The Small Space Dweller’s Guide to Having People Over

updated Nov 20, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Welcome to Easy Untertaining! It’s a term we coined here at Apartment Therapy to describe those get-togethers that just kind of… come together.

When you’re welcoming someone—or a lot of someones—into your home, you probably have your own, unique vision for the experience. If your goal is for people to feel welcome and at home in your space, feeling like you just don’t have the room to bring that vision to life can be discouraging. But you don’t have to let the square footage of your space (or lack thereof) prevent you from gathering the people you love, whether you make your home in a dorm, an apartment, or a house that just doesn’t feel all that roomy.

In fact, there’s at least one upside to hosting in a small space, according to Chantal Aida Gordon of The Horticult: “When all of your guests are crammed—welcomed!—into your setting, it will feel like a lively, cozy get-together much sooner than if you were in a more spread out space.”

As you think about having friends over, try to focus more on the “why” behind the gathering. The people you’re hosting aren’t coming over to be wowed by extra counter space or a second bathroom; they’re coming over to spend time with you. And the more relaxed you are about your home and all it has to offer, the more enjoyable the experience will be for everyone.

Ready to get your home ready for people to come over? Gordon has some tried-and-true suggestions for making a memorable, stress-free event happen in a small space.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Open with a fun gesture

Maybe your limited square footage won’t allow you to throw a Gatsby-level soiree, but you can still create an event that feels special for everyone. Gordon recommends a whimsical gesture—a small tray of pre-poured bubbly, a flower arrangement, or a whimsical sign—at the beginning to set the tone for the gathering. “Even if that entry is just a few feet from the main gathering, creating a narrative to your event adds flow and deepens the experience for your guests,” she says. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Set a theme

To go the extra mile and add an element of thoughtfulness to your gathering, Gordon recommends setting a theme. For example, if you’re planning a Mexican meal with build-your-own fajitas, throw on a mariachi playlist and serve your guests margaritas. If you’re hosting a gathering for the holidays, choose festive plates and napkins and opt for a seasonal station on Spotify. These small gestures don’t take up space, but they do show you took time to think about creating a special experience for your guests. “Having a theme to what you’re serving also adds charm while keeping it simple in a little kitchen,” she says.

Be generous with the parts of your space that feel special

If you feel limited by the space in your home, think about what makes it unique, and let your guests enjoy it. Does your balcony have an incredible view of the city? Do you have an antique bar cart in your kitchen decked out with your favorite spirits. Make these special areas a focal point of your gathering, and capitalize on what they add to your home.

Not sure what to focus on? Try incorporating some elements that offer guests a place to congregate. At a tea-party themed gathering last year in her LA garden, Gordon says her friends Emmitt James and Rae served hand-blended and invited people to find their favorite out of lineup. Playing records instead of streaming gave the music people a place to gather and collaborate. 

 “And don’t forget the beauty of things in your space you might take for granted,” Gordon adds. “In my yard, my camellia trees were blooming, and they became a backdrop for blossomy Instagram portraits.”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Let your party overflow

Be creative in providing extra “rooms” for your guests. If you have an outdoor space like a yard, patio, or balcony, set up some outdoor heaters and let your party overflow there. Don’t have an outdoor space you want to use? Think about the parts of the gathering you can move to the hall to save space inside of your apartment. For example, if your neighbors are cool with it, put the coat rack outside your door and have your guests take their shoes off before they come in.

Move anything that makes your space feel smaller than it is

Chances are, unless you live in a dorm or studio apartment, you won’t be using your entire space when you host in your home. If there’s anything in your home that takes up a lot of valuable real estate (and, of course, you and your guests won’t be using it at the gathering), Gordon recommends temporarily moving it to a space that won’t be part of the get-together, or even hiding things under and behind your furniture. Do you have an excess of small appliances on your kitchen counter? Put them in a cabinet or a closet. Is there a grill on your patio you won’t be using? Moving it would create valuable standing room. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Use extra space creatively

When you’re having people over in a small space, every surface matters. Sure, your kitchen counter might be limited, but what about your mantle, coffee table, and windowsills? If you’re worried about room for your guests’ drinks and snacks, get creative—for example, try clearing off a shelf of your bookshelf at counter(ish)-height for instant “counter space”! If you’re serving hot food, Gordon also recommends having extra trivets ready so you can have more flexibility in where you put down hot pots. Your kitchen surfaces will fill up fast!