Big family in a small house, part 4: Entertaining Guests

Did you miss the beginning? Start here:


Although we have chosen to live in a small house for a time, we do want to be able to entertain guests – lots of them!  As a child, my family was very large and we very rarely received invitations to the homes of others.   I have to assume that most were uncomfortable with the prospect of 10 or more guests at one time.

We did not want that to be the case for our house.  We decided to skimp on the bedrooms to maximize floor space in the living areas.  We also chose a very open layout, with the living room, dining room and kitchen all in one long open area.  We think the oblong layout lets our guests spread out while maintaining visual contact, so that people don’t feel either crowded or isolated.

The 2 sofas in our modest living room are against the walls.  It’s not the most stylish placement, but it does keep the walkways very open and the seating accessible.  It also allows us to set up another table at the end of our 8.5′ long dining table if we choose.

Even the island in the kitchen and the placement of the huge dining room table were planned to ease the flow of traffic: both are centered in their respective areas, to allow for traffic on both sides. The kitchen island is ideal for serving a crowd buffet style: traffic flows in one side of the kitchen and out the other, leaving room at the table for plenty of people, plates, cups, etc.  I try to ignore the fact that the traffic goes in an incorrect counter-clockwise direction.   It makes my eye twitch but I try not to let the world know.

We also were blessed to be able to build a rather large deck on the front of the house.  This greatly extends our available space for most of the year.  When we have 15-20 guests in addition to our own 11 – which usually happens several times/month – many of us often eat outside.

There are certain disadvantages to our layout:

  • Because the bedrooms are small and crowded at the expense of the living areas, they’re very difficult to keep neat.  This is an ongoing battle, and often a losing one.  I might mention something about this when January 1 rolls around.
  • We dispensed with hallways to save space, but this means that our bedroom doors are right off of the dining room/living room.  We usually keep the doors closed when we have company.
  • The lack of a hallway also means that the bathroom door is right off of the main living area.  Not ideal, but we think it was the best choice.
  • The noise and mess of the kitchen cannot be hidden.

All of these situations are less than ideal, but we think they are worthwhile sacrifices to make entertaining larger groups more practical.  Some  of these represent decisions that were made when we built the house; you might not find them useful unless you are moving to a new home soon.  Other decisions involve arranging furniture in ways that might look less like the inside of a home magazine but work better for entertaining sizeable crowds in a small area.

Take a look at your house; how can you rearrange what you already have to improve the usability of your space?  When it comes to entertaining company, this doesn’t always mean finding more storage space.  Sometimes it means keeping less stuff to make more room for people.  Though we certainly don’t do it perfectly, this is yet another way that we have found to be content in our smaller-than-average home with a larger-than-average family.


  1. Thanks for this info! I’m wondering what you do when you have guests spend the night? We have family from out of town and all our bedrooms are full! I feel bad inviting them for parties when I have no where to put them!!

    • Shalyn890 says:


      We have a smallish house that is not laid out well, so we struggle with the same thing. Here is how we do it:

      1. It all depends on the relationships of the people. Here is what we have:

      One kids’ room with bunkbeds , one kids’ room with a full-size bed, one sofa that has one long cushion and is more comfortable than any bed in the house:), and one full-size sofa bed. We also have a twin air mattress and a queen air-mattress.
      When my mother and her sister come, one gets the sofa bed and one gets the kids’ room with the full-size. The boy who sleeps in that room goes to the bunk-bed room.
      This weekend, my in-laws will be here: parents, sis, and niece. Parents will get the full size bed in the bedroom. Sis-in-law will get sofa bed upon which she can sleep with her daughter or daughter can go on the comfy couch or an air mattress.
      When my daughter comes home from the East coast, she likes to sleep on the comfy couch because then she access to the TV;).
      My in-laws are much more flexible about sleep and housing arrangements than my mother is-my hubby and his seven siblings grew up in a 1200 sf house. My mother will not stay here when in-laws are in town , she claims it’s “too chaotic” when what she really means is she doesn’t get everything to herself. So, on big occasions like graduation, confirmations, etc. my mother will generally book a hotel room. It’s best for all involved, I assure you.
      In summary, our sleeping arrangements depend completely upon the relationships and predilections of the people involved but we do seem to have enough beds. Air mattresses are terrific, I might add. Oh, one other note: the twin size air mattress fits under the bunk bed so when we have a bunch of teen boys, they can be in one room. HOpe this helps; let me know if you have any questions.

