In the seminal tome Emily Post on Entertaining, one of the key requisites of a successful dinner party is noted as “an attractive table [that] creates a welcoming ambience — with everything in perfect condition.” However, as any experienced host or hostess can attest, serving a meal or even simply hors d’oeuvres requires much more design planning than a table alone. The secret sauce to holding a successful party is in the interior groundwork one lays.
“For my clients who like to entertain, I ensure the space is welcoming and moves them aesthetically,” says interior designer Amy Lau, who has a penchant for mixing vintage and contemporary pieces together with aplomb. “A space must be about more than the individual pieces within, such as a dining table. It’s about the entire environment, where each piece tells its own story.” For the consummate host, a room should be able to go from a few occupants to dozens without requiring considerable furniture maneuvering and advance prep.
Here’s how to get your home in instant entertaining shape. (Just add food and cocktails.)
Create Multiple Seating Areas
“The way to make a room comfortable for those who entertain or simply for when there are two people in the room is to make it feel quaint,” says Richard Mishaan, who is known for his artfully crafted, spirited spaces. To achieve the cozy effect Mishaan strives for, he “creates multiple, smaller eating areas. You need to be able to hear a person when they speak to you.”
Open space can be a good thing, but Mishaan cautions against “setting up sofas on opposite ends of a large room. That can make people feel isolated.” For a client’s Upper West Side townhouse, he integrated sofas, oversized chairs, love seats and cocktail tables to craft cozy conversation nooks.
Let the Party Flow
Southern California designer Trip Haenisch believes a successful dinner party should extend beyond the dining table. “Entertaining is just not as formal as it used to be,” says Haenisch. “I recommend using the dining table to lay out food and drinks, while dining chairs are great portable seating that can move throughout the house.” He incorporates a flow mentality to his own Beverly Hills home with an indoor-outdoor dining room that allows him to host a greater number of guests in a more casual setting.
Lau aims to add a “special focal point” into her rooms, which can also help separate a large space into cozy sections conducive to entertaining. She suggests a screen, much like a custom bronze style she had made for a client’s Manhattan townhouse. “It helped maintain a cohesive grand room,” Lau says, “while defining the living and dining spaces, encouraging intimacy and allowing the light to pass through.”
Add Movable Furniture
Populating a communal area with a variety of movable seating options is key to accommodating guests, whether it is just a few or dozens. Mishaan achieves this by enlisting furnishings like stools, cubes and ottomans that can be easily moved around. “Stools can live below a console or float in areas so as not to crowd the room,” the designer says. These pieces can also add a bold design element. The designer notes that “the more character they have, the better, so they can become an accent piece when not in use.”
Focus on Lighting
Ariel Ashe of the New York firm Ashe + Leandro used light fixtures to brilliant effect in an airy Soho loft. “For entertaining, good lighting that is dimmable is always key,” she says. A combined living and dining area aids in the merging of formal and informal spaces, while a variety of lighting options allow her clients set a specific mood depending on the nature of the party. In the dining area, Ashe utilized ceramic pendant lamps in assorted sizes, and in the living area, an adjustable two-armed Serge Mouille wall light offers other lighting options.
Consider Custom Pieces
Tailoring one’s furnishings is key — and a crucial component of Lau’s design work. “I often work with artisans to design a bespoke installation, item of furniture or piece of art to add warmth and individuality,” Lau explains. In a triplex apartment, she commissioned a custom Vladimir Kagan sofa, which adds a new place for guests to perch in the expansive living room.
Get a Bar Cart
One of Mishaan’s hosting rules is to not leave guests stranded in one room while you prepare food and drinks in another. His furnishing solution? “I love setting up a bar on a tray or a bar cart,” says Mishaan. “That way, you have what you need near you.” He also has a trolley in his own home, which he uses to hold serving dishes so as not to overcrowd the table. When the party’s done, he simply folds it up and tucks it away. If only the rest of cleanup could be so easy.