12 Stylemakers Share Their Entertaining Tips

12 stylemakers share their entertaining tips
We asked 12 of our favorite stylemakers how they prepare to entertain a full house of family and friends. Meet them all and learn their tricks and tips for stress-free entertaining.

Sophie Donelson, House Beautiful's Editor in Chief

SOPHIE DONELSON

Editor in Chief, House Beautiful

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

I always prep by doing the bathroom first! Because it’s OK to ask early guests to light candles or prep cocktails but never to neaten the loo! 

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Set up the bar outside the kitchen and keep the offering lean: One pre-mixed cocktail or a simple one with a cool garnish or glass (like a Moscow Mule), plus wine and beer. 

Assign a greeter to accept gifts and direct guests where to put their coats — you have other things to do!

Create a charging station outside the kitchen to keep guests from being underfoot. Trust: they will ask for a charger.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

Set out every single item you’ll need for serving so you’re not digging around for olive picks, a carving knife or dessert spoons.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Create a pretty moment where guests enter. I love lit lanterns — even in daylight; urns with seasonal plants; or fragrant flowers at the door. Then try it out: Drive up or walk to your home as a visitor to fine tune the experience!


Stylist and author Annette Joseph joins the Ballard Designs podcast

ANNETTE JOSEPH

Cookbook Author, Stylist, and Lifestyle Expert

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?
A guest room should be much like a hotel room. The bed should be freshly made, the room aired out and clean. The bathroom should be fully stocked. I like to have new toothbrushes, sample size tooth paste, hand cream and toilet paper on hand so guests don’t have to ask. Fresh flowers are key. I leave a little box of chocolates on the side table and bottled water as well.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?
I love putting out a huge antipasto plate for lunch, with all the ingredients to create a sandwich — fresh baked bread and lots of olives and pickles. I make soup and leave it on the stove with stacked bowls. It’s an easy way to serve lunch while you’re cooking the dinner menu. Plus everyone is in the kitchen chatting, drinking and eating, just the way I like it.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?
Making in advance cuts the stress factor by about 100…I like to make cookies, pie crusts and soups in advance. I pickle veggies and make salad dressings as well. The more you can make ahead, the more ahead of the game you will be.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?
Get your upholstery cleaned — it does wonders. I even like to rearrange a bit by moving tables, rearranging shelves and tossing things that are never used. Cleaning out the pantry also is very satisfying and gives one the sense of starting new and gaining some control. We all need that fresh feeling, these are easy and inexpensive ways to achieve inner peace and make the house feel fresh and attended to before guests descend upon us.


Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, the Madcap Cottage Gents, join us on the How to Decorate podcast to talk color, pattern, and antiquesJOHN LOECKE & JASON NIXON

Interior Designers, Madcap Cottage

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

The Madcap Cottage gents love spontaneous stay overs by our friends, so we always keep one of our guest rooms at the ready with fresh sheets and fluffy towels (Amelie towels from Ballard, of course). If someone decides to shack up for the night, we pick a few flowers from the garden, add a pitcher of water to the night table, turn on the table lamps for muted lighting, and layer in a few current magazines, including The World of Interiors and British Vogue. Plus, we put out a chic soap in the bathroom that we pinched from a favorite hotel. (If you get a mini Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte bar, you know we really like you!) It’s easy and no fuss, no muss.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Entertaining shouldn’t be stressful. Dim the lighting, mix a pitcher—or three—of a signature cocktail, crank up the music, set the table, and order in Chinese. And light a chic candle in the bathroom. Easy, breezy.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

We like to be prepared at dinner parties and spend as much time with our guests as possible instead of chopping veggies or poking at a chicken. Tip for your guests: Don’t bring flowers when you go to a dinner party because it takes the host/hostess away from the guests when they have to arrange the bouquet in a vase. Instead, bring a bottle of wine or candle. But back to entertaining. We are big believers in semi-homemade dinners: Make a great shaved Brussels sprouts salad with Parmesan, walnuts, and truffle oil then layer in fried chicken and biscuits from Popeye’s with ice cream bars from Klondike for dessert. Just keep the booze coming, and have the local liquor store that delivers on speed dial. Crank up the music as the night goes along, and dim the lighting even further. And have a list of conversation topics to keep the chatter razor sharp.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Add candles to the front steps, pick some flowers for a tight arrangement, dim the lighting, straighten up the magazines, crank up the jazz, shave some ice, light a candle in the bathroom, and fluff the pillows. Voila, you are ready to go.


