Entertaining Tips From Real-Life Hostesses
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Scent Solution2 of 12
Lifestyle experts Michele Adams and Gia Russo (collectively known as MiGi) recommend filling your most accessible bathroom with a light, beautiful scent during any gathering. Think high-end candles and room sprays, but avoid scents that are too cloying or heavy.
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Card Carriers3 of 12
"Place card holders are a great way to encourage people to mix and mingle more than they normally would," says Adams. The designing duo uses pine cones—gathered from the yard or purchased at a craft store—as cardholders, laying them sideways or standing them up straight, then sliding the place cards between the petals.
Quiet Blooms4 of 12
Joy Simmons, a consummate hostess based in Los Angeles, warns against displaying flowers that smell strongly, which can conflict with smells coming out of the kitchen. "I really like orchids and calla lilies," she notes, "because they really don't have any fragrance."
Cozy Does It5 of 12
"Food should look and feel abundant," adds Simmons, who favors big pots of soups and stews at any gathering because they feel "a little bit more casual, and you don't have to worry about things coming out of the oven exactly on time." Paella and bouillabaisse are among her slow-cooking staples.
Fast Footwear6 of 12
As a busy hostess, it's important that fashion doesn't trump efficiency—so don't get overly fussy with your wardrobe. Simmons favors "flats that you can move around in but are still jazzy," and a fitted top teamed with a full skirt or pants. "I have stairs and hardwood floors," she explains, "so I can't be clacking around in tall heels."
In Charge7 of 12
Alexis Johnson, a journalist who throws impeccable, inventive dinner parties, dresses up every table with chargers—large plates that rest under the slightly smaller plates you dine off of. "I keep an arsenal of gold and silver ones on hand at all times," she adds. "They're surprisingly neutral and just give everything a little boost of festiveness."
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Center Stage8 of 12
Johnson always features a centerpiece on her table, "whether they're flowers that I picked up at the flower market or something seasonal like unusual pumpkins and squashes for fall," she says. For a recent birthday party, she lined a long table with butcher's paper and set out a gorgeous mix of fine cheeses, nuts and dried fruits for guests to nibble on while waiting for dinner.
Advance Notice9 of 12
"Guests are more important than food," says Diane Suchman, a hostess based in northern Virginia who throws fabulous parties that are sophisticated, but always warm. "The main thing is that everything should be done in advance so you're with your guests all the time." She starts cooking a week before any party, freezing dishes such as cakes so that on the day of the event, "I can take a nice shower and have a little nap."
Mix It Up10 of 12
Suchman has a winning recipe for the delicious dishes she serves up: "There's always one dish that's new and different and a little interesting, while the others are tried and true," she says. "People tend to not like foods they don't know, but I always serve one conversation-piece menu item." And for dessert, she always includes a diet-friendly fruit option, such as sliced honeydew melon or a bowl of fresh berries.
Spice World11 of 12
Ulrica Wihlborg, a Los Angeles-based photographer and innovative hostess, puts a big pot of hot spiced apple cider on the stove an hour before guests arrive to fill her house with its festive aroma. "It's a great way to make your guests feel welcome," she says. She also sets up a self-serve station for the cider, complete with whipped cream, cinnamon sticks for stirring and chocolate flakes to sprinkle on top.
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Table Tip12 of 12
"Beautiful table decor doesn't have to be expensive or take up a ton of time to arrange," says Wihlborg. She regularly fills a table with simple tea lights placed inside classic Ball jam jars, which can be bought at the hardware store. "You can add dimension by placing some jars on top of stacks of books wrapped in brown postal wrap, for a streamlined look."
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