Party Prep Tips: Making Space for a Crowd
Learn expert tricks for converting your space even if it's small to accommodate large parties.
Even entertaining experts sometimes panic when they're expecting a large crowd at their home for a party. "Last year was my 25th wedding anniversary, and I live in a two-bedroom townhouse," says Chicago event planner Sharon Ringiér. "We wanted to include a lot of our friends for dinner, but I was concerned because we had nowhere to seat them. I ended up converting my living room into a dining room, my kitchen became the buffet, and the dining room housed desserts and drinks."
You can follow Sharon's lead: Get creative, think about crowd flow and be willing to repurpose your stuff to make it work.
Make your biggest area the dining area.
If you're having a formal dinner, you need space for chairs and tables, plus walking room all the way around. For most people, the living room works best. Sharon moved most of her living room furniture to the garage (see next tip) and rented six-foot tables, nice fruitwood chairs and linens to create a new dining area.
If tables and chairs are still a tight fit in your cleared-out living room and you're not having a formal dinner, consider going Moroccan-style, Sharon says. Set out stackable plastic milk crates or electrical wire spools and top them with a table round (you can find an old beater at a flea market, a restaurant supply store or a catering company).
Cover the table with upholstery fabric and tuck it under, then crisscross runners over the top so that each end lands in front of a seated guest. Scatter throw pillows around the room for seating. "It's a different kind of experience, a fun change of pace," Sharon says.
Turn your garage into a comfy lounge.
Any furniture you clear out to make room can go here, and it makes a convenient place for guests to escape the fray.
Set up stations and decor to direct traffic.
Tara Wilson, president of Tara Wilson Events, says: "If you have rooms or areas of your home that you don't want your guests to access, find a way to silently but beautifully convey the message. For example, I'll place the buffet station in front of doors that I don't want accessed, or an arrangement of tall vases filled with floating candles on the staircase landing to deter guests from going upstairs."
Sometimes you need to hide part of a room when moving items isn't practical — say, if the den opens up to your office space. Hanging swags of fabric or curtain panels is a festive way to keep your items hidden and separate from the party area.
Make sure your buffet is big enough.
If you don't have an ample bar to use as a serving station, make one. Sharon says that when she and her husband threw a party while they were renovating their house, they used two sawhorses and an unfinished door to make a generous serving table.
Don't despair if your makeshift bar looks ugly — just cover it with rented linens, and if the flat surface is susceptible to spills or stains, protect it with a layer of plastic in between. "A simple polyester blend is inexpensive and looks elegant," Sharon says. "At the holidays, linen rental companies offer promotions, so check it out."
Remember: Keep food accessible from both sides of your buffet whenever possible.
Keep the drinks away from the entrance.
Marley Majcher, CEO of The Party Goddess!, says it's important to avoid bottlenecks. People congregate around where drinks are served, even if they're nonalcoholic, so keep your drink serving station off to the side, as Sharon did by putting hers in the dining room.
Tara also offers a great, easy bar idea for outdoor gatherings: "If you have a room that has windows that open up to your backyard," she says, "put your bar inside that room and serve the drinks through the windows. This can conserve outdoor space when it's limited."
Repurpose furniture as serving stations.
Marley recommends looking at your existing furniture with an imaginative eye, especially near serving areas. "Our kitchen at home blends with the family room, where I have a built-in desk and shelves," she says. "The shelves are great for beverage napkins and garnishes, and the desk itself works perfectly for a self-serve bar or buffet. Bookshelves and even drawers — pulled out — at the right height make great beverage/hors d'oeuvres/dessert stations, so get creative!"
At her anniversary party, Sharon took a beveled glass shelf from her office and set it atop a bookcase in her dining room to use as a bar for drinks. She moved the dining room table off to the side to use as a gift table, removed all the chairs to the garage and put her desserts on a card table in a corner of the room. This made traffic flow easily as people served themselves.
Make some areas standing room only.
Anywhere you have serving stations or you want social activity, get rid of the chairs. The kitchen and dining room are prime areas for people to mingle and enjoy themselves — they'll have more fun on their feet.