The holidays are here. This time of year I often get asked questions about how to make one’s home look good during the holidays. Reality is if you know how to entertain, your party will be good. People know how to invite someone over but don’t usually know how to properly have guests in their home. Hospitality supersedes everything else. So instead of learning about how many wreathes you should have, knowing how to make your home welcoming to your guests is more important. If you are going to be a guest at a party for instance, don’t bring flowers. It’s a bummer to give beautiful flowers as a gift. You have just given the host one more thing to do and right while guests are arriving. They have to stop everything a find a vase fill it water etc. If you bring flowers, bring arranged flowers, or flowers already in a vase.
The first things that make your house hospitable are to make your home appeal to all the senses. Smell. By the door place a bowl of cinnamon sticks, Sight. Dim the lights. Hear. Soft music playing. Taste. Have good quality food and drink to serve. Touch. Have clean surfaces, soft napkins, fluffed pillows etc.
Have lights on in all the rooms. A dark room tells a guest they are not supposed to go in there and is uninviting. Keep the light at a low level. As an interior designer I say that there is no need to have anything more than a 25 watt bulb in a lamp. Have many lights on with small amounts of light as opposed to 1 or 2 flood lights. Add lots candles, even if they are just inexpensive votives inside glass shot glasses. Don’t turn on those annoying fluorescent lights in the kitchen. The light they give is not flattering to your food or the light they cast on your guests. Not to mention they are too bright. You don’t need the kitchen to be lit like Wal-Mart when the guests are over.
Don’t have the music too loud. People came to your party to talk to one another. No need to yell to be heard. Choose music to convey subtle mood at your party. The music is not the star of your party, your guests are.
Give your guests the dignity of eating on real plates. If you don’t have enough plates, pull together mismatched sets. No fun to be eating Lasagna with a paper plate in your lap while trying not to spill your dinner on your clothes. If you don’t have enough plates get good quality plastic ones. But honestly, just go with real ones. That goes for the silverware to. Even prisoners eat on plates. These are your special guests. Treat them well. When you set up the food line in your kitchen have the forks, napkins etc at the “end” of the line. Not at the beginning. It’s not pleasurable trying to pile up your plate with food while having your fork, knives and napkin in your pocket or in your hands while trying to collect your food. Don’t serve anything in foil. I know you are saying “my friends are casual,” but it only says that you did not make the time to serve your guests with respect. Have the bar area set up in place other than the kitchen. It keeps the kitchen from getting conjested. It also frees you up as the host. Most people don’t mind pouring themselves a drink from the bar.
Other items you should do include checking the bathroom regularly for paper.
Have nice paper hand towels with a generous size trash can so people don’t have to wipe on a wet towel and would instead wipe on their clothes.
Do most of your prep the day before so you are not still preparing as your guests arrive.
Clean up after guests leave. Washing dishes while the guests are still at the party is tacky.
Stand in your own doorway looking in before the guests arrive. See inside your house with the eyes of your guests. What do you see? Are there vitamin bottles in view on your kitchen counter? Is yesterday’s newspaper still on the table? Are the pictures on your wall crooked? Fix the out of place things in your home from the curb to the front door. First impressions are important.
Lastly, enjoy your party! Spend a few minutes with everyone. Be a host and make your guests feel special. Have a good time. If you are having fun the guests will follow your example.
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.