Create a Home that Fosters Connection

Knowing what furniture choices and layouts work best to accommodate different generations and their interests can help everyone feel welcomed and comfortable.
Photo of the outside of a large craftsman home with nice outdoor seating area

©Front Door Photography, photo courtesy of Marc Nissim, Harmony Design Group

Three key takeaways:

  • The generations use rooms differently, so creating connections will vary.
  • The kitchen island is a magnet for congregation, but specs matter.
  • Outdoor space is popular for connecting, so long as the amenities fit the family.

Our homes provide an opportunity—and the space—for connecting with one another. In many homes, a designated room like the kitchen or a living space often serve as places of conversation and quality time. What helps make such bonding possible is a sense of comfort and joy between the parties, but also within the space.

The craving for connection was intensified by the isolation of the pandemic, and in a country where loneliness is considered an epidemic, creating an intentional space for family and friends to linger and bond offers a salve.

Certain common denominators in a home’s ambiance can help. The design team headed by Amanda Wiss at New York’s Urban Staging, a boutique home staging firm, says striving for an open, warm feeling through the use of the right lighting, intimate furniture groupings and layers of texture and accessories makes a difference. Items like books, candles, plants and blankets convey a lived-in, loved look. Homeowners can pull inspiration from vignettes in home furnishings stores, photos of rooms in home magazines, online at staged listings or from our pundits who shared the following five scenarios to achieve variations on conviviality. There are also tips to avoid disconnection.

#1: Boomers Love a Dining Room That Makes Sense

The right size table in the right shape can make a difference in encouraging conversation and lingering, says designer Sharon McCormick of Sharon McCormick Design. “Boomers are entertaining for the joy of conviviality. This is the generation with all the gracious accessories such as fine china, silver and crystal, some of which are family heirlooms. There is a sentimentality and history evoked by using them, so bring them out and even update the look by mixing mismatched items together,” she says.

Bright dining room that includes dark wood table and yellow upholstered chairs under a modern chandelier

©Gordon Beale Photography, photo courtesy of Sharon McCormick, Sharon McCormick Design

McCormick likes a round or square table to encourage conversation so everyone can make eye contact for a more intimate, communal experience. Lighting is important to set the scene, whether with candles or battery-operated lamps and dimmers that can be lowered for ambiance. People are more inclined to open up when they don’t feel like they’re under a spotlight, she says. She also recommends upholstered chairs, spaced 10 inches apart, for comfort.

What discourages connection? A tall centerpiece so diners can’t see across the table; seating two introverts next to each other; a rectangular table that limits conversation to those next to each other.

#2. Multigenerational Hubs Make Millennials Happy

Forget this generation copying their parents’ formal living room, where people mostly pass through rather than linger. Designer Claire Staszak, principal at Centered by Design, favors focusing on a family room as the main space to connect by making it ultracomfortable, flexible, and family- and kid-friendly. She achieves such with practical upholstery and enough seating for everyone. An ottoman rather than a traditional coffee table welcomes resting feet and also holds food on a tray.

Side by side images of an airy living space with white couches and built-in bookshelves

©Heather Talbert, photo courtesy of Claire Staszak, Centered by Design

Staszak recommends a side table or two or a console behind the sofa and a floor lamp rather than a small lamp that kids might knock over. She also may include built-in storage, with decorative items on top and games within, with a rolling toy chest that moves into and out of cabinetry, which helps children enjoy the room, too. A rug protects the floor from furnishings, while throws and pillows encourage comfort and add style but aren't precious. 

What discourages connection? Rooms that are devoid of personality because they lack collections of art or novel furnishings; rooms that are too white and delicate with silk and velvet fabrics. “If you want white, do it in a performance fabric,” Staszak says.

#3. Millennials and Gen-Z Differ on Privacy

Broker Paul Barker of Baird & Warner Barker Group says millennials with children like new construction that includes an open concept. Family rooms that open to a kitchen make keeping an eye on children easier, he says. Spurring connections are a wet bar in the family room and an island or breakfast bar in the kitchen for homework and meals. If a home office isn’t an option, work at home can move into bedrooms, he says. “It’s impossible for parents to get work done in an open-plan layout.”

side by side photos of various home decor: an orange vase with flowers and a large brown bench
©Steph Everett, photo courtesy of Urban Staging

But all that could be changing as Gen Z, born between 1996 and 2010, drives the housing market. “They value privacy, even from family members, so I won’t be surprised if they desire the big open shared space less,” he says.

What discourages connection? Older layouts where the kitchen isn’t adjacent to a family room or casual living space, which makes it harder to keep an eye on children, especially young ones.

#4. Make the Kitchen Island a Magnet

Islands serve several needs at once: a place to congregate, prep food, cook, serve, eat, do homework or simply converse, says designer Monica Lewis at J.S. Brown & Co. Comfortable seating—whether chairs or stools—should fit the island’s height and overhang. Generally, chairs require more overhang for knees, since feet rest flat on the floor; stools typically allow feet to dangle. A low rail on the back of an island adds a resting place for feet in such cases.

A large kitchen with hardwood floors, an island and medium wood cabinets

©Paul Barker, Baird & Warner

If equipment is installed in the island’s top, Lewis suggests making sure there’s room between working space and guests’ space. “Guests won’t appreciate getting wet from sink spray or spattered with cooking grease,” she says. Material choices are a personal preference with each choice offering degrees of durability. “You don’t want to use anything too fragile for guests to be wary of,” she says. Lighting above an island should dim for intimate conversations. Pendants should not obscure sight lines. Appropriate lighting also makes cooking safer.

What discourages connection?  If the room design deviates from the home’s architecture, it can be jarring; if there’s no seating, guests won’t want to stand for long; bad lighting, such as a big fluorescent fixture or lamps that don’t dim, creates an uncomfortable mood; an island too large to reach across and pass items can be annoying.

#5. Outdoor Space Is High Priority for All Generations

When Marc Nissim of Harmony Design Group designs an outdoor room for clients, he plans for the various functions the space provides: relaxation, cooking, eating, playing games or taking advantage of nature’s restorative effect. He usually anchors an outdoor dining area with an adjacent kitchen that typically incorporates a grill, refrigerator, trash center and large enough countertop to prep and set out food. He helps select a dining table that accommodates at least six to eight people and includes an umbrella for shade. He also designs seating with ample room to walk around and be near or within view of a fire pit.

a lavish outdoor seating area with modern fire pit

©Front Door Photography, photo courtesy of Harmony Design

Nissim favors making the outdoor living area 20% larger than what’s needed, to encourage flexibility. In some cases, he adds storage, a water feature, a wall where a TV can be placed, and lighting both for day and night use. According to System Pavers’ Outdoor Living Trends Index, a fire pit is at the top of 2024 renovation wish lists, followed by a kitchen and a pergola. Also on the list is replacing concrete with pavers.

What discourages connection? A grill too close to diners, who need distance from smoke and heat; seating that’s in direct sunlight and doesn’t have shade relief from an umbrella or roof overhang; plants that attract bees and other insects so nobody wants to sit for long.