By Marilyn Pribus –
“During the holidays, you can entertain regardless if you have an open concept or more traditional layout,” declares REALTOR® Paul McArtor of Montague, Miller & Co. in Charlottesville. While not every place is perfect for entertaining, the good news is that you can always create a party at your home.
Make a List, Check It Twice
Most happy hosts have a master list to tweak for various occasions. It might include previous menus, a note to get fresh flowers the day before, or a reminder to serve something a guest raved about in the past.
Invitations for holiday parties should go out three weeks ahead of time. An easy RSVP option is a good idea so you’ll have an idea of how many to expect. Obviously this is more important for a sit-down dinner than a casual evening of games and snacks.
If someone offers to bring something? Just say yes and have a little list of what would be most helpful if they ask. A bottle of wine? A green salad? Chips and dip?
How about a two-for-one? One woman, whose friends always delight in her parties, has a clever plan. She has gatherings on two successive nights, one for business associates of her husband and herself and the other for casual friends. It’s way less than twice the work, she says, because she’s got the house clean, fresh flowers for the table, and can easily double some recipes.
Do as much as possible the night before. Set the table. Move furniture if necessary. Clean the powder room.
Speaking of that little room, be sure it has good lighting and plenty of TP in an easily found location. Provide towels people feel comfortable using rather than exquisitely embroidered bits of fabric on a towel bar or even those decorated paper towels in a holder.
“The front door,” says McArtor, “is always the focus of the exterior and can dictate the whole feeling of the house. A simple classic wreath adds elegance to a home. A homemade, crafty wreath creates a feeling of home and comfort.” Extra trick: Quickly “remodel” your Hanukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa wreath for a New Year’s party.
When guests come through that door, it’s nice to have an entryway rather than abruptly being in the living area. If you lack a formal foyer, you can still create a “transitional” area without major architectural changes. A low shelf or even the back of a large piece of furniture can define your entryway. In one case, a woman created a see-through “wall” by suspending a trio of small unmatched antique windows from the ceiling with identical decorative chains.
An entryway can also be defined by flooring that is different from the main room such as tile, wood, or an interesting area rug. Even the ceiling can help define the entry with paint, molding or a contrasting material such as recycled wood or press-on tin tiles.
Somehow it seems that company always congregates in the kitchen. No surprise since that’s often where the hosts are involved with food and beverages. To encourage guests to gather in other places, set up drink stations and appetizers in several locations.
“Less is more when it comes to furniture,” comments McArtor, “except seating.” He points out that no one likes being trapped in a corner or not being able to get to the food, so it might be a good idea to rearrange your furniture or even move some of it out.
Set up conversation areas where guests can sit and chat while still being part of the main group. Have all the seats in a single area at the same level keeping people face to face. Consider ottomans or bench seating that can slide under tables until needed. If you entertain frequently, invest in some attractive chairs that can be folded or stacked for storage.
Nothing is more anti-conversation than a TV screen. While some people put on one of those “background” programs of drifting fish or peaceful forests, it’s better to have the screen concealed behind a painting or moved to another room.
Finally, says McArtor, “Don’t be afraid to take advantage of outdoor space— even with the cooler temperatures—by using an outdoor heater or fire pit.”
Clever lighting is a key to setting the mood. For instance, you might add tiny colored lights for festive party punctuation along with multiple sources of light to provide relatively soft illumination in every room. If you have dimmers on several fixtures, you can have bright lighting when guests first arrive, then lower it a bit for a more relaxed ambiance.
Candles are also festive, but remember to use unscented varieties which will not bother guests’ sensitivities or detract from any food you serve. Be extra careful to keep candles well away from traffic paths or spots where they might ignite holiday decorations, a lampshade, or a trailing scarf.
Another sure way to create a pleasant mood is with music. Keep it soft and vary it between jazz and light classical. Avoid vocals or an endless loop of Christmas music this time of year. Not all your guests may observe this particular holiday and everyone may well be Muzak-ed out by now.
The bottom line is plan ahead so you can relax and enjoy your own holiday gatherings.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. She’s adopted that two-parties-in-two-nights strategy many times.