Small Spaces Can Still Host Big Parties
Posted November 12, 2007 4:56 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2007 3:13 p.m. EST
Despite the popularity of open-plan houses with sprawling great rooms, many Americans still dwell in compact city apartments or space-challenged starter homes. At the holidays, that lack of space can make entertaining complicated.
Thinking of throwing a holiday open house, but unsure where to put the crowd? Here are some thoughts from home design experts on maximizing a limited space for entertaining:
- Cook in advance to keep the kitchen clear.
"Make sure everything is made before the event and requires no heating, turning or cooking," says Karen McAloon, host of HGTV's "Design Remix." A totally clean kitchen offers more space for guests who'll congregate there. Clear additional space by boxing up countertop items and stashing them in a closet. A bonus: Preparing the food ahead of time lets you spend more time with your guests.
- Plan for overflow throughout your home.
"Use all the rooms you've got," says Tammy Jo Schoppet, editor of thebudgetdecorator.com. Plan to use a study or bedroom as additional entertaining space, rather than just allowing the crowd to overflow into those rooms. Toss bed pillows in the closet and use throw pillows to "make it look like just another place to sit," Schoppet says. "And you can put food in other rooms, so people can float through those areas."
- Think vertically.
McAloon bought wooden folding chairs to serve as extra seating during holiday parties, but lacked space to store them. Her solution?
"I spray painted them alternating red and silver, then I took down the artwork normally in my front entryway and put the chairs up on hooks. They were there for November and December, and as people would come over, that was also part of the game - take a chair," she says. "It added to the overall festive look of the loft. They could be taken down, then at the end of the night they could be put back up. After November and December ended, I drove them down to my storage place."
Want to use holiday china for a party, but you've got nowhere to store it? McAloon suggests taking down art from your kitchen walls and putting up inexpensive plate hangers from a hardware store. During the winter, you can hang up your holiday china, solving the problem of storing it.
- Rethink the display of food and drink.
If you lack surfaces for setting up a bar or buffet, consider clearing off the top of a cabinet or emptying a bookcase. "You can say, 'this bookcase will be the bar,' take the books out and put them away, then put the glasses on top with an ice bucket and the bottles underneath," Schoppet says. "It's going to look nice at the same time that it'll be functional."
To avoid traffic jams, Schoppet says, "put food at one end of the room, drinks at other. If your food is in the kitchen, put your bar at the other side of the room, so people can meander."
McAloon points out that using the correct plates can also cut down on buffet table traffic. "You don't want to give someone a dinner-size plate, but cocktail plates are really too small," she says. "The plate should be a size where they don't have to constantly go back to the buffet table to replenish, because that interrupts the flow of conversation."
- Designate space for coats and purses.
"When people come into your home, they should know where to drop their coats and put their purses. It can be a guest bedroom that you point out, or even a take a couple of chairs and put them by the front door," says McAloon. That way, people's things won't take up room in the party space and everyone will know where to find what they've brought.
"You can hang up a little sign so they know to put their things there, or stage it with a couple of purses you've gotten at a thrift store," she says. "I've gotten like a crazy zebra coat from a thrift store and a crazy boa purse and put them there. It gets everyone talking about people they think might have brought those things ... Immediately when people walk in the door, you've set the tone and you've given them something to start a conversation with."