A Chef’s Home to Inspire Your Own!

August 7th, 2011  |  Published in Convivial Spaces, Learn  |  2 Comments

This weekend I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a fantastic party at the home of Chef Pascal Courtin.  As we mingled, ate fabulous food, drank refreshing original cocktails and sipped on wines and champagne, I began to take note of the spatial success that is Chef Pascal’s home.

Starting out as a very typical 60’s-era ranch house in a San Diego neighborhood, Pascal transformed his home into the ideal setting for cooking and entertaining.  First and most obvious are the walls that have come down, creating large open spaces that spill to the outdoors, blurring the line of interior and exterior.  As a chef, Pascal conducts private cooking classes in his home; therefore, he converted what was once the dining room into a sleek teaching kitchen that can accommodate eight or nine students or diners.

Two separate spaces, indoor and out, but flow together


The existing kitchen has become a sort of back-up galley; in fact, the layout concept is very similar to that of a commercial kitchen.  Storage and clean-up areas in the galley are removed from the prep and cooking areas of the kitchen.

The backyard is nothing less than stunning.  The focal point is a fully-functional outdoor kitchen with surrounding counter-seating for about 12.  An artful composition of shade sails not only provides shelter, but also serves to further define the space.  Additional seating areas, a spa tub and a fire circle secluded in tropical landscape, provide a variety of spaces to discover and enjoy.

The ideal outdoor kitchen

What makes Chef Pascal’s home such a successful place for entertaining is that he provides a series of spaces, indoors and outdoors, that offer guests a wide variety of mingling options.  There are no “dead ends”, but constant flow through all the spaces.  When having larger, less intimate parties, it is important for guests to feel free to roam comfortably.  Each space provides an opportunity to congregate, and being able to flow easily among them reduces the awkwardness that many of us feel when approaching new people already in conversation.

It is also important to provide places for guests to sit down and eat.  Chef Pascal again provides three or four different areas where friends can sit together, actually use a fork and knife, and enjoy the meal.

Do you feel discouraged because you have a small home, or no budget to do that fantastic remodel you see on the cover of Dwell?  No worries – we live in San Diego!  When you’re having a party, open up your home as much as you can to the outdoors.  If you have a back yard, think spatially when designing your layout.  Remember what I noted was special about Pascal’s home – the ability to flow freely among a variety of spaces.  In the open space of your own backyard, you have all the opportunity in the world to create a variety of spaces using tables, tents, umbrellas, lights…  look around your garage and get creative.

For instance, depending on the size of your yard and the number of guests attending, divide the yard into three or five different areas of various sizes (I prefer working with odd numbers when spatial choreography is important; I believe they are more dynamic).  In one space, create a “sitting room”; an arrangement of chairs around a low table, or maybe a fire pit – but be sure to provide low tables within reach of the seating.  Elsewhere, use tables to create pockets of seating for dining.  Use another area for the bar, and maybe set up some belly-tables if you can.  Lay out the food table apart from the bar area.  You may also want to provide one space that is a little more intimate than the others, a smoking area, or possibly a dance floor.

Even if you’re planning an evening event, overhead elements can be very useful in creating spaces that have a variety of character.  Umbrellas, draping fabric, tents or shade sails work wonders to define a space.

Shade sails help to define space

Lighting is a very critical element in outdoor entertaining; oftentimes there just isn’t enough of it and you see everyone taking out their cell phone to illuminate their plate.  If you entertain often enough, it’s worth it to spend $50 or so on commercial-grade light strings; they are much better than your typical Christmas lights because not only do they illuminate more effectively, but the bulbs are easily replaceable and interchangeable.  They also lend themselves easily to being doctored-up with lanterns and other fun decorations.

Candles are great, but they need to be shielded from the wind.  Look for lantern-type holders.  Avoid tealights; they don’t burn long, they go out, and they don’t provide nearly enough light.  I recommend “liquid candles”; you can find them in restaurant supply stores or on-line, and some of them have a fifty-hour burn time.  They are bright, you won’t have to worry about relighting them during the party, and there is no melted wax mess to clean up.

If you’re lucky enough to have thoughtful landscape lighting, evenly dispersed throughout your garden, then that’s super.  But if your only electric light is that super-bright back patio sconce, think twice.  The glare and unevenness of light and dark will discourage guests from congregating in spaces that are otherwise comfortable.

Homes like Chef Pascal Courtin’s are such a treat; being a guest in one – even for one evening – can be just as fulfilling as a quick weekend getaway.  But don’t be discouraged if you feel that your home doesn’t measure up – remember to let the successful, convivial spaces that you encounter inspire you to create your own paradise for the bon vivant!

“Cooking With Grey Goose Vodka”  by Chef Pascal Courtin

Source for commercial-grade patio lighting: http://www.partylights.com/

Source for fun lanterns: http://www.asianideas.com/lanterns2.html

Laurie C. Fisher

Laurie C. Fisher, AIA is an award-winning California Registered Architect practicing in San Diego. Born a bon vivant, her main focus in architecture is in creating joyful environments, indoors and out. An avid cook and francophile, Laurie is able to impart her unique knowledge of culture, cuisine and entertaining to her projects. She can be reached at 619.252.2312 or laurie@lcfisher-architect.com.

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  • sophiacircle

    Hello Laurie!

    It is so wonderful to "See" you here. I love your posts on great spaces for cooking and entertaining. It's dreamy and inspiring.

    Do you have a source for those "Shade Sails?"


    • Laurie Fisher

      Hi Laura!

      Thanks for stopping by! I don't have a source at hand, but I will research it and get back to you.

      I was just in Bhava's class tonight…. I feel great!!

      Nice to hear from you – I'll get back to you on the shade sails—-

      Best –