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Jeff Close, Renovation Design Group
Before: This remodel transformed the existing space to create a comfortable gathering space,

Editor's note: Portions of this column were previously published on deseretnews.com and their blog at renovationdesigngroup.com.

As we enter the entertaining season, starting with Thanksgiving next week and moving into the party season of Christmas, New Year's and the Super Bowl, we are reflecting on the many gathering spaces we have helped create for our clients over the years.

The great room concept is a must-have for many clients these days. They want the space for different reasons and find it in different ways depending on their home layout and style. Here are four different examples of past clients with varying life circumstances and homes who all discovered gathering space.

Creatively reconfiguring space

Pat and Kathie Debenham had the classic problem of many grandparents in Utah: Their grown children were making family gatherings bigger by adding spouses and grandchildren by the year. They decided it was time for a gathering space expansion.

They had a small great room off the kitchen, but it could only seat a few people. Their budget wouldn’t allow for an addition to expand the great room, so we reallocated the space in their existing floor plan by removing a pantry and remodeling the kitchen.

Losing the pantry was a hard decision, but they compromised by adding taller cabinets to add storage space back into the kitchen design. We also removed a small, rarely used half bathroom that sat between the laundry room and the great room. The renovation improved the gathering space dramatically without adding any square footage to the house.

Taking down walls; adding beams

Perry and Linda Cunningham also wanted more gathering space for extended family visits, but found it in a more typical way.

Their small 1920s craftsman-style house didn’t have the gathering space they needed, but with just the two of them, they no longer needed multiple small bedrooms. To create an additional gathering space on the main level, they took out two walls — one between the kitchen and the dining room and one between the dining room and the front bedroom. The load-bearing wall was replaced with a beam, and columns were added down to the basement floor to carry the redirected roof and floor loads. Arches (based on the original arch between the dining and living rooms) now divide the new, opened-up spaces in the great room.

"I love that now when people are here, whoever is in the kitchen making the meal — and that is usually me — isn't cut off from everyone," Linda Cunningham says. "Now, there is connection and conversation. They can sit at the table and talk while I cook."

Finding gathering space with an addition

Stephen and Amy Schwartz decided to remodel their East Millcreek home to add more gathering space as well. They decided to create the gathering space for their family of eight with an addition to their home.

The house was originally an L shape, with the garage set back from the front of the home. In the remodel, the garage was moved forward to make room for an addition at the back of the house.

The new addition extended from the rear along the length of the rear of the house, providing a new kitchen and dining area, along with a family/great room and master suite.

Within the existing house, the front bedroom was converted into an office, which opens onto the new entry foyer. Downstairs, space was created by excavating under the rear addition, adding 970 square feet of livable space to create a family room, a library and a toy room.

Full house renovation for gathering space

Burr and Robin Harmston wanted a casual, open concept throughout the house. They ended up doing a full tear-down-and-rebuild project on their 1950s Salt Lake City home. They maintained a classic exterior look, but added nearly 2,000 square feet to the size of the original home.

A great room was on the top of Harmstons' renovation wish list. The resulting open concept design gives them plenty of room to function, whether it is just their family or others included in their activities.

If you are thinking about remodeling your home, first analyze your family's lifestyle and begin to set your own priorities. This information is critical in working through the design and construction process to ensure that the final result will meet the goals you have for gathering friends and family together in your home.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to [email protected]