  2. Thank you for sharing how you do it all. I have a 1200 sq ft home and there are 7 of us in it. 3 girls in one bedroom with 2 sets of bunkbeds and 2 boys in the other with 1 bunkbed. We, the parents, get the master bedroom which feels much like the size of one of the others. We have a small dinning area, a fairly good sized kitchen, and an odd shaped, long living room. Some days we feel so cramped but other days the coziness of it all just feels like its easier to love each other. Okay more often than not we feel cramped. I’m working on learning to live with less because currently I think its having so much stuff that is making me feel like we need more room. Thank you for sharing. You really helped bring perspective back to what is important. God Bless!

  3. I am so encouraged by this site! I love to read about how others manage in a small home. There are so many storage possibilities in my home but I just have not done what is needed to make it more efficient.
    My husband is from a family of 8 children and he grew up in a 1200 sf home WITH a basement-so it seemed bigger. But, one of the bedrooms is impossibly tiny (his parents still live there) and was known as the “little girls’ room.
    Please please keep showing pictures. This is sooo inspiring!
    May God Bless you and His Son shine upon you.

  4. Renee in NC says:

    I am encouraged by this series. We are a family of 7 and it appears that we are going to be moving into a one bedroom,one bath, 850 s/f hunting cabin in a few months. We just came from a 2800 s/f home, are currently in a 1600 s/f, this will be quite an adjustment. I had to laugh when I read the name of your site, because I feel like we are going to be in a shoe.

    I have mixed feelings about moving. Finding this website has just reminded me that 50 years ago no one thought twice of 5 kids in a two bedroom, one bath. I don’t need to worry, it will all work out. You guys have a lot of people in a little space, I can do it too.

    -Thank you and God Bless

    • Renee,
      We have friends with 6 children in a one bedroom hunting cabin, too – another loud happy family like ours but mostly boys. Enjoy your adventure! More space would be nice, but I think there’s something freeing about being forced to live with less stuff.

  5. Kim,
    Thanks so much for this series! Great ideas and encouragement!!

  6. I just went back and read your post about bedrooms… I’m with you, children do not need to have a room of their own! But I was a bit jealous when I read that you have your own room. LOL We have two bedrooms with 5 (soon to be 6) children. The boys have a room, the girls have a room, and DH and I have 1/2 of the living area in the basement as our “room”. I think it’s obvious from the fact that within days of our 6th *re*anniversary we will have had 4 children that not having a *real* room hasn’t been a hinderance. LOL

    I look forward to reading the rest of your posts about living in a small house! Now if I could just convince hubby to take out a wall or two…


  7. TK,
    These are potlucks so I don’t have to cook for the entire crowd.
    On occasions when I do cook for a crowd that size, I often use my 6 quart crock pot and/or my 18 quart roaster. Really, I would only have to double what I make for our family since I cook for 11 all the time, and I normally make extra for hubby’s lunch the next day.
    Recipes? I’m very partial to taco salad or burritos; mexican casserole is a favorite here (search our blog for the recipe); lasagne is hearty enough to feed a crowd with 2 pans; spaghetti is easy to do in mass quantities, though it’s pretty messy; and we do pizza every Friday, often with company – we make enough to an army so we can eat it for Saturday brunch too!

  8. First, I love this blog. I learn so much here. And I am continually amazed by how you manage it. So I have a question- are these gatherings of 15-20 plus your family primarily potlucks? Or do you cook for that many people? If you do, could you please tell me how? Do you have any recipes that you recommend for this kind of large scale hospitality?

