they aren’t expecting to be entertained," Owen explains.

In some cases, you may want to host the kind of gathering where you plan the entire meal in advance—and where your guests aren’t expected to clean up afterwards. These kinds of events require a little more advance planning and a little more hands-on hosting, and you’ll need to make it very clear that you are preparing an experience—otherwise, you’re likely to end up with a bunch of side dishes and offers to help in the kitchen. 

When Owen hosts these kinds of elevated experiences, she makes sure she has time to enjoy the experience as well—otherwise, as she’s already learned, her guests won’t. "I put out our fine china and silver," Owen explains, "but I set up a serve-yourself meal and I don’t start cleaning up until after everyone has finished eating."

Have a plan for unplanned gatherings

Some people dream of having the kind of home where friends and family always feel welcome. The kind of home where all the kids meet up after school, for example—or where a few quick texts can turn into an afternoon of tabletop games or backyard football. The kind of home where gatherings just happen.

If you want that kind of home, you may need to do a little extra work—but the payoff is more than worth it.

Start by ensuring that the shared spaces in your home—the living room, for example, or the backyard—all have plenty of room for people to sit, play and chat. "Our furniture is comfortable without feeling formal, there are plenty of places to dine or lounge inside or out," says Owen. Then, make sure your kitchen is full of drinks and snacks. "Keep essentials stocked and on hand." You’ll want to keep your bathrooms full of the necessary essentials as well—toilet paper, tissues, etc.—and you’ll definitely want to keep both your kitchen and your bathrooms clean. 

Lastly, make it clear that you’ll always have a plan when guests arrive—whether you’re tossing a tray of tater tots into the oven or ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant. In many cases, the restaurant option may make people feel more comfortable; they won’t feel like they’re eating up all your food, and they’ll be able to contribute to the cost of the event. "When we have an impromptu gathering, we typically order takeout," Owen explains. "It’s quick, easy and cleanup is simple. Also, who doesn’t love a piece of pizza and a glass of wine on a Friday?"