Last night, I hosted an intimate (think wine, cheese, and crystal chandeliers) seminar on behalf of Mastercard and Better Homes & Gardens over at the Meredith building. The program was about how to entertain if you live (as I do) in a small, not-particularly-conducive-to-parties place, and I kicked off the presentation with a question that I received from a reader a few weeks back.
Q. Hi Jordan! I need your advice. My boyfriend and I live in a shack of an apartment while our friends live in quintessential “perfect houses.” We get invited to our friends’ houses for dinner parties often, but I’m too embarrassed to bring friends to where we live in return.
I want to entertain, but feel inferior because of my digs. Any suggestions for how to deal with this situation?
The answer, of course, is that I can definitely relate. Our apartment (pictured above) may be very “us” and (I think) kinda charming, what with the floorboards that all slant East and uneven doorways, but it’s nowhere near the kinds of places that some of our friends live in.
Small space entertaining can be totally fun.
See? Totally fun. (That’s me and Francesca, totally having fun.)
Let’s talk about the whys and hows, from decor to food to cocktails to chilling out (seriously, things will go wrong - just chill out).
It’s all about working with what you have, and finding creative ways to incorporate items that you already own into your decor (thereby saving both time and money). One nice bonus of small-space entertaining: unlike at larger parties, your guests are likely to notice all your special little touches.
•Pull in furniture from other rooms, and move any and all furniture that doesn’t serve a purpose for the party into unused areas.
•Transform key pieces (for example, use your dresser as your buffet table, or convert your dining room table to a bar).
•Expand the size of your coffee table with an inexpensive plywood board (ask your local hardware store) and a tablecloth.
•Create additional surfaces with inexpensive trays (check out this JITH episode for a DIY Serving Tray idea that works wonders at parties).
•Lights & reflective surfaces work wonders - try using a long mirror as a centerpiece and top it with candles (go for 1/2 real, 1/2 faux to minimize smoke and heat).
•When it comes to flowers, think “dramatic”, not “big”, and swap in inexpensive blooms (carnations) for pricey ones (peonies).
•No need for fancy vases: you can pull in anything from teacups to creamers to sake carafes in a pinch (click here for my Celebrations article on unexpected flower decor).
HOW-TO: AT-HOME PICNIC
My favorite way to entertain for two at home: a coffee-table picnic like the one pictured above (that’s our Christmas Eve tradition).
Or course, you can skip the coffee table entirely and just head to your roof. No grass required!
•A coffee table picnic works for up to 6, more if you create additional floor seating areas around your apartment.
•Chic, cozy floor pillows make all the difference (you can even use regular old pillows and toss pretty throws over them).
•Serve food in the kitchen so the table doesn’t get too cluttered.
•Use stemless glasses and other unlikely-to-break pieces.
•If you head to the roof, bring along a card table for the food/drinks, and let people serve themselves
When it comes to food at a mini-party, the key is to make it all as easy on yourself as possible. Martha may make everything from scratch, but I certainly don’t…and when you don’t have a dishwasher you suddenly become quite fond of disposable cutlery (melamine works well too, and there are lots of gorgeous patterns out there these days).
•A nice side-effect of having a small space: you’re guaranteed to be able to chat with your guests while you cook. They’re right there. Next to you.
•Try a buffet, and serve foods that can be eaten standing up (without utensils).
•If you’re uncomfortable not offering a sit-down dinner but straight-up don’t have the space, consider serving cocktails & apps and then heading to an inexpensive local restaurant.
•Crostini - I’m particularly partial to the Ricotta, Lemon and Honey Crostini pictured above - is a fantastic solution for small-space serving (it can be sweet or savory, light or hearty).
•To save time and money, try serving up store-bought dips with pretty extras (for example, add capers and arugula to hummus).
•Go for a selection of small plates (tapas) rather than the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert.
•Never underestimate the impact of a really great guacamole (my recipe includes tequila. Yes it does).
•Finally, since you’re only serving a handful of people, now is the time to experiment with labor-intensive preparations you’d never make in bulk, like the Apple Salad w/ Avocado, Pomegranate & Blue Cheese pictured above.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to party drinks: Let your guests serve themselves, or you’ll be playing bartender all night.
The second-most-important thing to remember: nothing saves cash like a signature drink. Serve up something special (like my guava sangria) and have a couple of bottles of wine, some beer, and something non-alcoholic on hand, and you’re good to go - no full bar necessary.
And, most importantly…chill out.
Because even when everything goes wrong (that’s Kendrick washing dishes in our bathtub on the day when I tried to cook a fancy, multi-course meal and both our stove and our kitchen faucet went on the fritz)…
It’s still fun. Sometimes messy, but fun.