Strategies for (Very) Big Holiday Gatherings In a Small (ish) Home

One of the biggest challenges of small space living is entertaining. For a family of five, our 1700 sq ft house is more than enough on a daily basis, but add in twenty dinner guests, and we're bursting at the seams. After a few years of failed attempts, this year I've discovered a happy style recipe for low-stress, large gathering entertaining.

As I put together our Thanksgiving table (about a half hour before sitting down to dinner), I started thinking about why this year was so much more low stress than previous ones. The answer was simple and familiar, and something that I recommend to design clients all the time but have failed to bring to my own entertaining in the past: Be flexible, and focus on the mix, not the match!

Few of us who live in smallish spaces have room to store 20+ place settings and lots of matching vases. For some reason, that used to stress me out whenever the holidays approached. All of a sudden, I started bemoaning the fact that my post-war colonial had no butler's pantry, and my dining room could barely accommodate our eight-seater dining table...things that rarely cross my mind otherwise.

This year, we knew we wanted the meal to be the focus, so we swapped the furniture in our living room and dining room in order to make space for a longer table. This did mean putting my decorating pride aside (my living room is the space I'm most proud of) — flexibility!

As for the actual table setting, we pushed two tables together, covered each with a white table cloth (shhhh, one was actually a shower curtain), and then placed a more decorative ivory Paraguayan lace one over the center point. Although the tables were slightly different heights and widths, the center table cloth helped them to read more or less as one.

For the centerpiece, I gathered anything I had several of: candle stick holders, glass vases, and birch candles. Then I arranged them in small clusters down the center of the table, filling the vases with loose simple arrangements of lavender and wheat. Because I love greenery and have so much already in the room, I grabbed a small potted fern from one of the shelves, and placed it in the middle of the arrangement.

We then mixed our white everyday dishes in with our nicer china, which are simple ivory and gold. For glasses, we used what we had, mixing crystal, regular water glasses, and jars. Because everything was a mix, from the table cloth to the centerpiece to the chairs, it all worked— mix over match!

What has helped you accommodate big crowds without throwing aesthetics or sanity out the window?

(Image: Leah Moss)