Learn how to entertain a large family in a small house during the holidays using these easy pro tips.
Written by Brad Gandy
It’s the holiday season, the perfect time to entertain guests at home. A great playlist? Check. A scrumptious menu? Check. A spacious house? Well, as the Grinch says, “Wrongo!”
Before you skip playing host, a few creative hacks and considerations ahead of time can make everyone feel as warm and comfy as a glass of hot cocoa, even in tiny spaces.
Get Creative With Parking
As you might expect, hosting big family parties means lots of cars in your driveway. If your driveway is on the small side, ask some friendly neighbors to share theirs, but only for the duration of the party. Some will not be comfortable with this idea, so you need to tell them exactly how long your party will last, especially if they won’t be home. In return, gift them a nice bottle of wine or some hand baked goods. People rarely turn down food or drink during the holidays.
If your yard isn’t wet and the weather is clear, consider letting guests park on the lawn. This is helpful in my case since I need extra room to let the wheelchair ramp down on my van, and parking in the driveway means that people will inevitably park beside me. That makes going home at the end of the night more difficult, and everybody will appreciate the wider area a lawn provides.
If you have a big guest list or lots of out-of-towners, carpooling or meeting at a safe parking lot makes a commute less tiring and reduces cars.
You could also do an open house style party where people come by throughout the day. This saves driveway space, is convenient for your guests, and often prevents you from having to cook a large meal.
Find Storage Alternatives
Your guests also need somewhere to place their belongings, grab something to eat or drink, and socialize. For coats and hats, a side table or coat rack works well, but what if the weather isn’t cooperating?
Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but put them in the bathroom! If your shower curtain isn’t attached to the wall, grab some hangers and hang the coats to dry. (Another advantage of the bathroom? Wet shoes can easily go on a bath mat and dry super quickly!) If you don’t have an extra room, a chair and mat by the door works too.
From there, I recommend using anything from coffee tables to entertainment centers to cutting boards for serving appetizers, plus pitchers and disposable cups for drinks. Guests write their names on the cups with a marker. Not only is this personalized and kid-friendly, but you don’t have to rinse a ton of glasses afterwards! Pitchers and drink dispensers (with an ice bowl beside them) are self-serve, so people don’t have to be in your kitchen to quench their thirsts.
Utilize The Island Of Misfit Chairs
Seating depends on how many and what kind of guests you have.
Adults and seniors may not enjoy flexible seating like poufs or ottomans, but children love them for their uniqueness and flair.
You’ll want to maximize your space for foot traffic, so give everyone plenty of room to move around. This means rearranging furniture or even switching it out with another room’s furniture in some cases, but remember that it’s only for one night. Move food toward the front of the room and drinks (if not in the foyer) toward the back for a more natural traffic flow.
I spend most of my time sitting down, so to me, people in a congested room look like sprawling redwood trees, and that’s no fun at a party. For adults, use sofas or medium-height chairs.
(Pro tip: Before serving a big meal, offer seniors an office chair with wheels and gently roll them into the kitchen. They can see all the food and choose what they want without having to walk around your counter space or be in a different room while everyone else is plating.)
Think Outside The Box For Dining Tables
Did you know that one massive dining table isn’t required for a dinner party? Putting two small tables or even a desk together works wonders when they’re covered with table cloths, linens, or shower curtains.
Focus on the mix, not the match!
People won’t mind how things look as long as they’re comfortable. If you really want a centerpiece, try some flowers in the middle, place cards, and hanging decorations or lighting, which are not only space-saving, but trendy. For extra tables, I keep it simple with wooden TV trays. They’re portable and take up minimal space, and guests can eat from the couch.
I loved having “picnics” on the floor as a kid too. Like the poufs, a floor “picnic” is special and gives children their own space.
If you’re doing an open house party, a kitchen countertop buffet lets guests eat either standing or with a couch and tray.
Lastly, it’s important to create zones for each space, like a bedroom for kids’ activities, a deck with propane heaters for a bar, or a garage for games.
Zones maximize your space and keep people from wandering into other areas of your home.
Always remember to be a host and a guest. If things don’t look or go exactly as planned, don’t sweat it. You’re among friends and family. You’re conquering your anxiety of entertaining in a small space. And it’s holiday season, people!
Some very solid ideas in here. Can’t count how many large Christmas gatherings we’ve had in a family member’s small house… some of these ideas would have helped a lot! The zone idea is a must.
Lela Burris says
Thanks so much Doug! You’re right, it takes a lot of planning to make a small house work for large families.
Sandy gandy says
great post. I love your ideas.
Brad - Admin says
Thanks, Sandy! I hope this helps you ace your next hosting job.