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Wow Your Holiday Party Guests in 500 Square Feet

by Suzie Dundas

It's possible to have a successful holiday party in a New York apartment--credit

If you've read my first post, you might know that I'm new to New York City.  In fact, I've been a resident for just a few weeks, with a good handful of those days spent traveling for the holidays. Even though I'm still learning the ropes, there's one New York tradition that I've managed to master --- the holiday party.

As a newbie still trying to meet people, I rarely turn down social opportunities. As such, I've attended enough terrible get–togethers in the past weeks that I have some basic suggestions on how to host a soirĂ©e in your NYC apartment, regardless of how large (or not) your space may be.

In Vermont, I lived in a two-bedroom townhouse; it was more than big enough for me and any guests. And having people over for parties was no big deal - grab some cheap beer, a bag or two of store-brand potato chips, and call it a night by 11pm so everyone could be up and ready to ski at 8am.

New York, however, is different. It's a city of class, culture, and where most people don't consider a six-pack of PBR to be gourmet if they're over the age of 25. So when I decided to have a holiday party in my small, 500-foot loft, it required a bit of finesse. However, after planning, I realized that throwing a party with limited space is actually quite doable. I'm sharing five tips that will surely make your holiday party a hit long after the Christmas carols stop playing.

Skip the PBR--credit

Use it all
For starters, if you have a small area to entertain, make sure you encourage people to fill it up. In a larger space, your living room may fit all of your guests. But when it won't, have snacks in all corners of the room or apartment, and chairs and conversation areas spread around. Don't be afraid to utilize your bedroom if you have one. Guests can hang out anywhere they choose, and you’ll always find people will gather in the kitchen no matter the size.

Consider moving larger objects (like a low coffee table or a dining table, which can also be used as a bar or a food station) off to the side for the evening to create more mingling space. Most people tend to stand and move around at a cocktail party, so floor area is more important than seating area.

Keep it casual
A party during "Happy Hour" is a nice way to let your guests know they shouldn't expect dinner; it's pseudo-code for "Don't plan to get too drunk." And no one expects a party that starts at 5pm to require anything fancier than business casual, unless otherwise noted.         
Plus, if the party gets too crowded, or your too-close-for-comfort neighbors start to complain, you leave plenty of time for people to go somewhere else for the evening, (a neighborhood bar or a party with keg beer in red solo cups). On that note, this isn't college, and you're not in a frat. Have beer (by the bottle), wine, basic liquor and mixers on hand, and serve out of glasses. Don’t expect guests to bring anything with them, and have extra in case people bring friends. Organize your bar in a spot where there's a good amount of standing room. People will congregate there. If your space permits, have two bars at opposite ends.

Keep the food simple with bite-size no-fuss snacks like nuts, cheeses, and cookies. This is a cocktail party and people will eat dinner later.

Don't get too fancy with the food.--credit

Get creative and plan ahead

The reason small spaces work for parties is usually because the host or hostess gets creative. You should as well. If your refrigerator space is lacking, chill extra drinks in coolers packed with ice and keep them in your hallway. Hallways make great staging areas for apartment parties. Replenish as beverages run low in your fridge.

The winter coats are always an issue in a small space. If you have 25 guests, that's 25 coats. Invest in a portable rack (inexpensive and can fold down to be quite small) that you'll use every year for your holiday gathering. Just before the party starts, set it up in your hallway (check with your super, but it should be fine for a few hours) and request that guests hang their outerwear here. Otherwise your furniture will be covered in North Face and pea coats.

Be sure to have extra TP on hand and exposed in the bathroom, either on a shelf or in a basket. Female beer drinkers will surely need it.

Provide entertainment

It's likely that your guests won't know the people they're sharing a small corner of your apartment with, and you won't be able to entertain each person unless it's a very small group. So it's a good idea to have conversation starters out and about for your guests.

Trivial Pursuit cards are a fun way to get people talking, and are excellent ice-breakers, as are "Table Topics," which are cards with conversation starters for different types of parties.

The TV should be off, but make sure you have music on so no one feels awkward for breaking the silence. However, don't have the music so loud that people can't hear themselves talk, and stick to fairly popular selections. You might be into techno hip-hop polka remixes, but keep in mind that your guests are there to enjoy themselves and have fun, not be distracted by odd music choices.

Ambiance is key so make it visual
If it looks great, chances are it will feel like a great party. Add color in your cocktail napkins and place fresh flowers or greenery in several spots around your place. Use candles for fragrance and a splash of color, especially in the bathroom.

I recommend using Apartment Therapy and Pinterest for ideas on small spaces. If decor isn't your forte, you'll get plenty of inspiration how to beautify your apartment on these two sites.

OK folks, it's the middle of the week, so I'm off to another social activity that I couldn't turn down. Happy Holidays in advance to everyone, and don't forget the most crucial piece of information there is for having a party in a small apartment --- no matter what you do, always, always invite the neighbors. 

What if these are the neighbors?--credit

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