Nashville interior designer and creative guru Gen Sohr of Pencil & Paper Co stops by the podcast

Photo: Leslee Mitchell

GEN SOHR

Co-Founder, Pencil & Paper Co

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

We love a beautifully made bed with freshly pressed sheets, always fresh flowers, beautiful bottled water on the bedside table, and pretty toiletries in the guest bathroom.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

When you have a large group, it’s often difficult to do a formal seated dinner. We love setting up our kitchen island as a beautifully curated serving area so that guests can plate their own food and then gather in areas throughout the house. Always have a full bar or drink station set up and ready to go for the easy self service.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

Iron and prep all linens, have your flowers or greenery ready the day before, prepare a playlist, and have your bar area staged and ready to go!

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

We hang simple fresh wreathes using vintage grosgrain ribbon throughout the house for a subtle, festive feel and the smell of fresh cut ‘Christmas tree’ that fills the house!


Atlanta interior designer Melanie Turner joins the podcast to talk about her journey, house renovations, historic homes, and moreMELANIE TURNER

Interior Designer

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

I spruce up our guest bedroom with fresh flowers, bottled water, and delicious smelling bath salts.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Plan a meal with a forgiving menu. My go-to for entertaining is salmon with grilled asparagus, salad, and stuffed asiago potatoes. Yum!

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

I always have my table set long in advance and all of my vegetables prepped for cooking. One week leading up to the event, I do one task each evening like grocery shop, stop by the liquor store, and buy flowers.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Fresh flowers will do wonders but new pillows, a scented candle, a nice throw, or a new rug layered on top of a larger rug makes the space feel fresh.


Interior designer Lisa Mende joins the podcast to talk paint, color, and much moreLISA MENDE

Interior Designer

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

I like to fill the house with fresh flowers, stock the bar and plan a delicious welcome meal or night out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  I always make sure my guest room has crisp, clean linens and a basket with items that my guests may have forgotten or might enjoy while visiting — chocolates, mints, a new magazine, books, hand lotion and other treats.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Plan ahead, and make meals that can be prepared in advance. If you simplify and make one dish meals with a salad, life is so much easier. When our family gathers for holidays, we all pitch in and bring a dish, that way the meal prep isn’t so hard on the hostess and we all get to enjoy each other’s contribution.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

 If you can make dishes that can be frozen that is always helpful or order something from a local restaurant if you don’t have time or don’t want to cook.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Always, always have fresh flowers. Flowers make a home feel fresh and alive. I also like to have a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter in the kitchen so there is always something for a guest to grab to nosh on. It is also a treat to have a large candy dish with candy for young and old to enjoy. I like to make sure the silver is shined, the bed linens are pressed, and there’s a freshly pressed monogrammed hand towel in the bathroom.


Interior designer Cindy Meador poses in her storeCINDY MEADOR

Interior Designer

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

I always put fresh flowers on the bedside chest and make sure all sorts of miniature toiletries are in the bathroom drawer. Of course fluffy embroidered towels are abundant, and it goes without saying that the sheets are 1000 count Egyptian cotton.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Have the bar stocked and use collections of vintage glassware. I place appetizers in several different areas of the party to move the crowd around. I like to serve the food in a buffet style.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

I usually set the tables ahead of time and know what serving pieces I am using for the food. I make any appetizers that can be put together and quickly popped in the oven earlier in the week. I also arrange all the florals and decorations the day before.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Aside from the holiday decorations, I use an abundance of fresh greenery and candles. My Christmas decorations are usually themed by color also.


Natalie Nassar's family home in Atlanta, GeorgiaNATALIE NASSAR

Stylist

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

To prepare for house guests I always stock the guest room closet with extra pillows and blankets, and a decanter with fresh water and glasses by the bedside is a nice touch. Give your guests something to put suitcases on whether it’s a luggage rack or chair. Make sure your sheets are clean and fresh towels are in the bathroom. Ask your guests ahead of time if they are in need of anything before they get there — any food items or drinks. Always make guests coffee for the morning! Prep your coffee the night before. 

