Do you have trepidation about hosting family this season? Want to finally throw that holiday party, but anxiety sets in when you begin to plan? Or has the moment of panic set in after sending out invitations? Carey Karlan, a local interior designer and principal of design firm Last Detail, is here to help! Carey shares her favorite tips for entertaining and how to make hosting fun from start to finish…
1. Can you share some helpful tips for those of us feeling overwhelmed about throwing a holiday party or hosting gatherings this season?
Remember that people are THRILLED to be entertained and are not looking to judge but to have fun and feel festive (and not have to do the work themselves)! Hosting a holiday party is not a performance—it’s a way to embrace your friends in the joy and energy of the season. Let’s keep that in your perspective. And remember, guests don’t have a better time if you are working yourself to the bone so go with your strengths and delegate the rest. Don’t feel like you need to make it elaborate, and avoid too many moving parts involved in the meal. It does not have to be a six-course affair. A roast, roasted veggies and a salad make a relatively simple and yet special meal when served on your holiday platters. There is nothing wrong with making slow-cooked meals ahead of time. My mother used to serve a ham with rolls (just heat), Turkey Tetrazzini (make ahead) and a salad. Everyone found something to like. If cooking is not your thing—don’t! Store bought food beautifully served can be delightful and frees you up to manage other aspects of the party. And consider engaging your guests in the party by giving food assignments, should they ask to help.
2. Do you have tips on easing the burden and delegating?
I don’t think you have to take care of every single aspect of a party yourself in order for it to be a unique and wonderful experience. In fact, it’s best for everyone to participate in some way. Focus on the parts you like and let your guests contribute in ways that suit them. I like to cook, but for my Shangri-La party, I ordered Indian and Chinese food from local restaurants. This year, I’ll be serving make-ahead chili for the Wild West party. Consider giving those who tend to be late the appetizer assignment, so they’ll be on time😉. One guest makes a fabulous bread each year sculpted into something that is relevant. I have some theatrical friends who like to write a skit for us to perform, another who likes to sing a few carols and so forth. It’s great when everyone has a part to play in the festivities.
3. What are some fun and manageable thoughts on decorating?
If the thought of getting your house decorated sounds exhausting, just go with a few bold strokes and forget trying to decorate every nook and cranny. When in doubt add more twinkly lights and candles. A series of battery-operated candles marching up the side of a foyer staircase is a dramatic and atmospheric touch. Another thought is to harvest fresh greens from the yard the day of the party. Place them in a big wooden bowl or basket and toss in some oranges and pomegranates, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Also, consider inexpensive grocery store poinsettias in mass look great on staircases, under the tree, in a pretty container on the coffee table etc.
4. How do you set a beautiful and inviting holiday table?
Don’t do ditsy! Take a stronger and more singular point of view rather than a smattering of this and that, be bold and stick to it! A little of this and a little of that just gets lost, instead do multiples of the same thing. I’d suggest using TONS of greens rather than just a few sprigs, ten candles marching down the table rather than six, two dozen supermarket roses rather than a dozen hot house varieties. Don’t try to cover several moods all at once.
Another thought is to include personal items from your home. For example, I’ve brought out my tea caddy decorated as a pirate’s chest for a “Christmas at Sea” themed party. Other things I’ve used include globes, old leather books, compasses, Nantucket basket handbags etc. on the table too. I’ve even repurposed curtains from show houses and blankets to use as tablecloths.
5. What are some local go-to places in finding great items for decorating?
I shop locally at Palmers, Nielsen’s florist, Kirby & Company, Seasons Too, Good Food Good Things and so forth. It puts me in a festive mood to go to the stores and see what’s on display, rather than buy my decorations online. I also love to haunt all the local antique shops! They have such good value on tabletop items. A table can be so much more interesting when unexpected collectibles are included.
6. Any thoughts on getting children involved?
I have always included children in Christmas parties, and it adds a lot of joy to the mood. To avoid total chaos, a little participation assignment is a good idea depending on age and ability. Over the years, I’ve had my children pass appetizers, take coats, play a little piece on the piano or guitar, had their jazz band play, write or decorate the place cards, light the candles and ring the bell for dinner.
Fun, easy activities for the kids:
Candy cane or gumdrop hunt
Yankee swap for kids
Easy, safe, non-messy crafts such as making Christmas cards with stickers and paper. This year I purchased clear plastic ornaments from Michael’s, and the young kids will stuff them with felt pom poms of all varieties. Cheap and cheerful!
7. Anything else you would like to add?
I think it’s nice to have something for the guests to “play with” on the table. I always have favors and crackers to add to the festivities. If it fits the theme, I have paper under each plate and we play a word game before dessert, complete with prizes temptingly displayed on the sideboard in a big silver punchbowl!
ABOUT CAREY KARLAN
Award-winning interior designer Carey Karlan is the principal of design firm Last Detail, located in Darien. Carey creates timeless interiors extending from Fairfield and Westchester counties to Manhattan, San Francisco, Florida, the Cape and Nantucket.
Carey’s design philosophy embraces the concept of flexibility. She listens intently to her clients and prides herself on having the ability to envision and create interiors to suit any size or style of home and any lifestyle. She understands and translates her clients’ personal desires into stunning interiors, which has earned her a portfolio of loyal clients. Her work has been featured in athome Magazine, New England Home Connecticut, Cottages and Gardens, Serendipity and the Stamford and Greenwich Magazine. Carey is a three-time winner and finalist of the “A-list” awards, athome’s premiere home design competition, Serendipity’s “Most Innovative in Design” as well as a finalist for CTC&G’s “Innovation in Design” award and speaks frequently on the subject of Interior Design.