Hosting big in a small space

Household 5 min read

Designing for entertaining is as much as science as it is an art. The science comes in knowing not only the technical aspects of putting together a beautiful room filled with visual delights and functional pieces, but also knowing how to optimize the flow of the space to make the work of entertaining go as smoothly and easily as possible. As always, the art in the design is in the creativity that goes into how those more quantitative skills are put to use. But in homes where room for entertaining is at a premium, your most creative task might be finding enough space for hosting in the first place. The good news is that like most design challenges, this one can be a lot of fun. And with just a few simple strategies, any space can be the place where the party happens.

1. Hosting under the stairs

The first rule is to be relentless in your hunt for entertaining space. Not every space is configured optimally for hosting large gatherings, but just about any space will give you what you need if you’re creative about where and how you look. In this apartment, the area beneath the staircase has been put to good use. Just a table and a few chairs is all it take to give this area a stylish look. With a sunburst mirror and moss centerpiece to give the area another dash of color and style, this dining nook proves that any space in your home can be beautiful. And should the party grow past four, the table has an extendable leaf for more guests.

table and chairs under stairs

Photo Credit: Patrick Cline (

2. Double-duty furnishings

Whenever you’re faced with decorating a home that doesn’t have all the space in the world, finding ways to make furniture work on multiple levels is always a good idea. Some furnishings are even designed specifically for this function. Murphy beds and extendable dining tables are great examples of pieces that do more than they appear to at first glance. This can be useful even in homes with moderate amounts of space because they allow you to configure a room for multiple purposes without having to pile several rooms worth of furniture into one area.

The dining table in this picture began its life as a small console that fits neatly into a corner.  Hidden away in it, however, are several layers of extensions which, combined with insertable leaves, turns it into a massive dining table able to seat as many as 14 people. The bench seating is much the same. Reverted to its smaller form, it’s no more than a small stool. Furniture that expands can help you optimize both your living and dining areas and are perfect for entertaining.

table setting with bench

Photo Credit: Patrick Cline (

3. Artistic flourishes

One of the keys to hosting big, regardless of the size of the space, is how the space is decorated. Small details like the tablecloth or centerpieces can make all the difference, even when operating in a smaller space. Patterns on the textiles, stylish flatware, and even place cards are all ways to bring a note of sophistication to an event that will make a far more lasting impression than the size of the serving area.

This space is filled with eye-catching elements that belie the size of the dining area. The patterned tablecloth extends the table, while simultaneously setting the stage for the glassware, flatware and centerpieces. Another way of stretching the room is to use wall art that causes the eye to move along the length of the table as well. In this case, a gallery wall of Cameroonian Juju hats has been designed along the wall offering a soft visual counterpoint to the geometric design of the tablecloth while helping to create the illusion of length in a narrow environment.

black and white table setting

Photo Credit: Patrick Cline (

4. Just add seating

Even if your furniture isn’t specifically designed to transform into something else, there are still plenty of ways to get multiple uses out of a single piece when hosting a large group. For example, large poufs can easily act as either a seat or a table, depending on the needs of the moment. At the same time, a credenza can easily be converted to a serving space. Sometimes all you need to do is add a few chairs to turn a flat surface into a hosting opportunity. 

This work table quickly converts to a lavish dining setting with just a few key elements in the right places. Modern bar stools provide seating as well as a stylish counterpoint to the rustic look of the weathered, wooden table. And on top, a gorgeous collection of flowers, sculptures, chinaware and candles all congregate to present a whimsical landscape far away from the work this table was meant for.

wooden bar with black barstools

Photo Credit: Anna Moller (

5. Gift tables

Hosting a great party isn’t always about where you put the food. In fact, there are times when where you put the gifts could arguably be the bigger challenge. One way to keep everything organized and out of the way is by creating a gift table. