While some homes seem built for entertaining, many aren’t designed that way. Still, you can make the most of what you have starting right at the front door and carrying it throughout your house.
Your home’s entry should be inviting whether you have a sidewalk, a porch, or simply the door from the hall of an apartment or condo. Be sure the approach is tidy, put out a welcome mat, and hang a wreath celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the New Year, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, a birthday—or any other theme— on the door.
Come on In
Once the door opens, you want guests to step into an entryway rather than abruptly being in the living area. Some homes have a formal foyer which can continue your welcoming theme. On the other hand, your floorplan may not include a separate space.
Nevertheless, you can 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 “wall” by suspending a reclaimed oval window.
Flooring that is different from the main room such as tile, wood, or a complimentary area rug can provide visual separation. Even the ceiling can help define the entryway with paint and wooden molding or a contrasting material such as recycled wood or press-on tin tiles.
If there is no closet, perhaps there is room for an interesting clothes tree or unusual clothes hooks on a wall.
Everyone says it: “No matter who the company is, they always congregate in the kitchen.” Often this is because that’s where the beverages and appetizers are, so one way to have people gather in other places is to establish drink stations and hors d’oeuvres in several locations.
Many newer homes have open-concept designs and these are especially conducive to entertaining because guests can interact in small groups while still being part of a larger gathering. If your home is not open, consider ways to make changes.
These are seldom a spur-of-the-moment projects because they often require major renovation, such as the couple who opened a load-bearing wall between the living room and formal dining room with a trio of tall, wide archways or the family who replaced a kitchen wall with a counter including seating on both sides.
Building a flexible seating plan into your main living area is another good way to move people out of the kitchen and one that doesn’t require renovation. 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.
Set up several conversation areas so guests can have places to 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. If you’re entertaining younger guests, some big pillows on the floor can work well.
Use your imagination. An ottoman or piano bench can provide seating opposite a pair of chairs with a small table in the center for glasses and plates. You might rearrange your usual furniture locations, move some furniture out or even bring some from other rooms.
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 out of sight behind a painting or removed to another room. This way, when someone says it’s time for an Important Sports Event, you aren’t put on the spot. (Unless the party is specifically to watch a game, of course.)
Lighting is a key to setting the mood for a party. Tiny colored lights add a remarkably festive tone to holiday parties. In addition, you should have multiple light sources to provide relatively soft lighting in every room. One way to do this is to have dimmers on several lights so that you have relatively bright lighting when guests first arrive, then lower it a bit for a more relaxed ambiance later on.
Candles are unfailingly festive, but be sure to use unscented varieties which will not bother guests’ sensitivities or detract from the food you are serving. Be extra careful to place candles in safe places away from traffic areas or spots where they might ignite holiday decorations, a lampshade, or a trailing scarf.
Another sure way to create a pleasant mood is to have music playing even before people arrive. Keep it soft and light and consider varying it between jazz and light classical. Avoid vocals and be careful about two hours of Christmas music this time of year. Not all of your guests may observe this particular holiday and everyone may well be Muzak-ed out after holiday shopping.
The Little Room
Be sure the bathroom is friendly with good lighting, plenty of TP in an easily found location, and fresh towels. It’s a good plan to 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 bottom line is if you’re planning a future remodel, bring entertaining into your planning equation. Until then, use your imagination to make your home as inviting as possible.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville.