Hosting Tips

Small House, Large Crowd: 10 Event Planner-Approved Tips for Making It Work

Cozy parties are the best parties.

By Camille Styles
how to cook a feast

Think back to some of the most fun parties you’ve ever attended. Were there too many people crowded around a kitchen island? Guests sitting around the coffee table? Everyone passing food across the table and sitting so close their shoulders touch? Small, cozy spaces breed intimacy, and at the end of the day, you can’t ask for anything better than that as a host. As an event planner, I had a birds-eye view of what made some parties fun and others fall flat, and trust me when I say that so often, the gatherings that happened in grand, perfectly-styled homes were not the ones that people talked about for months after. I’ve heard from many of you through the years that you’d like to entertain more often, but your current home isn’t “set up” for guests, or you don’t have enough room at your dining table, etc. So, since fall gathering and holiday party season is around the corner, it felt like the perfect time to bust out my best small space entertaining tips, to see if I can finally convince you to invite some friends over to hang out, no matter the size of your space.

Remember: creating warm and welcoming vibes is so much more important than square footage. Be confident in what you have—a host that’s apologizing for the size of their home is bound to make everyone else feel super uncomfortable, so own it and make the most of what you’ve got.

Here are 10 small space entertaining tips to help you embrace the coziness at your next gathering without feeling cramped.

Declutter surfaces and tabletops

When I’m having friends over and don’t have time to do a full top-to-bottom house clean, I grab a big basket and take 10 minutes to walk around, clearing all my surfaces of clutter. Paperwork, kids’ toys, scrunchies, random things that need to be returned… it all goes in the basket to be sorted later. You’ll be amazed at how spacious—and dare I say bigger?—your home suddenly feels.

If you have time to do a deeper dive, checkout our guide to decluttering the seven areas of your home that need it most—you won’t be sorry.

jen pinkston home tour

Embrace the cozy

Pull in extra chairs from around the house, grab that bench from your entryway, and encourage people to get cozy around the table (or on your living room floor, or wherever you’ve got room for people to congregate). I’m a believer in crowding just a few more people around a table than might be traditional—it creates a cozy, intimate vibe with everyone sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around a table overflowing with food. Don’t worry if your chairs don’t match. If you do want to bring some cohesion to the mix, I love to order a few inexpensive faux sheepskin rugs in 2′ x 3′, and toss them over chair backs or on the floor. Instant lounge vibes.

dinner party with friends, laid-back vibes in LA

Rethink your furniture

So your four-person kitchen table won’t fit all the friends and family you’d like to seat for a dinner party or Thanksgiving meal? It might be time to rearrange your furniture in a way that’ll create more seating and/or encourage better party flow. Don’t stress: it’s just for one night! Consider moving the dining table into the living room, and extending it with folding tables that you can line up end-to-end and cover with pretty linen tablecloths to tie them together. Then add a few low vases of flowers or some votive candles down the length of the entire situation. It’ll make the dining table the unexpected focal point of the room, plus open up all kinds of space you didn’t know you had.

bohemian table setting at loria stern dinner party

Or ditch the table altogether.

Just because you’re hosting a dinner party doesn’t mean you have to embrace traditional seating arrangements. If your guest count exceeds the number that can be seated at a table in your space, consider setting up a buffet with all the food on the counter, a self-serve bar in the living room, and let people fill their plates and lounge on the couch, floor cushions, kitchen island—wherever they’d like to perch! This kind of party creates a really relaxed vibe where guests are truly invited to kick off their shoes and stay awhile.

how to host a dinner party

Use all your surfaces

Look around your party space: which surfaces could be repurposed for a specific party function? Turn your living room bookshelf into an impromptu bar, your coffee table into a cozy, seated dining space, and the kitchen counter into a buffet. Got a bench in your entryway? Add a basket for people to drop their bags, and bonus points for hanging a few chic wall hooks for jackets and hats.

thanksgiving centerpieces

Set the mood

If you’ve ever walked into an extremely brightly-lit party, you may have noticed how jarring it can be. Let me say it loud and clear: DIM THOSE LIGHTS. This isn’t a doctor’s office, it’s a dinner party! Creating the right vibe is so much more important than the size of your party space, and it usually starts with lighting. To soften things up, I always start by dimming the lights and adding flickering candles. They’ll help set the scene, and softer lighting also means more flattering photos. Next, I toss around a couple sheepskin blankets on benches or chairs, and throw a throw over the arm of the couch. Suddenly, cozy feels way cooler than a big space anyway.

dinner party with friends, laid-back vibes in LA

Get creative

Don’t be afraid to improvise with what you’ve got. Sometimes, the most outside-the-box solutions are what guests end up remembering long after the party’s over. Have you ever seen a bathtub full of ice and champagne bottles? Exactly. On a smaller scale, use your kitchen sink as a makeshift spot for festive bottles. Stock up on tons of inexpensive mason jars and use them as cute cocktail glasses. Buy a few yards of pretty linen fabric and drape it over a folding table for a buffet. If you’ve got access to any trees with colorful fall leaves or blooming spring flowers, then by all means, take some pruning shears and trim a couple branches to create the most dramatic centerpiece.

chef Seamus Mullen with whole roasted cauliflower in his home kitchen

Create zones

Creating party zones (ie. giving each area a purpose) will make your space more functional and feel less crowded. In general, the places you’ll want to mentally identify are:

  • a table for serving food
  • an area for sitting (you don’t need seats for everyone all at once, but you do want to give people a place to sit if needed)
  • a surface for self-serve drinks
  • a place for standing and mingling
  • a spot to throw jackets and purses

kitchen sink, dishes

Anticipate clean-up

In my catering days, we relied on big plastic bus tubs to make quick work of stashing dirty dishes out of view. If I’m hosting a large party, I’ll still have a couple of these guys on hand and keep them on top of my dryer. Then during the party, I can do a quick sweep of the room without sending those “I’m cleaning so it’s time to go home!” messages. If I’m just having a few people for dinner, I always empty my dishwasher ahead of time so I have a space to stash dishes quickly. Out of sight, out of mind… and my clean-up is much quicker when everyone’s gone, too.

Mariana Velásquez dinner party

Don’t strive for perfection

Hosting a party does not require Martha-like perfection. Parties are about fun and connection, so ditch the pressure, stress, and unrealistic expectations, and instead embrace an attitude that puts the focus back on creating great memories with the people you care about.

Remember, your guests don’t want to be impressed, they want to be welcomed into an inviting space to savor great convo and yummy food. You’ve got this!