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

To prepare for a large party, create a menu that is not complicated. Easy but delicious recipes are the best and make sure you have made it before so you know it will come out right. I have done a lot of dinner parties where it’s just hors d’ oeuvres and drinks. People can casually pick and eat as the night goes as they drink. It’s worked well!

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

To prepare for entertaining or a dinner party I always prep as much as possible the night before — put all my mixers out at our bar any juices to be used for cocktails in to decanters with tags around the necks. Cut any lemons and limes and put in refrigerator covered. Set serving pieces out with notes stating what is to go where. Set the table or at least put everything out to have table ready to be set. Do all flower arrangements. Everything that can be prepared ahead of time should be so you are less stressed the day of! Make sure the dishwasher is completely emptied. Bathrooms have clean hand towels and plenty of toilet paper. 

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Turn on all lamps and dim all overhead lighting. It creates an intimate vibe. Put out fresh flowers or whatever might be pretty growing in your yard throughout the rooms in your house. Light candles and put on music.


Blogger, author, and interior designer Erin Gates joins the podcast while we were in Boston opening our store at Natick MallERIN GATES

Interior Designer

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

Of course, I take care of the basics and make sure the house is clean from top to bottom.  I like to put fresh flowers in lots of spots, especially in my guest room by the bed. I also like to put out a nice selection of soaps and lotions taken from hotels in the room with items I always forget like hair elastics, toothbrush, sewing kit, phone charger, comb/brush, makeup remover and earplugs. I also like to have lots of interesting books in the guest room for perusing as well as a carafe or bottle of water. Just think of what your favorite hotel rooms offer and try to emulate!

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Keep it casual so that everyone feel relaxed and able to enjoy themselves, including you!  Buffet style meals, attractive disposable dish ware, and serve-yourself beverages allow you, the host, to have fun and actually makes people happier because they don’t feel like they are being a bother.  I also like to pick up an assortment of coloring books, games and fun little toys for kids to keep them entertained.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

To avoid the last minute rush, look ahead and get done what you can early on, like organizing and cleaning dish ware and setting up the guest rooms (close the door when done and tell everyone to stay out!) Order some side dishes to mix in with stuff you’re making yourself to take some of the weight off —or order the whole meal! I love to get great BBQ from a local place that everyone loves.  Also arrange airport pickups and delegate tasks like that to others so you aren’t scrambling or begging someone to do it!

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Fresh flowers or greenery are a must. Also burn a delightful, lightly scented candle to create a nice ambiance, but avoid anything heavily scented for those who are sensitive to scent. I also like to spray lavender linen spray on the guest bed sheets and pillows.  But mostly, a big smile and nice glass of wine always makes someone feel welcome!


 Stylist Beth Mars Dean shares her entertaining secrets

BETH MARS DEAN

Stylist

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

I like to make sure that I have my houseguests favorite foods, etc., we have several vegans in our family!  Guest rooms are sparkling with all lamps  on, switch out cotton sheets for flannel, have  extra blankets layered in with duvets and quilts at the foot of the beds.  Lush towels in guest bath (Ballard signature, of course!) and carafes on bedside tables.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Food & drink always readily available upon arrival: have everything out about an hour before guests arrive!  For large groups, set up buffet style so guests can serve themselves.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

I always like to set my table the evening before or the morning of the holiday dinner, before everything gets so chaotic!  It looks beautiful when guests arrive and leaves you free to visit and entertain!

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

Change out pillows & throws throughout the house, layer in pretty trays & candles for a cozier, holiday feel!  I have a small Suzanne Kasler Christmas tree in our entry, which I love, it’s also cute to tuck into one of the guest rooms!


Flower Magazine founder and editor in chief Margot ShawMARGOT SHAW

Editor in Chief of Flower Magazine

1. How do you prepare for houseguests?

It’s important to me that house guests feel pampered. We have a guest house with a small kitchen, so I like to find out a guest’s favorite nibbles and drinks and provide those so that they have everything they need and don’t have to come to the house for a snack or coffee.

I always have fresh linens, including terry bathrobes, new bath products, and toiletries, in case they forget something.

I do NOT have a television in the guesthouse. I supply a wifi password on pretty stationary and an iPod and dock with some great, eclectic play lists. Guests seem to appreciate the respite from the world – whether they’re in town for work or play.

