Tips for Holiday Entertaining


Tips for Holiday Entertaining
By Natalie Brookshire of Natalie Bowen Designs

Two things that I love most in life are the holidays (well actually any holiday, but this is the big daddy of them all) and entertaining. I love to make my house look, feel, and smell good, and invite friends over to spend time with one another. Between the busy life we all lead and living in a city where many people don’t have large spaces, invitations over to a friend’s house are often overshadowed by invites to meet at a restaurant. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I love the restaurant-life, but entertaining at home will always be my original love.

What I’ve learned is that entertaining does not need to be complicated. I’ve started to streamline my celebrations by focusing on a few small details and letting the rest sort itself out. Personally, if I have a pretty table set, a drink ready for my guests when they arrive, and a well-garnished, simple appetizer on the table, I’m not as concerned about the rest of the big picture.

Over the years, I’ve found a few tips have helped me set aside my anxiety about having the perfect party and enjoy the process a bit more. (For me, it really is about the process and I’ve been known to set a table two days before our guests arrive just because I love it so much.) I hope that what I have to share will help you dive in to your holiday fêtes with ease and excitement.



Garnish everything
I find that my guests love even the smallest of touches and I achieve this detail with ease by garnishing pretty much everything I serve. I absolutely love to throw a garnish in champagne, which can be so easy and take the presentation to the next level.

This time of year I love to use pomegranate seeds, raspberries, a curl of orange rind, or even a small edible flower. If you look around your kitchen it is likely that you have something on hand that you could use. The same garnish detail can be done for your cheese plate. If you have a garden or outdoor space, simply cut a leaf off and tuck it onto your platter. If you don’t have a garden, keep rosemary on hand to use. It’s amazing how much better Trader Joe’s cheese tastes when it’s presented in a beautiful way.



Incorporate your travels or family heirlooms
I’m sorry to admit it, but I love to shop when I am on vacation. I find that these treasures remind me of my travels each time I bring them out. I have purchased fabric to make into napkins, cordial glasses, and even pillow cases. Since this is a time of year to be together and reflect on the year, I love that this detail is something that makes me feel even more connected to the goodness in my life, even if I’m the only person at the table that recognizes their significance.

Likewise, I love using my Grandmother’s heirlooms—including her Blue Willow China and one-hundred-year-old spoon collection.




Don’t serve dinner at your dinner party
I threw my first formal dinner party when I was only sixteen and it’s been a slippery slope to dinner party perfection ever since. Until I a few years ago, I would serve elaborate five-course meals which also meant that I was often in the kitchen prepping the next course rather than enjoying the company of my guests. Even more than that, I realized my guests often seemed stiff and uncomfortable with the formality. When the guest list is six or under, we take the party to our living room and gather on the floor around the coffee table. In this setting the menu can also be much more relaxed and often more fun when you don’t have to time each course. I suggest serving a fancy cheese plate, fondue—or skip dinner all together and serve a berry pie. (All garnished, of course.)


Take it to the floor
If you don’t have a dining room or a table large enough for a big group, don’t worry. In recent years, my husband and  I have opted for many of our dinner parties to be served on the floor in our living room where we are lucky enough to also have a fireplace. We pile the pillows high and let people relax and enjoy. I find that this informal setting allows for great conversation as guests notice the food but it isn’t the focus. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get to set a pretty table, though. Flowers can be set to the side of the table rather than set in the center and plates can be stacked in a pretty way rather than being set around the table.



The flowers don’t need to be flowers
Something I love about the foliage this time of year is that it lasts and lasts. Opposite of autumn, when every beautiful bright yellow branch drops its leaves within a day or two of cutting it, winter foliage is long lasting. I often trim the bottom branches off of my Christmas tree and set that in a vase and leave it on my dining table all month long. The same can be done if you don’t have room for a tree and want the fir smell to fill your home. Forcing a paper white narcissus is a fun process to watch and will also bring a touch of the season into your home with minimal effort.

Thank you so much, Natalie! What a beautiful gathering—and it makes me want to start collecting China. It must be amazing to use those heirlooms from your grandmother. 

Photos taken by Melanie Duerkopp, shared courtesy of Natalie. Visit Natalie Bowen Designs.

P.S. Read about Natalie’s career path to floral designer. And the first two posts in this series: Getting Started and Where to Shop.

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