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Entertaining in Small Spaces

When it comes to hosting parties, I’m guilty of playing the ‘my apartment is too small’ card just as much as anyone. In reality, the few times I’ve hosted dinner parties in small houses or apartments have proven that’s not actually true. Everything worked out just fine, and – most importantly – everyone had a great time. A lack of space is an easy excuse to fall back on if you’re not up to entertaining, but small apartments aren’t an actual roadblock to hosting a great party your friends will love. With a little creativity, rearranging, and maximizing the function of every surface, you can entertain. The following ideas can help you get started.

Multi-functional From the Start

If you’re still in the process of purchasing furniture for your small apartment and have a penchant for hospitality, avoid hosting dilemmas down the ride by factoring this into furniture choices. For the best hosting value, look for two traits in your furniture:

  • Multiple function
  • Ease of folding and storage

Choose sofas or futons that double as pull-out beds, sectionals that feature ottoman pieces that can be used for extra seating, folding islands you can pull out of a closet for instant serving carts, entry tables that fold out into dinettes, and tables with leaves or extensions for occasionally seating 4-6 more people. The key is to have pieces that meet both your everyday small-space needs and the occasional entertainment of guests.

Solve Seating Challenges

Who says all your guests have to sit at one table, (or any table) and that it has to be in the dining room? Small living areas demand creative rearrangement and repurposing of the furniture and space you have to accommodate more people. If your living room is larger than your kitchen or dining area, why not move your table in there for the event? Displaced furniture can always be stored in the bedroom until later. Think outside conventional arrangement and utilize what you have by:

  • Moving large furniture and folding chairs along the walls for better traffic flow
  • Using coffee tables as makeshift dining tables with sofas, ottomans, or poufs for seating
  • Bringing in a folding table and chairs to supplement your seating
  • Dining Moroccan-style from the floor with colorful throws, pillows, and low surfaces

If you’re still at a loss for seating, go with it. Many larger parties feature finger foods on small plates so guests can walk around and mingle rather than sit in one location for the evening.

Maximize Food Prep and Serving Surfaces

Preparing a large amount of food in a tiny kitchen with a shortage of cooking and serving surfaces can be extremely frustrating. If you don’t have enough burners, buy a cheap hot plate or indoor/outdoor grill. Since charcoal or propane fuel is usually prohibited in apartments, an electric table top or standing grill is perfect for hosting a summer cook-in all year round. To keep food hot once it’s cooked, use warming trays that can be placed on side tables or shelves, and go ‘up’ with tiered buffet servers.

Although family-style dining is more intimate, buffet-style serving is the best option for serving food in a small space. If you don’t have enough counter space to arrange dishes, make your dining table the ‘buffet’ and seat people elsewhere, or temporarily empty a low bookshelf. Keep in mind you don’t need to present all the food in one place, either.

  • Place appetizers and desserts in tiered servers in the living room
  • Keep beverages cold in a makeshift cooler by filling your sink with ice
  • Create more serving surfaces by placing ‘tables’ over appliances

A spread of refreshments gives the illusion of bounty and keeps guests balanced around the room rather than clustered around the food table.

Distract with Mood Lighting

A small apartment may be cozy, but it also exposes nearly every corner of living space to the scrutiny of guests, including things about your rental you can’t change. Remember that you’re your own worst critic, and instead of obsessing about whether your guests will notice things you’re self-conscious about, turn off the unforgiving overhead fixtures and use string lights, candles, and table lamps for light. This creates a purposefully dim but warm ambience that highlights the features you want to show off while downplaying everything else.

Step out of Your Comfort Zone

Taking the time to overcome the obstacles keeping you from hosting a houseful of guests is well worth the challenge. If you’re new to this, start small by hosting one or two good friends who will make you feel comfortable. Whatever the size or quality of your home, putting on a great dinner party has little to do with your home, and everything to do with style, hospitality, and building relationships.

What are some tricks you’ve learned for making the most out of a small space when entertaining?

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