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Live in a shoebox? You can still be the ultimate host. Try these 10 tips and tricks from designers and entertaining experts when you throw your next dinner party.

By Sarah Yang

October 01, 2019

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Clean, Clean, Clean

“Put non-essential décor and general clutter away,” says interior designer Elaine Griffin. “Stash it in closets, under your bed, or even at a neighbor’s. Your bathroom should be spotless and free of your personal toiletries for the party. The rest of your house doesn’t need to be immaculate, but it should be dust-free. If you have pets, vacuum your upholstery, too.”

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Be Strategic About the Menu

“Do as much as you can ahead of time,” says interior designer Kyle Schuneman. “Serve a salad or a cold appetizer in the beginning to help stall your guests, especially if you are waiting for multiple things to cook in the oven.”

Use Every Inch of Counter Space

“In a small home, every surface area matters,” says Jung Lee, a NYC event planner and owner of Jung Lee NY. “In the kitchen, you will need all the counter space. Remove the unnecessary appliances.” Put those empty surfaces to good use by setting up a buffet with decorative dishes and platters, suggests interior designer Karen Vidal.

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Designate a Place for Coats and Bags

Instead of having guests dump their coats and bags on your bed or in your already-packed closets, invest in or rent a coat rack. Interior designer Cece Barfield suggests putting it in an interior hallway near your door, where it will be out of the way from the main gathering spot. If your front door opens into your main living space, you can place the rack just outside of your apartment door, or even on the porch.

David Meredith
Manage Traffic

It’s inevitable that there will be some crowding in the common areas when you throw your party, so you’ll want to prep beforehand to help keep the foot traffic flowing smoothly. “Not putting everything in one spot is key,” says Schuneman. “For example, put your bar on the console, your meal on the main table, and the dessert in the kitchen so there isn’t a bottleneck.” Another way to keep guests from congregating around the bar—and to save money—is to serve “a signature drink that you can put in pitchers or dispensers with cups next to them” throughout your home.

Add in Extra Seating or Tables

Chances are you don’t have a dining table that seats 12 in your small apartment. Invest in ottomans or poufs for casual seating, or find alternative options around the house: “Got a piano bench? Use it! Or, why not use that adorable vanity stool in your bathroom or bedroom?” says small space expert Sarah Roussos-Karakaian. For the dining table, Lee suggests using your sofa as seating and putting a table next to it. Depending on the size of your home, she recommends getting “a thin 30- to 36-inch-wide table, or a piece of plywood cut to size and putting it on top of the existing table. Protect the table with felt or other fabric and use some tape to secure the top from moving, then put a nice, inexpensive tablecloth on it.” You can go to any home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s for the plywood, which is thin enough to store and use for your next dinner party.

Keep Table Décor Simple

A large, ornate arrangement would overwhelm a small table and space. “Use two or three key décor pieces like flowers for your table, and then fill in the space with a few smaller items like place card holders or votive candles,” says Leila Lewis, founder of the blog, Inspired by This. Or, make each place setting stand out: “Instead of a centerpiece, use bud vases as place card holders,” says Barfield. “Then, in the center of the table, place an odd number of candlesticks at different heights to give some visual interest.”

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Create Ambience

Most of the time, a party’s success relies on the mood. Put on some crowd-pleasing music and experiment with lighting. “Set up a lighting strategy that makes your home sparkle,” says Griffin. “You’ll want to avoid bright overhead lights. Instead use a combination of candles and lamps to create soft pools of light throughout your space. Each zone should have its own lighting ‘theme’—for example, place pillar candles on the drinks table, taller tapers on the buffet, and tons of votives throughout the seating area. You can also switch out your light bulbs for ones with lower wattage.” Interior stylist Jason Grant also suggests adding rope lights on the floor or hung from the ceiling for a warm glow.


Hosting a gathering in a tiny apartment or house is the perfect opportunity to flex your creativity, too, so think of new ways to use your space. “I like to remove some books from shelves and use that space as a makeshift bar or beverage station—windowsills are also great for this,” says Lee. You can also free up some space in your fridge with this trick: “Make your sink an oversized wine cooler,” says Barfield. “Freeze flowers or berries in ice cubes to make it look prettier.”

Prevent Cabin Fever

“Small spaces heat up quickly! Let air in before guests arrive and have fans on during the party,” suggests Roussos-Karakian. And if it’s a bit too cramped, why not stretch your legs and get a breath of fresh air? “Have the party take a walk together between dinner and dessert,” suggests interior designer Genevieve Carter.

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