Often, whether it is preparing for the holidays, or entertaining friends at a backyard barbecue, intensity seems to win out over intention. It is tempting to focus more on the latest seasonal decorating ideas and/or style trends than on the experiences and memories we hope the occasion will create. As we head into this holiday season, let’s design with intention as opposed to intensity. The following is my own list of “baby steps” to encourage focus on the memories instead of the mistletoe.
Begin with the end in mind.
How would you like your guests to feel when they leave? Reverse engineer accordingly. This is primarily a matter of anticipating needs and ensuring your guests feel comfortable and welcome in your home, backyard, or wherever you happen to be entertaining. Place yourself in the roll of your guest. Conduct a mental and physical walk through of the event. Is it easy to move throughout the space? Is the menu easy to negotiate whether standing or sitting? Is there enough space to accommodate the activities planned?
Create a conducive atmosphere
Plan the traffic flow. How would you like your guests to move through the space? Create a defined and welcoming entry. Depending on the season, designate an area for coats, boots, etc. This may be controversial to some, but here goes! If entertaining indoors, do not ask your guests to remove their shoes. If they choose to do so let it be their decision, not an instruction. Create an atmosphere that emphasizes the importance of your guests over concern for your floors!
The purpose of entertaining is to bring people together. Move furnishings away from the perimeter of the room and pull together into “conversational clusters” to create coziness and easy interaction. Make sure there is a place for guests to set a plate or glass adjacent to where they are sitting or standing. Anticipate other things your guests may need nearby for their convenience (i.e. extra napkins) and make them available.
Keep the decorating simple.
Sometimes less truly is more. Rather than decorating every square inch of space, work with a central focal point like the fireplace. Accent several key areas such as the entry, buffet, or seating areas to create a rhythm that will carry the eye around the space. Edited and strategic use of decoration will create great ambiance and allow good flow of energy throughout the space.
Pay attention to lighting. Lighting can create dramatic effects in a space and set the perfect mood for the occasion. Balance the atmosphere by lighting on several levels including ceiling, mid-range (lamps) and accent lighting. Use candles liberally! If entertaining outdoors, hurricane candle holders will block the wind and keep your candles glowing all evening long.
Play great music. Though the term “great” is somewhat subjective, select music that will the compliment the tone of the party or event and the vibe you want to create.
Keep the focus on interaction.
Revise your space plan to eliminate obstacles and make it easy for your guests to mingle. Entertaining is about community. The most enjoyable and successful occasions are so because of intentional focus bringing people together.
Smile for the camera!
Assign an event photographer (this is a great task for a responsible offspring). Snap candid pictures or videos of the event and create a slide show loop on an iPad or Apple TV during the event. This is a great way to record and remember the memories you’ve worked hard to create.
Decorating for the holidays may be more about infrastructure. We get a great feeling when we enter a beautifully appointed space, but we leave with a great memory if we’ve had the opportunity to experience design with intention by a host who understands the art of ease. Happy holidays!