NEW YORK -- J.C. Penney is homing in on its home department as part of a bigger plan to turn its stores into minimalls of sorts.The struggling department-store chain is unveiling revamped home areas in its stores, with 20 boutiques and 50 new brands. The areas will have an eclectic mix of items, from $60 Michael Graves' stainless steel teakettles to $1,850 Jonathan Adler "Happy Chic" sofas.The home areas, which Penney will begin to introduce Friday at 500 of its 1,100 stores, are big tests of CEO Ron Johnson's plan to open separate shops-within-stores for popular designers. The format, which gives department stores more of a minimall feel, has been popular at higher-end rivals such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's for years.Penney hopes the new home areas will help it woo back shoppers as it struggles to rebound after it lost a quarter of its revenue and amassed nearly $1 billion in losses in the past year. The revamp certainly presents a big opportunity for the retailer.While home sections typically are among the least profitable of a department store, they help to drive customers into the store. And demand for home furnishings is rebounding along with the U.S. housing market: Sales of furniture and home decor reached $92.9 billion last year, up 7.8 percent from the low of $86.2 billion in 2009 during the recession, according to spending tracker MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse."It's going to be a struggle, but the home area could generate some momentum," says Walter Loeb, a New York-based independent retail consultant.But Plano-based Penney has its work cut out for it. Penney was planning to anchor its home areas with the Martha Stewart lifestyle brand. But the company is fighting in court with Macy's over whether Macy's has exclusive rights to sell certain Martha Stewart products like bedding, cookware and bath items.Added to that, Penney's home business has lost considerable cachet from its heyday. The business once accounted for nearly 20 percent of Penney's store sales, but that number has dropped to 10 percent as the offerings have failed to attract younger customers. In fact, Penney says, its home department, which had attracted an average age of 45, has the oldest shopper compared with rivals like Target and Macy's.Penney executives say the new sections will appeal to a broader group of customers. About 70 percent of the merchandise in the new home area will be new or retooled brands. To make room for the new labels, Penney got rid of long-standing names, including traditional home furnishing brand Chris Madden.Each shop-within-a-store will have its own distinctive look and will be anywhere from 300 to about 800 square feet. Among the new shops will be Bodum, a Denmark-based kitchenware company. Jonathan Adler, known for his whimsical designs in home decor, also will have a shop. And Michael Graves, the architect turned home designer, will showcase his minimalist style in kitchen and home accessories in miniboutiques."There's something for everyone at any stage of their lives," says Paul Rutenis, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Penney's home business.