I like to have current magazines available and a smattering of coffee table books but most importantly, my collection of Saki short stories — my mother always said it was essential to any well appointed guest room. One must provide laughter.

2. What tips or tricks can you share for entertaining a large crowd?

Both my husband and I have large extended families, and we host Thanksgiving every year at our farm. The key to success is that I ask everyone to bring something for lunch and I assign what they bring. Since it’s a very rustic spot, I don’t worry about fanciness. It’s all about easy, delicious food and being together. I DO use lots of family heirlooms like my father’s tackle box to hold napkins and my mother’s bamboo flatware. That way, though they are no longer here, they’re part of the occasion.

For large crowds that are not family, my splurge/must-do is hire a caterer, preferably one I know and trust. It’s important to BE with my guests, and a caterer who can provide that level of service and expertise is worth his or her weight in gold. I also always give them a number higher than I expect to have attend, as I never want to run out of food or drink.

Speaking of drink, one of my pet peeves is a line at a bar. SO, I always like to have someone passing drinks (alcoholic and non- lots of people don’t drink these days) and I also have a few strategically located drink stations around for self-serve.

3. Do you have any advice for planning ahead? What can we do in advance?

I like to plan my flowers in advance. But often I plan to simply cut from the garden the day of the party. So what I can do is pull containers and envision what I want to gather. I like to pull all China, flatware, stemware, and table linens a day or two before the party to be sure everything’s clean and polished and to be sure I have enough. If I’m short something, I have time to borrow.

I also try to have all the bar items on hand early, including lemons and limes, as they all last a good long time.

And of course, being a southerner, I keep an ample supply of cheese straws and pecans around so the hors d’oeuvres are always on hand. I don’t believe in appetizers per se. I prefer for guests to nibble a bit but really save most of the room for the main event.

4. What quick updates do you suggest to make the house look welcoming and polished?

I always have something new and fresh in the planters by my front door for a party. It’s fun to have a topiary and tie double faced satin ribbon in a bow around the trunk, in a color that relates to the table. It’s just a subtle, festive note.

There must be new fragrant candles in my house when guests arrive, and they must have been burning long enough to have established their glorious scent. That said, I prefer that the fragrance be subtle and seasonal. The light and scent welcome guest’s and denote something special.

Also, linens and floral containers are simple, fun ways to add a layer of shimmer to a party. There are so many new and not break the bank table linens and vases on the market that provide an instant punch.


Find more entertaining tips and ideas, or browse our Pinterest boards for inspiration.

 
Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.

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3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Shirley McCormack

    September 15, 2017
     

    These are all great ideas and I try to use them to the best of my ability when we know we’re having guest coming.

  2. Reply

    covemaven

    August 19, 2017
     

    This was a great read and brought back fond childhood memories! I particularly appreciated that in each case, your experts started with the basics my Mom taught me.

    My grandmother used to come and stay with us each year for Thanksgiving, and she would stay in my bedroom because we were a large family with no dedicated guest room. Our checklist included fresh linens on the bed, something special on the bedside and a fresh glass of water added nightly, room in the closets and a dedicated bureau drawer, a clear bathroom counter space for her to place her things (no guest ensuite, either), and always a nighlight that was plugged into the wall–just a basic, no frills one–that was just outside the bathroom door to light her way in case she woke up and wasn’t quite oriented to being in our house.

    We’d spend the week before giving the house a thorough going over, starting with the less-used spaces. My Mom was famous for cleaning and closing the door, or for rooms with doorways but no doors, announcing the space “off limits” until the big day. We set the table with Grandma’s china, which she had given my Mom when my parents bought their first house in the suburbs and our Thanksgiving tradition started. Widowed at a young age, of necessity she was a working woman in the days before women aspired to careers. Because she no longer prepared daily meals, Thanksgiving was her domain, and it was an event!

    Now that people rush through life, I often hear expressions of dread in advance of having houseguests, but thinking back on Mom’s systematic preparation, all the chores got done without feeling like drudgery, and it added to the anticipation and excitement. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Caroline McDonald
      Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      August 23, 2017
       

      What a beautiful memory! You’re right, if you do a little at a time, it makes entertaining so much more enjoyable and not so overwhelming. I think we all need that reminder 🙂

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