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With the holiday party season right around the corner, a growing camp of entertaining experts suggests approaching things a little less like Martha Stewart,, and a little more like Steven Spielberg. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving potluck, a Christmas cookie-baking party for the kids, or a New Year’s Eve cocktail bash, entertaining pros know that “setting the scene” for a memorable event can make a significantly greater impact than debuting the next ambitious dessert recipe.
“Inviting family and friends into your home is an intimate gesture,” says Ginny Bean, founder/publisher of Ginny’s catalog and ginnys.com. “From the way the lighting is set, to the scented candles you choose and the music that’s playing, the best gift you can give your guests is to create a scene that makes them feel comfortable and welcome.”
Bean offers the following checklist for transforming your home into a seamless scene for holiday entertaining, and creating a warm and inviting place for guests to interact.
* Choose your space. Identify and arrange the area of your home where your scene will be set. When choosing a location, think about the season and theme of your party. If it’s a Christmas open house and you’ve transformed your yard into a winter wonderland, convene in a front room and open the curtains. On Thanksgiving, gather near the fireplace. If your home doesn’t have a fireplace, electric fireplaces provide surprisingly affordable ambiance and season-long enjoyment for your family.
* Set up the room the day before the party, so you have plenty of time to make last-minute changes. Arrange furniture so guests can move around easily, clearing out extra furniture if necessarily. A general rule of thumb for mixers and cocktail parties is to have seating for 10 to 15 percent of your guests. If the space you choose is going to be crowded, use a single, preferably round, center table for hors d’oeuvres. If your space is too big for the number of guests, use multiple small tables to create mini food stations, which will encourage guests to move throughout the room.
* Dim the lights. Avoid unflattering overhead lights, and instead rely on table and floor lamps, and mood-enhancing candlelight. To get more light from candles, place them in clusters, and decorate with metallic accents that bounce light around and provide a festive holiday feel. Seasonal scents like spiced pumpkin, cranberry clove and gingerbread maple play a dramatic sensory role in setting the scene.
* Simplify the table decor. When creating centerpieces and decorative accents for your table and serving areas, less is often more. Seasonal fruit presented with nuts and berries, or evergreen branches and pinecones from your backyard, can make a lovely and elegant statement, at a fraction of the cost of fresh flowers. If you want to decorate with flowers, remember that one large arrangement makes a stronger impression than several small ones. For maximum impact, place flowers on the main food station or at the bar, where guests are guaranteed to see them.
* Give guests the pride of place. When creating your table setting, the smallest touches can have the greatest impact. Place cards casually incorporated into a nicely folded napkin, or placed between the tines of a fork, make for a simple and understated presentation that speaks volumes about your approach to entertaining.
* Turn on the music. Music helps your guests relax and gets them in the proper party mood. Many stereo systems now have an mp3 player dock, so you can create a playlist for the entire evening and avoid the hassle of scrambling to change CDs while trying to serve food. Choose tunes that match the occasion, but avoid subjecting guests to back-to-back tracks of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “Feliz Navidad.” Bean suggests mixing traditional holiday songs with favorite party tunes in a ratio of one to three.
* Ready, set, relax. Set the table, dim the lights, start the music and light the candles well in advance, so you’re relaxed and ready to greet your guests the minute they walk in the door.
“If you’re sometimes challenged to get everything ready in time, remember that getting 80 percent of the work finished is good enough,” says Bean, who also encourages her fellow hostesses to “stop trying to be Superwoman in an apron, and ask for help.”
To browse hundreds of seasonal entertaining, home and kitchen ideas, or request a copy of Ginny’s holiday catalog, visit www.Ginnys.com or call 800-693-0809. You can also find Ginny’s on Facebook.