Not everyone can be Martha Stewart. For the mere mortal hosts among us, holiday party planning can whip up stress and anxiety: Is my house inviting? Do I have enough chairs? What about food?
Relax, here’s advice from some of the best party experts:
Setting the mood
“Parties give us the chance to suspend what’s going on in our lives and give us space to be merry,” says Danielle Rollins, the Atlanta-based author of the new “Soiree: Entertaining With Style” (Rizzoli).
The best way to create that space, she says, is to build tradition into your party and make it something people can look forward to year after year. Decide on a theme or an anchor activity — gingerbread decorating, caroling, ugly holiday sweaters — and specify a dress code on the invitation.
Decor should echo a theme and reinforce the style of party you want. But don’t feel you have to stick with a traditional holiday color palette. “Christmas doesn’t have to mean red and green,” says Rollins.
Lyric Turner, owner of Red House Staging and Interiors in Washington, suggests in- troducing a warm color palette (burgundy, chocolate brown, purple and orange) in accent pillows, throws or curtains to create a festive look.
“If you are going to bring in red and green elements to your decorating, keep the rest of your space neutral. A cacophony of color is too much,” says Turner.
Setting the stage
Whether your party is large or small, deciding where to put the guests can be tricky. Many people make the mistake of removing all the furniture for a cocktail party, says Rollins, but it’s important to have places to sit.
“Your living space should be structured for conversation,” says Turner. She recommends creating seating clusters around the house. “Anywhere you have a little extra room, an entryway, an office, you can group a few chairs around a small table.”
Rollins emphasizes the need for tables and stools spread throughout the gathering spaces. But too much furniture can feel claustrophobic.
Setting the table
Food can make or break a party, but Rollins insists, “It’s not about what you’re serving, it’s how it’s displayed.”
For buffets, she suggests using smaller dishes and refilling them frequently.
Push the dining table against the wall to create more space for mingling around the food, Turner says. A signature cocktail adds a festive touch, and can streamline bar mess and costs. For dinner parties, one planner suggests setting the table the night before the party. Personalized place cards are a nice touch.
Setting the lighting
Overhead lighting has no place in a party; place lamps on varied levels in your rooms, dim lights and add candles wherever you can. “Avoid candles by the bar and the buffet, though,” cautions Rollins. “You don’t want your guests going up in flames.”
Skip scented candles as they compete with the food.