Fabulous design aside, nothing makes me happier than spending quality time with my family and friends. This is why the holidays fill me with so much joy. Schedules finally start to wind down and everyone becomes more focused on simpler pleasures, like sharing good food, great wine, and lots of laughs.
Gathering around a table is a very simple pleasure. But that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. As an interior designer who focuses exclusively on residential spaces, I understand that our homes are so much more than the tables, lamps, and rugs within them. Rooms hold memories. The way a room makes you feel will color your experience of that moment for a lifetime. So last weekend, I played host to a gorgeous get-together, complete with perfect table settings, a chef-inspired menu, and my dearest girlfriends. It was divine! And best yet? I wasn’t responsible for any of the cooking!
Because it’s the time of gift-giving, I’m sharing with you my 4 rules for effortless high-end entertaining.
Holiday Party Rule #1: Keep Guest Lists and Menus Simple
I’m very big on trusting my instincts and not overthinking things. This is the key to hosting a holiday party that doesn’t disappoint.
First things first. The guest list. I invited my good friends Juliana Zaraza and Joe Horzepa, Natalie Davis, and DeeAnn Templeton. While it’s easy for an intimate dinner party to get out of hand, I intentionally kept the list very short. No worries about RSVPs and late-comers. These are my besties who would show up rain or shine. Plus, they (Juliana and DeeAnn) were doing the cooking, which is a huge bonus because that certainly reduces the stress of being a hostess.
The menu was simple, focusing on warm, comfort foods with no more than 7 ingredients each. There’s a nostalgia attached to seasonal treats like apple dumplings, mashed potatoes, and Cornish game hens. But I’m never one to shy away from a modern twist, so these dishes don’t look like your grandmother’s staples.
I love putting a fresh take on something, whether it’s design or food-related! The mashed potatoes, for example, were twice-baked and arranged into delectable cakes, perfect for kids and adults alike!
Holiday Party Rule #2: Plan the Gathering Space Ahead of Time
Instead of clambering around the kitchen right at serving time, I made sure to set the table ahead of the meal prep. Taking care of this detail not only allows me to be more present when my guests arrive, but honors the chef. Culinary experiences are visual ones too!
I carry that thoughtfulness into the kitchen. When tools and spices are at the ready, they basically scream for helping hands. So I make sure I take care of the mise en place ahead of time. This means cooking utensils, ingredients, and even step stools for smaller sous chefs are ready to go.
It’s no secret that I adore Monogram Appliances. Superior in quality and sleek in its design, the Advantium Speed-Oven is a true marvel of modern technology. Reduced cook times mean more time spent with family and friends. And on the weekdays? It’s a snap to pull together a hot meal for Michael and the girls. Who wants to come home from a long day at the studio to make dinner for an hour? Not me.
And of course, a party simply isn’t a party without music. But no last minute DJ hot potato here! Pick a station you love or better yet, plan a customized playlist for your guests. The sensory experience (delightful smells and sounds) will carry with them well into the new year.
Holiday Party Rule #3: Include a Small, Personalized Element
When guests have their own designated seats and desserts, something magical happens. It’s these personal touches that carve out an owned space in a shared home. It doesn’t seem like a lot of effort (and it’s not!) but a little goes a long way.
For my guests, plump pears became table placeholders with the curly swipe of silver calligraphy. Presented in a comfy basket, the pears were a huge hit. Because who doesn’t love to see their name in an unexpected place? It’s that thoughtful touch that makes guests feel extra special.
While it wasn’t my idea, the personalized desserts were such a treat! Apple-shaped pastries provided the perfect single serving sweetness that no one had to share. I feel like there’s something comforting about having dessert all to yourself, as long as you don’t over-indulge, of course!
Holiday Party Rule #4: Honor Your Guests with Beautiful Things
You’re thinking, “Easy for you to say! You’re a designer!” But I think that anyone can create the perfect table setting for their guests with a few tricks from the pros.
When I’m designing an interior, I consider thoughtful arrangements and intentional inclusions. Have you ever seen a so-called “eclectic” interior that was really just a cluttered mash of objects never intended to be together? Clashing is different from contrasting and collected. Let me show you how.
- Start with a grounding neutral
- Activate the base palette with a contrasting color
- Incorporate high-quality textures
- Accentuate natural lines of sight
I began with plenty of white and blue, then added a festive red garland. See how it pairs beautifully with the cool-hued place settings? This iconic contrast of red with blue is then woven through a variety of luxe textures and fabrics. Glass and florals pull together the look, drawing the eye toward the center of the table.
From the bar cart to the centerpiece, this color palette is consistently present. You’ll see that even the pears match the colors of the table, falling naturally into place.
Frost + Ember, Ellisha Alexina, and Laura U
My collaboration with Frost + Ember a few years back was a limited edition capsule collection designed in partnership with renowned American textile manufacturer, Ellisha Alexina. They make a perfect wintry table setting.
The organic designs are printed on Belgian linen and are hand-painted. We developed 2 color palettes: one a cool blue and the other a warm copper. Both were inspired by the beauty of nature and my desire for table settings that could be used throughout the year.
I love to play warm against cool, especially against crisp white backgrounds. This is a timeless color balance that looks holiday-ready with green garlands, yet wintry chic on their own.
And maybe there’s 5th rule…to have fun! Your stress can and will rub off on your guests, so enjoy yourself! Perfection is impossible. Realizing that will save you so many anxiety-filled minutes. So what if our perfectly shaped apple dumplings didn’t quite make it out of the oven so perfectly? They were still deliciously tart, sweet mounds of goodness that I was lucky enough to share with my good friends. and family.
From my family to yours, Happy Holidays! And if you’re still in need for the perfect gift, check out our Holiday Gift Guide.