Every year when the holiday season rolls around we spend hours making our houses warm, inviting and comfortable for guests. And although we "enjoy" every minute, it's a lot of work.
Fortunately, we have designer, architect, and entertaining extraordinaire Ili Nilsson to help us navigate the world of hosting and toasting our way through the holiday season. Here, she shares her answers to four pressing entertaining hang-ups, all submitted by Cultivate members.
Q: We have a small kitchen and although we love to cook and have people over, we always seem to end up crowded in the kitchen, while the rest of the house is nearly empty. How can I extend the appeal of my kitchen to other areas of the house?
A: The kitchen is where the party goes, end of story. (It must be a human instinct to always stay close to the source of food.) The best way to get people out of the kitchen and promote flow throughout the house is to entice movement. The first way is to set up the bar outside of the kitchen. Hire a bartender or ask a friend to help you tend the bar. You will quickly see a crowd gather near the spirits! Also, consider the furniture arrangement. Move furniture around to promote small conversation areas or to open up spaces. If it's not a sit-down dinner, split the courses into different rooms. I like to put the desserts and after dinner drinks in a smaller space, while appetizer trays are carefully arranged throughout the living room. Most importantly, get yourself out of the kitchen. Your guests are there to see you, so they will gravitate to wherever you are. So prepare the day before, clean up the day after and enjoy your party.
Q: Our home is family central around the holidays. This is very fun, but with so many people coming and going, the kitchen always seems to look like a war zone. How can I make my guests feel welcome in the kitchen and still know where to put things away?
A: The saying "Too many cooks in the kitchen" must have been coined during the holidays! To accommodate the clutter and mess that inevitably go hand-in-hand with this time of year, simply plan ahead and make room for it. For example, if you have guests with special dietary needs, clear a shelf in the refrigerator and label it, so no one else decimates their stash. Place baskets or bowls on your countertops to collect all keys, loose change and wallets that otherwise end up on the kitchen table. Double up your inventory of cups and glasses so you are not constantly running the dishwasher, and move snacks to other areas of the house. And my personal favorite, if your guests are up for it: Designate guest-chef night rotation and give everyone the opportunity to take over the kitchen and cook a meal for the family. Having command of your kitchen for a night will make your guests feel right at home and it will also make them aware of the placement of things. Plus, it will greatly cut down on your hosting duties.
Q: We recently got married and this is the first time we will be hosting my husband's extended family for a big dinner. Our house is pretty updated, but the kitchen needs a quick spruce-up. Any ideas?
A: This is an easy DIY task that anyone can tackle. Three words: Paint, lighting, hardware.
1. The kitchen will get a new lease on life with a fresh coat of paint, so paint your cabinets, walls, trim, ceiling—any surface that is dull, chipped, dingy or just outdated. Choose neutral colors if you opt out of white. If your cabinets are in good shape, splurge a little and lacquer them. The smooth, shiny surface will feel sophisticated and very grown up.
2. Update your kitchen lighting to transform the space before your very eyes. Besides the benefit of more light, the style and finish of a fixture can set the tone for any room. Also, dimmers can create mood lighting and instant ambiance. Lastly, add under-cabinet lighting for illuminating countertop tasks and adding to the overall atmosphere of the space.
3. Finish off your kitchen with new hardware. But don't just focus on beautiful new knobs and pulls—look at the operating hardware, too. You may find that you can install full-extension glides to your drawers for optimal function. Update any visible barrel hinges or take the time to clean off any leftover paint. Install two-door mounted trash bins so you can sort the recycling from the trash. And organize your pots and pans with divider attachments easily found at stores or online.
Q: What are your must-have items for holiday dinner parties?
A: Aside from simple and flavorful food, I like to have a signature cocktail that complements the theme for the evening, lots of candles and votives (they're a great way to make your home feel festive on a budget), and small gift tokens for all my guests to take home. Cheers!