This year, it’s your turn to host the holiday soiree—be it Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, the office shindig, an ugly sweater contest or the New Year’s Eve countdown. You love parties and enjoy entertaining, but is your home really prepared to accommodate all those guests, including the extras that somehow manage to show up? While you don’t want to be a Grinch and beg out of hosting, the idea of cleaning, reorganizing, finding enough seating and then decorating could give anyone pre-seasonal stress.
Don’t shirk your duties; after all, it’s the holidays—potentially the most festive time of year. We spoke with several local designers, party planners and creative professionals to unveil their decorating tricks and ideas for sprucing up your home for the season.
Setting the Scene
A bit of rearranging is the first step to creating an inviting environment. Rethink regular pieces that may crowd your living areas during the entertaining season.
Designer Chris Woodburn suggests stashing floor lamps, rugs, oversized upholstered chairs and sofas outdoors while entertaining. Other larger pieces, such as pianos, floor sculptures and large potted plants are all candidates to be temporarily relocated to other areas of the house. Even smaller pieces can lend a cluttered feel to a space when it’s packed with people; if a side table or bookshelf is overflowing with side-by-side picture frames, for example, consider moving them to a bedroom or hallway to open up the party area.
After determining which pieces you don’t need in your entertaining space, think carefully about the ones you do. While we all tend to go a bit overboard with spending during the holiday season, it would be unnecessary to buy several pieces of new furniture just for a party or two. Only a few relatively minor new additions might be in order.
“Use a few large pillows or floor cushions that people can comfortably sit on. They can be stored decoratively in a basket when not in use.” – Annie Speck
An essential piece for entertaining is a bar cart, which can also be repurposed for everyday use to display decanters, top-shelf liquor and cocktail accouterments. “A great host always has essentials at their fingertips, and who wouldn’t want to come over and quickly have a drink in hand?” says interior designer Lisa McDennon. “Being able to easily move from room to room, your bar cart can become a fun side table in a bedroom or be wheeled outside for an extra serving station.”
Making guests comfortable is the key to a successful party, so seating will also be at a premium. But providing a place for nearly every bottom doesn’t mean investing in large sofas or ugly folding chairs. “Use a few large pillows or floor cushions that people can comfortably sit on,” advises Annie Speck of Annie Speck Interior Designs. “They can be stored decoratively in a basket when not in use.”
While the floor may be a viable option for kids, adults might prefer a higher perch. Annie adds that other seating solutions include poufs or small, upholstered cubes, which can be tucked under consoles when not in use. “They also add a jolt of color to a room,” she explains.
Setting the Table
For gatherings that center around a meal, like Thanksgiving, providing enough tables and chairs for all your guests can be a challenge. “Tables that have extension leaves are amazing, [as are] drop-leaf tables that can be used daily as a console but then open up to a larger table for the holidays,” Lisa says. “Think of items that have double or triple duty. I have a long bench seat in my dining room with storage inside.”
If the place settings are feeling a little tight, however, Annie recommends bringing in two or three tables to give guests more room to spread out. When children are present, it’s easy to group them together around an additional table brought in from an outdoor patio set. Another fix, suggested by Chris, is to switch out coffee tables with smaller dining tables throughout the house in more of a reception style.
Once the space is reconfigured to accommodate extra bodies, it’s time to consider table decorations. “It’s important to put decor in places where your guests will spend most of their time,” says floral designer Yoshi O’Connor, who owns Floral Fete. “If you have an appetizer buffet, place a couple of focal arrangements on this table.”
“It’s important to put decor in places where your guests will spend most of their time. If you have an appetizer buffet, place a couple of focal arrangements on this table.” – Yoshi O’Connor
Floral arrangements have always been a popular pick for centerpieces, but there are plenty of longer-lasting alternatives to use instead, such as succulents and blooming branches like dogwood and pussy willow. If you’re set on something fresh and fragrant, Barbara Walters of event planning and design company The Lynden Lane Co. suggests a bay leaf or magnolia garland with some fresh fruit: “Your holiday table [will] look current and classic at the same time,” she says.
Before you start shopping for new items, look around your house for year-round decor that can be repurposed for the occasion. Glass hurricanes, wood containers and metal bowls, for example, can be filled with festive details like small ornaments, pine cones or candy. Martha Jager of event styling firm Four Leaf Clover Studio notes that neutrals are a great starting place. Keep in mind that metallics act as neutrals, and are especially on-trend.
“A large brass bowl filled with oranges and pomander balls would be beautiful,” Barbara says.
Last but not least, don’t forget to add light to your display. “To create a beautiful holiday scene, think crisp and bright,” says Cori Sponagle, owner of Events by Cori. “Replace fabric table runners with beveled mirrors and cover them with tea lights, votives and pillar candles to illuminate the room in a warm, cozy glow.”
Taking the Party Outside
The design strategy of blurring the lines between indoors and out works perfectly in Southern California, as our temperate climate allows us to embrace the outdoors year-round. With this idea in mind, open the party to the patio or yard if you have the space.
“A home warms up with large groups of guests, so doors can stay open,” Chris says. “Dimly lit outside areas become extended areas to eat, drink and celebrate. … I place four very large chairs … around a table or pit and then fill in with smaller ottomans and chairs. This way, you can literally have a gathering of 12 to 14 comfortably.”
If you want to bring the party fully outdoors, add a festive element to a patio set with a holiday tablecloth then up the formality with a complete place setting. “Often the holidays are the [ideal] time to break out the nice dishes,” Annie says. She also suggests bringing your dining room chairs outside to create a charming contrast with comfortable patio chairs.
But even with the typically pleasant weather, for a final touch, Lisa suggests keeping throws or pashmina shawls readily available in baskets “to shrug off the coastal chill”—just in case.
All in the Details
These often-overlooked tips from local designers will turn you into a holiday hosting pro.
First and final impressions: The entry is crucial, but there’s no need to go overboard. Interior designer Lisa McDennon says a few seasonal flowers, a fresh garland or a wreath on the door is enough to set the stage.
Leave room to move: With all of that extra seating, make sure there’s still ample space to get around. Lisa advises allowing 36 to 42 inches of walking space for a main traffic flow corridor.
Beautify the bathroom: Designer Chris Woodburn suggests festive shower curtains and towels as well as clusters of ornaments in glass urns. Make sure the space is well-equipped with essentials like extra hand towels and soap.
—Written by Lisa Hallett Taylor