  9. Homemakerang says:

    i have SO got to get back on the hospitality wagon! ARGH! pregnancy can do that to you… i am not a lot of fun during this time… i have ovarian guilt now as i know my children enjoy having people over and i have not been good at this as of late.

    you are always welcome here if you are ever in our neck of the woods! all million of you! 🙂

  10. Kim C,
    I have really enjoyed this series! Thank you for sharing your ideas with others!
    Keep up the good work,

  11. In my small home, I also have two couches against the walls in my living room. To make the room look bigger, I have a pretty area rug in the center of the room, and it makes a BIG difference. Without that area rug, it looks like a box in there. Once the rug is introduced, it really looks like the room has been expanded. Our house has two bedrooms, so my husband and I took the smaller room, which has it’s own bathroom, for our room. Our four children have the bigger room. Currently my 2yr old sleeps in a playpen in the “grown up room,” but soon she’ll be moved to a youth bed in the kid’s room. Since she’ll be the only girl in a room full of boys, I’ll have a Victorian moveable screen set up, to divide that room into two rooms – one larger room for the three boys, and a smaller room for my little girl. she’ll have her own door, since that bedroom has two doors. It all works out very nicely. 🙂

  12. Norah Nick says:

    I think your floorplan and design is great and that was very wise planning on your part! If I lived close by I would be honored and thrilled to be invited into you wonderful warm, loving home. I’m sure people leave with great memories and stories to tell.

    About the long table…my grandfather built a looooooooooooong one out of railroad ties or whatever those long wood railroad planks are called for the cabin at the lake shared by our huge extended family. So there’s a suggestion for anyone looking for ideas.

  13. When we added on to our house hospitality was something we were thinking about when we made the plans. Our solution was to add on to the dining room and make it a “dining hall” by extending it out another 16 feet. This gives us room to set up another folding banquet table so we can seat up to 18 people comfortably and 20 if we squeeze.This has given us enough room to host other large families, a formal tea party with 13 girls, and large holiday gatherings even though the house is fairly small (under1400). We use the end of the hall for a small home office with a couple desks and computers. The not so great part is this is also where we store homeschool stuff on bookcases and in office supply cabinets so it is like eating in the school room.

  14. Hey there!
    I just nominated you for the Lemonade Stand award! 🙂

    Check out to pick it up!

  15. MamaOlive,
    We found our table at the JCPenney’s outlet long ago when we had only 4 children. It was the only one that was solid wood rather than particle board, etc. It seemed huge at the time, but we had a feeling we’d be needing it someday!
    Now we use our table far more than our sofas, both as a family and when we have company. This is where we congregate. If we really squeeze, we can seat 14, though really it’s just perfect for 10.
    We’ve used it very hard over the years and it has served us well. The finish is a mess and we have talked about refinishing it for years now.
    This table is the only piece of furniture we ever bought new, and it was marked down by nearly 85%.

  16. May I ask where you got an 81/2 foot table? There are “only” 8 of us so far, but we are looking toward the future. Hubby and I did some dining table shopping the other day and found our cheapest sturdy option would be two medium sized tables placed end-to-end. Thanks.

  17. hi…i actually read your blog alot but have never commented or introduced myself. I’m Laura, I live in central California. I have 5 daughters and a wonderful hubby.

    there are many days when you are an inspiration to me! I think any of us with more than 2.3 children get overwhelmed sometimes…at least this is true for me. My kids are 15, 12, 8, 3, and 15 months. Our 3 year old has Type 1 Diabetes and wears an insulin pump. She is otherwise a healthy active normal child. I know there is a lesson in this for me…i’m just still trying to figure it out!

    take care and thank you!

  18. This is a great series. I plan to read through it again. We are a family of six in a 880 sq. ft. apartment. It sounds like our layout is very similar — no hall way, and bedrooms off of the living area. It’s not ideal for hiding bedroom clutter (!), but it is much better for entertaining.

    Our layout is very unusual for a Japanese apartment, but we love it. It feels much bigger than the apartments of friends who have around the same square footage, but a layout with a hallway. Visitors are always surprised to find out our square footage.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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