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A mid-century modern-style living room, dining room, and built-in bar.

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Tips For Entertaining In Small Spaces

Is the size of your space holding you back from throwing the dinner party of your dreams? We say, “Throw the dang party!” You don’t need a huge home to have a great party! We’ll give you the push you need to embrace your space of any size for entertaining.

May 5, 2022

I’m about to tell you an incredible story: last week I had a few friends over for dinner. I cooked four dishes, made some cocktails, and we ate, drank, laughed, and even danced a little. This hasn’t happened in quite a long time and qualifies as incredible after the COVID-19 experience we’ve all had.

Aside from the fact that I had to actually make my house look somewhat acceptable for people that aren’t my kids (and really, it hasn’t looked acceptable since the “Before Times”), entertaining again reminded me of all of the ways to make the most out of small space.

My main living spaces aren’t tiny, but they’re also not large, and there are lessons that I still hold dear from my time living and entertaining in a 450-square-foot New York City apartment. And, frankly, every time I walk through IKEA (which also just happened for the first time since 2019), I can’t help but be reminded of the joys of smaller spaces.

So, in lieu of changing my career and becoming someone who stages the tiny apartment dioramas in IKEA, here are some tips on how to design for entertaining in a small space. Maybe you just bought a home, and it’s lovely and cozy but could use a few updates. Or maybe you live in an apartment or condo and are looking for some ways to optimize a space you can’t redesign. Some of these are ideas for new spaces where you can decide on wall locations and the others are just general ideas that you can use in your current space.

There are many practical ways you can update your space to make it entertaining-friendly.

We’ve talked in depth about designing a space perfect for entertaining before. But if you aren’t starting from scratch, or don’t have the budget for bigger changes, you don’t have to forego entertaining altogether.

Make Your Dining Table Scalable

If you have room for a dining table, of any kind, try to make it scalable. Consider a table that folds down or has table leaves. Some tables fold completely away and can be stored in a closet or against a wall. However you do it, find a way to scale your table down for when you are just eating for one or two, and size it up for when you’re hosting six of your friends.

Have Enough Comfortable Seats

Speaking of tables, you’ll want to make sure you have seating to accommodate all your guests. Furniture selection is key for a small space and finding well-scaled furniture is thankfully becoming more and more accessible and easy to find.

Like many things in small spaces, look for options that are flexible and serve multiple purposes. Small flexible cubes or poofs can double as a side table with a tray on top; comfortable folding chairs can tuck under a bed; two comfortable dining chairs with arms can bracket the end of your dining table and be supplemented with folding chairs for when it needs to expand. And maybe those same dining chairs can serve as occasional seating around the coffee table when needed.

Make The Most of Your Storage

Entertaining doesn’t have to be a complicated affair, but you’re still going to want some fun things to set a table or decorate your house with. While you don’t need to have an unreasonable obsession with a seemingly endless collection of white serving bowls like some people (me), you’ll want to find a spot for enough dishes, silverware, napkins, etc. to supply your guests with. There’s no need to go all out, though. I suggest investing in cookware and bakeware that’s beautiful enough to serve from and making your everyday dishes nice enough to also use for company.

Consider Your Kitchen

How do you accommodate people in your kitchen? There’s no escaping that people will be drawn to your kitchen no matter how small it is. If you can’t go full-kitchen-remodel, work with what you have. Maybe your island can also serve as a dining table? People love a chef’s table. Or maybe your little dining nook is just big enough for some hors d’oeuvres folks can congregate around? Finding a spot for people to mingle will be key so they can be out of your way as you’re running around finalizing dinner.

Consider Your Bathroom

Our team has all sorts of, um, creative colloquialisms for when we see powder rooms tucked right off a living space. It is never ideal. If you’re considering updates to your home, give your guests a private spot to sneak away to when they need. If you can’t change the placement of your bathroom, all is not lost. Give your guests a spot that anticipates their needs: light a candle, stock up your toilet paper, and, if you have one, crack the window.

Take The Party Outside

If you have access to the outdoors, it will behoove you to move the party outside. Open your sliding doors and use your balcony for extra space or invite everyone over to your building’s courtyard or roof deck. The pandemic has left many lessons for us, and outdoor dining and entertaining is one of the things I hope stays around for good.

Use The Right Light

Light provides drama, and a dinner party or get-together with soft lighting is going to be far different than one with light bright enough to perform open-heart surgery on the table. Think in layers. You’ll want one general light likely on the ceiling, accent lights to hit the walls and art, and accent ambient lighting throughout the space. Think tabletop lights or lamps, or even small votive candles.

Make Room to Dance

This might be a just-me-and-my-friends sort of situation, but life is too short not to dance. None of us have ballrooms in our homes (and if you do I hope you are using that space as it was intended!), so create space for an impromptu dance party by having furniture that is easily movable. This also usually means finding furniture that’s smaller-scaled and better sized for a small space. It is a win-win situation!

Find a Focal Point

Whether your libation of choice is alcoholic or not, a fabulous drink helps make an evening feel special. You don’t need a lot of space for a small home bar, and, in fact, a smaller bar can feel even more special. I love older pieces of furniture adapted and reused into a bar or bar cart. Maybe an old dresser or a treasured hand-me-down from your grandmother.

Find a spot that feels like a little destination within your home that folks can congregate around. Just like carving up outdoor spaces into rooms helps those spaces feel more intimate and approachable, creating little vignettes in your home can help open the space, as well.

Embrace Density

Density isn’t just a great idea for our urban neighborhoods, it’s a great idea for your party! A cozy space filled with people, comfortable furniture, and wonderful things to look at and eat creates an immediately pleasurable experience for people.

Humans love comfortable crowds, especially when they’re made up of friends enjoying each other’s company. Think of you standing and talking to a friend in a big, empty, cavernous space, or the two of you mingling in a room with other people, seating areas, and artwork nearby. Which one feels better? Pandemic fears aside, I’ll take the cozy space any day.

A small space means your small group is going to feel bigger and people will naturally relax. My home bar is rather small and, yet, I’ve hosted company events there many times. Standing shoulder to shoulder with people creates a festive atmosphere and you should embrace the size of your space and recognize the benefits it brings to your entertaining.

As the United States emerges from the surreal pandemic experience, we are going to slowly start entertaining again. While you can’t hop down to IKEA and throw a party in one of those staged apartments (I promise I won’t do that again, guys!), you can make a space that feels welcoming and fun no matter how large it is.

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