Advice for Real Life: Entertaining Tips from a Small Space Studio Dweller

published Nov 23, 2016
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(Image credit: William Strawser)

When Amelia, who runs the design business Urban Cottage NYC, moved into her 490 square foot Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment, she was ready to live small. What she wasn’t willing to do was give up the feeling of having different rooms. “I still wanted to feel like I had a real dining room, where friends could hang out, or where I could write or sew or do projects while watching TV,” she writes. As you can see from her house tour, she totally aced the furniture placement. And while this is obviously a beautiful, enjoyable home for one, it might surprise you to learn that she doesn’t let her small space prevent her from sharing her home with friends and family.

While some people might balk at the idea of inviting multiple people at once into such a small space (Amelia claims 15 guests is probably her space’s upper limit), I think it’s amazing that she’s committed to entertaining despite such small living quarters.

In fact, Amelia feels her small space is pretty conducive to entertaining. “I think the openness between the living, dining and cooking areas allows for conversation. People can be having their separate little hangouts but someone in the banquette can also be talking to someone on the loveseat,” she writes.

I asked her for some of her best tips, advice, ideas and inspiration when it comes to entertaining in a small space (or any size space!). She even graciously shared a food fail!

Amelia’s favorite entertaining style:

My favorite entertaining style is cocktail party with comfort foods. I am by no means an accomplished cook, but I can throw things together. I have friends who are caterers and food stylists, so I steal ideas from them.

I feel like 15 people is probably the upper limit of comfortable in my space. I do lots more entertaining in smaller groups or one on one. I think that’s just more my personal preference. I feel like I can interact more meaningfully in smaller groups.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

Make your dining space feel larger:

The actual footprint of the dining area is maybe 4′ x 8′ but it reads larger for a few reasons. The artwork is hung close to the ceiling to draw your eye up (and also so my taller friends don’t bump their heads on a random picture frame!). The dark charcoal paint makes the wall seem to recede.

All of the furniture was designed or purchased for my last apartment. I got lucky it all worked in this space as well. I like putting the vintage café chairs with the modern table. I like the mix of old and new. I also have some vintage folding chairs that live under my bed for extra seating.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

What to do before guests arrive:

I try to have things kind of set up ahead of time on the kitchen island. I learned this trick a while back — figure out what food is going into what bowls or serving pieces. Write down what is going into each container on a little slip of paper. It makes it very easy to pull things together last minute. And if someone arrives early and wants to help, they can just jump in.

Consider a few temporary party changes:

I’ll pull the island in closer towards the stove to create more walking around room. I think just having plenty of snacks around and a place to set a drink down is key. A few blankets because someone is always cold. I want people to just feel like they can relax.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

How to deal when your living room is also your bedroom:

If people are in my home, I want them to feel completely comfortable. If a couple of guests decide they want to lounge on my bed, I’m fine with it. It’s a party! Kick your shoes off and hang out. Plus, ever notice how sometimes the best conversations happen when a few of your friends are piled up on a bed? Somehow the cozier people feel, the more meaningful the conversation gets. My hope is that there are few spots around the apartment where people feel they can get comfy and dish.

Small space entertaining tool must-haves:

Bowls of various sizes and cheese boards can make anything look pulled together. I also love this very special serving piece my mother gifted me. My parents received it as a wedding present and I love it. The glass Pyrex insert stays warm with just a tealight candle lit below. Beautiful and useful.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

Know your space’s limitations:

I’m concerned about noise. It can get really loud with a larger group and I never want to be the jerk neighbor keeping everyone up. If we’re all still having fun and not yawning I’ll try to move things to the corner bar or have things wind down around 12am. Brunches and viewing parties are fun in this space. Entertaining during the colder months is really what suits this space most. It lends itself to cozy. By the time Summer arrives, everyone (including me!) wants to be outside, not in a tiny apartment.

Learn from Amelia’s biggest food fail:

My friends are going to crack up when they read this. I mentioned before, I have friends who work with food professionally — chefs, food stylists, bartenders. When cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, that can be intimidating. My friends were always saying how they did this shortcut or that one on a job. I thought I would pull my own fast one and wow them with my “guacamole.”

I took a prepackaged dip and added fresh avocado to it. (SIDE NOTE: In my defense, this was years ago. The fact that fresh guac only needs like two or three more ingredients to make it complete just added to my humiliation.)

Anyway, I showed up to the party, very smug in my scam. The hostess (my cousin) looked at it, then me and just shook her head. By the time I had arrived, it was the consistency of watery, green ranch dressing.

So what is the lesson to be learned here? Stay in your lane. If you can’t cook, there is no shame in being the beer guy or the paper napkins guy or the ice guy. And if you have committed to bringing something, read a recipe or buy it already made from a restaurant you trust. Don’t try to con a chef.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

So get started!

Start off with smaller gatherings and work your way up to the larger groups. And you can always keep it short and sweet. Throw an old school cocktail party or brunch or movie viewing with a predetermined start and end time. See how it goes. It doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy — just fun!

Final thought: Know what kind of entertaining makes you the happiest.

I think the happiest I’ve been is when I have family or friends come to stay. I love when my sister visits with my niece and nephew and we’re watching movies or making breakfast and sitting around the table together. Even if it’s ordering takeout and hanging with a friend on a weeknight…

Thanks Amelia!

(Image credit: William Strawser)

See all of Amelia’s stunning small space in her house tour:

→ And follow Amelia on Instagram: @urbancottagenyc

*This interview has been edited and condensed.