Is Your House Ready for Holiday Guests?
Posted December 6, 2018 10:52 p.m. EST
In the frantic rush to make his new house sparkle for the 22 guests coming over for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, Alex Papesh hit a wall.
Actually, it was a door frame, and he hit it with his head when he fell off a ladder while painting the kitchen tiles white.
Woozy and bleeding, Papesh, now 26, managed to call 911 before crawling out the door and passing out on the front lawn of his house near Cleveland, Ohio. His husband, Jason Papesh, now 31, arrived home from the grocery store to find an ambulance in the driveway and his spouse on a gurney. It took 10 staples in Alex’s head and permanent optic nerve damage for the Papeshes to accept that maybe the house wouldn’t be perfect for the holidays.
“We were going to have this awesome kitchen to show off,” said Alex, who works for a performing arts center. After the accident, “we literally said forget it, and the kitchen stopped where it was.”
Instead of a freshly painted room, the guests got one with half the tiles still a 1950s avocado green, and a floor splattered with white paint where the can had fallen. But the party was still a success, even with Alex laid up on the sofa in a darkened living room. “Nobody cared. They were more concerned about me,” he said. “It was a turning point for my husband and I.”
Up until the accident, the couple had been in the midst of a preholiday house-party panic that many of us have experienced: Start readying a home for company, and the house shame creeps in. Days before the event, you may realize that you won’t be the only one sitting on the worn armchair, or stretching your legs out on that unfortunate area rug that you’ve had since college, and you wonder if you should swing by West Elm for an impulse buy.
Or maybe there’s still enough time to tackle that garish dining-room wallpaper before the guests see the eyesore the previous owners left you. No amount of tinsel or garlands can cover the truth. Even if your home is in fine condition, you still may look around and see only clutter and disarray. In the hours before guests arrive, you find yourself frantically stuffing belongings into closets because the last thing you want anyone to know is that people actually live here.
“People get nervous that they’re not going to do it well enough,” said Jennifer Taylor, the creative director of A Taylored Affair, a Manhattan event planner. “With all the pressure from HGTV, they feel they’re not going to hit the bar.”
Simple fixes, she said, can hide many imperfections: Candles can make a room in need of a paint job look moody instead of drab. A colorful throw blanket can hide blemishes on a sofa. But more than a pretty room, guests want tasty food, good music and plenty to drink. Ultimately, a party comes down to the quality of the guest list, not the décor.
And yet, 67 percent of homeowners worry that friends and family will judge their homes when they visit, according to a survey by Chubb, a home insurance company. The collective anxiety might explain why 58 percent of respondents said they planned to renovate over the next 12 months.
And maybe they’re right. Maybe other people are judging our homes.
Maggie Kadziolka and her husband, Frank Giambolvo, were so anxious about what friends would think of the three-bedroom fixer-upper they bought in Bloomfield, New Jersey, in 2014, that they waited over a year to throw a housewarming party. “It was almost embarrassing to have people over,” said Kadziolka, 35, a lawyer. The house was in such rough shape when they bought it that they felt the only passable room was the basement, and even that needed work.
When they finally threw that party, on a snowy night in February 2015, friends (most of whom had bought turnkey houses) didn’t entirely mask their skepticism. “What we heard was, ‘We’re so excited to see the final product,’ which is code to me for, ‘Your place is OK, but what are you going to do with it?' ” Kadziolka said.
Now that the house is fully renovated, with a new kitchen and bathrooms, they host regularly.
A party is meant to be a celebration, and presumably friends and family do not walk into the living room and start checking for stains on the throw pillows — and if they do, maybe it’s time for new friends. And yet, you see all your home’s flaws, so why wouldn’t your guests?
A home “is a sacred place and when you invite someone in, you realize how much of yourself is exposed,” said Faith Roberson, a Manhattan home organizer. “So it’s understandable that there is a level of anxiety before you let people in.”
Sometimes, your home isn’t ready for prime time. So if the unease is unshakable, it may be a sign that you need to step back. If you’re in the midst of a renovation, or reorganizing rooms, Roberson suggests holding off on the party and focusing your attention on transforming your space into what you envision. “Think about a caterpillar,” she said. “When a caterpillar is turning into a butterfly, no one is in that cocoon with it. It’s just evolving.” Or, you could decide that you don’t mind having your visitors jump in that cocoon right along with you.
After Alex Papesh’s head injury, the Papeshes changed their party-planning attitude, along with their expectations for their 5,000-square-foot colonial. They’ve stopped trying to prove to friends and family that they can handle a major renovation, despite their youth and lack of experience in home repair. Instead, they embrace the project.
Now, when they throw parties, the cleanup is minimal. They may vacuum the floor and dust, but if a toolbox is in the dining room, it stays there, and becomes a conversation starter rather than an eyesore (or a tripping hazard.)
“It allows us to actually enjoy the party,” Alex said. “There’s not all this stress leading up to it and there’s not a big relief when it’s over.”