All week long I’ve been sharing my spring dinner party on The Kitchn, a party I hosted in my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I’ve already shared the party plan, my main course recipe, the big dinner itself, and how I arranged the flowers. Feeling inspired? Great! Still feeling anxious about throwing a shindig in your own little apartment? Not so great! That’s what I’ll be talking about today.
5 Tips for Throwing a Dinner Party in a Small Apartment
1. First of all, throw a dinner party.
The number one deterrent to throwing a successful dinner party in a small apartment is… not throwing one at all. (Surprise!) Seriously. If you’ve been holding off throwing a party because you think your place is too small, or you’re embarrassed that it’s unfinished or not decorated like you want, or you have some archaic idea that parties should be big, or glamorous, or whatever… stop.
Wherever you live, you can throw some kind of dinner party. It may only be for three people, or maybe you’ll surprise yourself by fitting in 15 people or more. But if you have a desire to bring people into your home, if you love your friends and love cooking and want to share food with them, you can and should do it! Everything else can be worked around or managed, but you have to commit to throwing a party first.
2. Don’t be afraid to rearrange furniture for the evening.
I talked about rearranging my living room in my main dinner party post on Wednesday, and this was really the thing that changed everything as far as decorating goes. By swapping my dining and living areas, i.e. I moved my dining table into my living room, and shifted a few living room lounge chairs to where my dining table used to be, I made my table the focus of my apartment. Would I normally keep my dining table there? No. On a day to day basis it sits pushed up against a wall, but for a party it made sense to move everything around to create more space and a better flow.
Beyond rearranging, you can also just remove things from the room. Make the other rooms in your apartment storage rooms for the evening. Move that end table into your bedroom for the night. Prop the coffee table upright against the wall in your office. Yes, now you can’t walk around your bed, but remember, it’s just for one night!
3. Go for mood lighting.
I believe that almost anything is improved with good mood lighting. If you can help it, don’t use overhead lights. The overhead lights in my apartment use energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs — great for never having to change a lightbulb, but terrible for atmospheric lighting. I rarely use them if I can help it!
Instead I rely on lamps with a warm white light, tea lights and candles, and string lights. For this party I hung globe string lights from Target over my dining table. That, again, is another reason it helped to move the table! By putting it in the center of my living room, I was able to use my bookshelf as a hook for the lights on one side. I also put tea lights all over the table.
A softer, warmer, dimmer light is just cozier overall, but it also serves to mask any apartment imperfections you might be concerned about. For example, had I had my overhead lights on my friends may have noticed the few small stains on my living room carpet. Or the fact that I didn’t get a chance to dust the bookshelf. And my curtains could really use a good washing. So whatever your insecurities about your small place, good mood lighting makes everything look and feel better.
4. Make it a collaborative experience.One commenter on Wednesday’s post asked why I chose to put up a menu on the wall when there was nothing unusual about the ingredients or courses. A good question! I wanted to put a menu on the wall because I think it’s a lovely detail for any dinner party. I was initially inspired to do a menu when I attended an outdoor dinner party last summer in Tel Aviv, an experience I wrote about here. I like how a handwritten wall menu at a small dinner party is a touch of the formal in an informal setting. I also think it draws guests more fully into the experience by giving them a glimpse into what the evening holds.
I think anything that engages your guests in some way — gets them participating, talking, thinking, anticipating — is always a good thing.
My friend Nelly writing out the night’s menu.
My friends (and me) moving the furniture back at the end of the night.
5. Realize it won’t all be perfect, and that’s okay.
My final tip for having a successful dinner party with friends in a small apartment is really more a reminder that friends are friends for a reason. If the dumplings for the soup don’t come together perfectly, or dessert is a little late, or you have to run out for more wine, or you’re exhausted by the end of the night and just want to sit and listen and not play “hostess” anymore.. that’s all okay. The whole reason you threw a dinner party in the first place is to get together and enjoy each other’s company and some good food. Good friends will undoubtedly understand if things don’t go perfectly, and will probably even jump in and offer to help out. I’m not Martha Stewart. You’re not either. (Unless you’re reading this, Martha! Hi!)
This is me, looking very tired at the end of the night!
So without getting too sentimental, it’s good for us all to remember what’s really important, no matter how small your apartment. Thank you, friends and guests, for coming out tonight. Thank you for crowding around a table to enjoy a meal together. Thank you for ignoring the fact that the bathroom is right off the kitchen. Thank you for not noticing the pile of dirty plates in the kitchen you should so clearly be able to see because this is a studio apartment. Thank you for lighting candles, and lifting glasses, and dancing in place. Let’s do it again soon!