Interior Design

Small Space, Big Party: Here's How to Make it Work

May 15, 2018

Don't let a small living space stop you from throwing a party! We've partnered with Arhaus to highlight expert design and hosting tips to make entertaining a breeze, in homes of all sizes.

In urban environments where rents are high and square footage is precious, inviting friends to your home can feel like an intimate gesture. When I ask my design clients if they entertain often, their common refrain is, “I’d love to! But my place is too small.”

I understand why tight quarters strike aspiring hosts as limiting, but I can’t immediately recall a party that was fun because it was roomy. (In fact, some of my cheeriest memories are of sitting cross-legged on the floor of a friend’s petite apartment.) There’s a happy hum of music and conversation, and I’m comfortably knee-to-knee with someone who was a stranger an hour before, balancing a homemade snack in one hand and drink in the other.

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Small space entertaining does require a bit of thoughtfulness though. My experiences as both guest and host have encouraged me to follow a few guidelines to facilitate success:

Don't have a dedicated bar? Don't stress. A console table (like this one!) will work just fine. Photo by Mark Weinberg

###Set up a bar. The bar often winds up as the focal point of the party. Select a piece of furniture that’s wide and roughly waist-high, but not too deep. (Reaching causes spills.) Dressers, sideboards, desks, and console tables like the one you see styled as an entryway above are often good candidates. Steer clear of anything with electronics in or around it, in case spills do happen. Then, just add alcohol, water, a snack, cocktail napkins, and assorted glassware. (A word on that—no need to be matchy-matchy; just mix and match whatever glassware you have!)

Dress up the water.

Adding citrus and herbs to your water incorporates it into the festive décor, while also adding some zest to teetotalers’ glasses. I love pairing grapefruit and rosemary, lemon and thyme, and lime and mint, but you can get creative with whatever you have on hand. A cheat for determining compatibility is to peek at recipes for savory foods that combine citrus and herbs.

Voila! No one will know that this is usually where you throw your keys and junk mail. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Employ a (makeshift) ice bucket—and avoid flying ice cubes.

In summer especially, some poor bottle of rosé, white wine, or bubbly inevitably gets marooned on a counter, warming to the point of waste. An ice bucket on the bar increases the odds that your chilled beverages will remain that way. No ice bucket? No biggie. You can use a stockpot, a planter, a waste bin, even a mixing bowl if it’s tall enough to prevent leaking. Fill it with crushed ice so that cubes don't get jettisoned into the air when a bottle is inserted or removed. You can easily DIY crushed ice by placing cubes in a clean dish towel, folding in the corners, and whacking the heck of out of it with a hammer. (If you're in a hurry, equal parts ice and water works well too.)

Keep beer in the fridge.

Just make sure that bottle opener doesn’t walk away. A note on the bar (ours is on a folded place card) can direct beer drinkers to their beverage of choice. Spreading the alcohol around also minimizes logjam at the bar. Secure the bottle opener to the front of the fridge with a magnet and/or twine so you won’t have to answer the question, “Hey, do you have a bottle opener?” a hundred times.

When it comes to the menu, think in bites, not bulk.

Serve food that is substantial enough to satisfy guests, but wieldy enough to rest on a cocktail napkin. We're talking crostini, nuts, olives, chips, cheese and crackers, charcuterie, etc. If you're not sure where to start, two of our go-to recipes for small space entertaining are Ricotta Crostini with Figs, Prosciutto, and Honey, and Garlic-Orange-Rosemary Marinated Olives. With handheld food, you don’t need cocktail plates and there won’t be competition for surface area. Bonus: fewer dishes to do when the evening ends.

Don’t sweat the décor.

Just use what you have to house the universal indicators of party time: flowers and candles. A stemless wine glass that tapers at the mouth makes an effective bud vase, and a small juice glass with a flat bottom is virtually indistinguishable from a votive holder. (Here are four tips for cleaning out wax the next day.) If you’re short on glassware, empty glass jars work too. Just think narrow neck for flowers, wide neck for candles.

No one minds getting cozy on the carpet. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Augment seating by stacking throw pillows on the floor.

Clearing your sofa of space-hogging pillows will not only make room for guests, but stacking the pillows on the floor also encourages floor sitting for those able and willing. (No matter how alluring the pillows, I’ve found that stacking them on a carpet is more likely to entice a guest to sit than stacking directly on the floor.)

Scatter the snacks.

The logjam effect applies to food, too. I recommend placing one substantial snack adjacent to the alcohol (your friends will thank you the next day), and scattering the rest of the food strategically throughout the space. Remember that your snack and booze placement will determine the migratory patterns of your guests.

Leave a trail of crumbs (or olive pits!) so your guests have a visual cue for what to do with their trash. Photo by , Mark Weinberg

Signal what guests should do with any snack residuals.

Early on in the evening (even before guests arrive), I like to place an olive pit, or cherry tomato stem (whatever non-edible residual your snacks leave) on a cocktail napkin. If you own a tiny bowl dedicated to snack residuals, cool. But the key is to give guests non-verbal guidance on what to do with leftovers, and permission to do it. It may sound trivial, but particularly for guests new to the group, an olive pit resting on a napkin can be a balm for anxiety.

The moral of the story? Help your guests help themselves. They’ll feel more at ease, and you’ll have more bandwidth to enjoy your own party.

For More Entertaining Tips

What are some of your favorite small-space decorating tips? Tell us in the comments below!

Whether you're working with an open floor plan or cramped quarters, it's the little details that your guests will remember. Want to recreate this scene at home? Our partner Arhaus, makers of thoughtful, well-designed home furnishings, has got you covered. Shop the Amaya console table at

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An indoor and outdoor enthusiast. Happiest cooking at home with a podcast on, or hiking towards a campfire meal. Believes the best design is simple and approachable. (And thinks DIYs should be too!)