The real key to good entertaining is great design.

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To throw a fabulous party, it helps to have delicious snacks, snappy cocktails and great music. But the real key to good entertaining is great design.

I was reminded of this during a project for my clients, Sandy and Greg, newlyweds who recently traded in their tiny condo for a large 1960s suburban home. The house had a formal living room that they thought would make a great party space. But the big, dated room was cold and uninspiring — anything but festive.

To make matters worse, there wasn’t much available wall space, making furniture placement a real challenge. One wall was covered with dark-wood paneling and an old fireplace, another was full of windows and a third had two entryways. Sandy and Greg had no idea how to arrange their sofa and chairs — and make the space feel warm and inviting.

In situations like this, I always rely on the principle of “floating furniture design.” And so I decided to give the room a shaken-not-stirred sophistication.

When you “float” furniture, you pull it away from the walls. This works well in big, social spaces, as it generates a feeling of airiness while creating more-intimate seating areas. To kick things off, I needed to create a focal point, and the small, plain fireplace in the middle of the wood-paneled wall was going to be it. I made it more functional with a gas-log insert and then went shopping for a beautiful cast-stone mantle. This I flanked with custom cabinetry painted in a light creamy tone and added mirrors, glass shelving and wall sconces on both sides.

On the wall of windows, I positioned a console table book ended by two ottomans. I decided to keep the existing shutters for privacy and light control, but softened the look with drapery panels in a paisley pattern. On the rest of the walls, I put up a beautiful printed grass-cloth wallpaper with a bit of a retro vibe that gives the room a “Mad Men” elegance.

Finally it was time to bring in the furniture. Often people make the mistake of pushing furniture up against the walls, which only serves to make the space feel scattered and unfocused. By floating the arrangement within the space, your eye is drawn through the furniture to the walls and windows, and, in this case, the gorgeous fireplace.

The actual arrangement of furniture is important in this type of space. A conversation grouping of floating furniture should be about 12 feet from the back of one sofa or chair to the back of the opposite sofa or chair. And you need some circulation space (30 inches or so) around that area so the furniture can “float.”

I brought in a gorgeous low-armed sofa in a tarragon color and placed it in the middle of the room, with its back to the windows. Across from the sofa I put two lounge chairs in a rich coffee hue. In the middle of the two I put in a lovely glass-and-bronze coffee table. A beautiful area rug anchors the whole area.

To punctuate the furniture grouping, I dropped a simple, frosted glass pendant in the middle. I added a few more accessories — side tables, bar cart, lovely artwork — and finally the space was complete.

By using floating-furniture design in Sandy and Greg’s space, I was able to create an open, elegant room where they can entertain friends in a sexy and sophisticated space that’s perfect for socializing.

Martini, anyone?

(InteriordecoratorCandiceOlsonishostofHGTV’s”CandiceTellsAll.”Formoreideas,informationandshowtimesvisithttp://www.hgtv.com/candice-tells-all/show/index.html.Orvisitscrippsnews.com.)