By Tiffany Edison
I love to entertain! I love beautiful surroundings in my home. These things are a match made in heaven. In fact, being the “hostess with the most-est” was bred into me at a very young age. I have vivid memories of following my mother around the kitchen as she gathered items in preparation for a party. She would stand on a step-stool reaching into the cabinets above, handing down platters, pitchers, and vases in sheer delight! She had a vision that I was not privy to, yet I knew full-well that she would have our home looking beautiful and primed for memory-making with friends galore.
To this day, I cannot pinpoint where my mother’s gift for entertaining was born, as her upbringing was anything but privileged. Growing up with a mother who was quite strict and conservative, she was told often that anything lavish or excessive was “foolish” and “unnecessary.” It was not by example that my mom could turn any gathering into an incredible evening of merriment for friends and family.
There were three rules regarding entertaining which Mom passed on to me, and I rely on each.
One, always empty the dishwasher prior to guests arriving. Two, make sure that music is cued and candles are lit—“Everyone looks better by candlelight,” she would say definitively. And lastly, make sure to invite your two best friends to arrive thirty minutes early, as “nobody likes to be the first to arrive”. I have found that all of these things have served me well. I was also fortunate to have a very wise woman share another entertaining tip with me as well. She highly encouraged me to be relaxed, knowing that I had done my preparation: my home was clean and ready, my table was set and ready, and my makeup and heels were in place. She subscribed to the philosophy that having a glass of wine before having a house full of people could be relaxing and that energy would put all guests at ease; I have found this to be true.
Call me old-fashioned, but I would like to think that people still enjoy hosting dinner parties today, despite the plethora of restaurants available to us. The primary reason I entertain is for that opportunity for guests to relax in my home, as I have arranged it to be lovely yet ultimately comfortable. As the years have passed, I’ve added many of my own rules for entertaining, and most are quite simple. The key is in the preparation. I am sure you have heard of the adage “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” So just make a list—it’s as easy as one, two, three (or as I have come to say, the “three P’s”):
The guest list and menu are critical to the recipe for fun. Just like fine wine with the perfect cheese, the friends you invite and the food you present are the foundation. I like to invite an eclectic mix of old friends, new neighbors, colleagues, and anyone who strikes my fancy. It can be exciting, and new friendships can form from the bonding that occurs in the comforts of home entertaining. You never know just what lively conversation or spontaneous dancing might erupt! A gathering in your home lends itself perfectly to loud music and hearty laughter without the risk of bothering those at another table a few feet away.
When I host, I like to provide all that we will need for a delightful evening. However, when friends insist on bringing something, then wine it is! It’s always a hit, and absolutely adds to the ambience to see the counter island full of multiple bottles congregating, which encourages guests to imbibe and sample something new.
I design a menu that reflects the demands and constraints with real life in mind, such as what is readily available, and the amount of time I’m able to dedicate to the preparation of the evening meal. I like to have a few appetizers pre-made, requiring only heating before things get going, in tandem with those specialty items that I labor over. Most people have a dish they are known for, and I strongly recommend to always have this on the menu.
Preparing your home:
This does not need to be overwhelming. Again, make a list, taking note of these tried-and-true tips. It is likely that some furniture items may need to be removed from the main entertaining space to allow for better traffic flow. Likewise, additional seating may also be needed, so make sure to plan accordingly. Prepare a fire with extra wood at the ready. Prepare to refill the platters of appetizers and have more than enough ice for drinks and ice buckets. Prepare all rooms, as you may not know which will be utilized for the overflow of coats and purses. Display your prettiest guest hand-towels in the bathroom. Candles and flowers in all rooms are a great touch, and ensure that all rooms glow and smell wonderful.
The table needs to be special as well! Due to the fact that I have always been a person that likes to “gather” (and by that I mean to shop!), I adore hunting and gathering treasures for the home, whether it’s for my own or for client projects. Personally, I collect antique dishes and always look for opportunities to use them, mixing different patterns and colors. Call me a design geek, but I get really excited about hosting dinner parties that allow my theme to flow from these visual objects. It’s not uncommon for these treasured items to inspire the floral centerpiece or the meal planning inspiration for my home gatherings.
Because I am a firm believer in concept of “the more the merrier,” very few things please me more than spontaneity, and if that includes extra guests—wonderful! I’m always ready for extra guests. In the interior design business, we call this the fudge factor. The concept is simple: when ordering tile and fabric, get more! This is generally about a 15% overage of product. The same rule applies to entertaining. Have more food then guests, just in case.
Pizzazz is the final ingredient:
This is open-ended and difficult to articulate, yet essential when creating a gathering that’s out of the ordinary. We all have this ability; it comes in many forms, from the way we dress for the occasion, to the music we select, the invitation we’ve sent, and the specialty “house” drink we may be serving. Sometimes a guest will actually do the worm on the living room floor, sometimes you have to be more strategic in eliciting hidden talents and great conversation. I love playing games and will often get out my Table Topics set of cards, which almost always induces great sharing of past stories and future hopes and dreams. My mother would say a party needs a hook or gimmick or theme. I now say pizzazz!
When it’s all said and done and the guests are heading out, don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t clean up—it can certainly wait for tomorrow. That is, unless your best friends hang around a little longer to lend a hand in the clean-up. After all, the music is still cranked up, there’s leftover wine, and the dishwasher is empty. Cheers and thanks, Mom!
Tiffany Edison has been an interior designer since 2002 and specializes in both
residential and commercial projects. She holds a Master of Social Work degree
(ACSW) and utilizes interpersonal relationship skills on a daily basis with her client
base, largely comprised of Ann Arbor, and Metro Detroit residents. She has a
wonderfully large blended family residing in the city and enjoys the comforts of home.
When she’s not fully immersed in client projects, you can find her active on the golf
course, a favorite pastime.