Entertaining enthusiasts who live in small spaces face an eternal conundrum: They want to host big blowouts at home to show off their party-planning skills, but are limited due to the lack of square footage. (Being one of these people myself, I know the situation all too well.) It might seem like there’s no solution to this problem aside from moving, especially if you don’t want to be the person who invited way too many people to a gathering that, in turn, was not so fun. However, there actually are tricks to throwing a big party in a small space — and considering they come from professionals, it’s safe to say it really can be done.
However, that starts with accepting some limitations: You cannot, unfortunately, get wild with the guest list. As Ellie Durbin, founder and planner of The Aisle Assistant, says, it may seem obvious — but you have to put a cap on the number of people you invite. “This doesn't mean you need to limit the list to the number of seats in your living room, but be realistic about how many people can fit in your home,” she tells TZR.
James Hirschfeld, CEO and co-founder of Paperless Post, agrees, sharing some specifics on how to find the right balance. According to him, you should still take into account how much seating you have, as well as how much room you have in general. “You want your guests to feel comfortable and have enough personal space,” he says. However, you may be able to invite more people than you think. “You’re likely to have guests who can’t make it or drop off at the last minute, so always invite a few more than you expect to attend.”
While, naturally, Hirschfeld recommends Paperless Post’s virtual invitations to communicate with guests, I also personally think that this is a great way to ensure you’re on the right track with numbers. Sending out a massive group text to your friends will probably result in a little chaos and a lot of unexpected people showing up. Yet using this tool (or anything with invite-tracking capabilities) can show you clearly how many people you’re inviting and who’s planning to attend. That way, things never get out of hand.
Once you have your guest list down pat, though, there’s plenty more to do to ensure a comfortable, seamless experience in your small space all night long. Here’s what the experts recommend.
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Move Things Around
It’s already been established you’re not working with a lot of space here, so one of the most important parts of throwing a big party in your small home is maximizing what you have. According to the experts, that starts with hiding stuff away. For Durbin, that’s as easy as identifying anything you simply don’t need for the evening. Then, get creative. “I've hidden things in the bathtub behind the closed curtain, stacked closets high, and temporarily moved furniture to a bedroom that will be closed off,” she says.
Additionally, consider rearranging your current setup. Hirschfeld notes that you shouldn’t be afraid to move furniture around and work with what you’ve got. “Ensure there is a clear path throughout the space so that guests can easily move from one room to another,” he says. “Cover your coffee table in a tablecloth to create a dining area, and surround it with throw pillows for a casual seating option.”
Find Unexpected Ways To Serve
When you’re living in, say, a studio apartment, you don’t exactly have much surface area to spread out things like hors d'oeuvres. Thus, you need to get creative with how you’re serving food and drinks for a crowd. Mud Pie founder and CEO Marcia Miller’s recommendation is to leverage your vertical space. “Using tiered servers and stacked pedestals not only adds dimension to every tablescape, but it also creates room for guests to mingle, dine, and move about,” she tells TZR.
You can also get unconventional with where you keep refreshments. Olivia Erwin, founder of Olivia Erwin Interiors, says it’s “fun and unexpected to use a sink as a wine cooler.”
Tailor Your Refreshments
As for what you should serve? Experts offer a few helpful guidelines for that as well.
When it comes to food, Durbin says to make sure that everything is at least “fork-friendly” so that you can easily eat it standing up. “If you're extra tight on space, eliminate utensils entirely and make sure all food is just one to two bites for ease,” she continues. Hirschfeld says, “You can anticipate that each guest will likely eat one to two of each food item served,” which should help you avoid serving too much (and thus, wasting precious surface area).
Both Durbin and Hirschfeld recommend sticking to beer and wine for an event with limited space. That said, they note that you could also serve a single cocktail (Durbin suggests one that can be batched in advance, like sangria or punch) as well. “If no one is making cocktails with many ingredients, there's no need for a lot of space for the bar,” Durbin explains.
Create Different “Zones”
If there’s one thing you should do when hosting a big soirée with limited space, it’s create “zones.” Hirschfeld says that you can expect people to gather around refreshments. Thus, “To avoid a party traffic jam, set up a few hors d’oeuvres or drink areas throughout the space,” he explains. Durbin gives similar advice, sharing this example: “The bar can be in one room, appetizers in another, and dessert in another area.” And Miller offers an additional idea. “If there’s not enough room for two bars, opt for a traditional bar in an open space, and a DIY champagne bar in a nook, fully stocked with berries and herbs for dressing.”
Get Creative With Activities
OK, so there’s not enough room to setup cornhole or an elaborate board game. Now what? Taskrabbit Tasker Mayra P.’s suggestion: have raffles and giveaway prizes instead. “Everyone gets a ticket when they walk in and when you feel like there’s a lull in the party you can start giving away a few prizes here and there.” If that’s not within budget? Simple — “create a set playlist to get people dancing,” she says.
Keep Decor Simple
If you love a party, your MO with decor is likely go big or go home. However, you may want to practice some restraint in this particular scenario. Erwin says to “limit table decor or fussy arrangements to keep a clean, uncluttered look,” and Hirschfeld agrees. “Extra clutter can make a space feel more cramped and get in the way of a relaxed event,” he explains. “Try using simple centerpieces and decor without busy patterns, to ensure the space feels clean and airy.” There is one thing you never want to skip, however. “Always save room for candles to create a calm and intimate atmosphere!” notes Erwin.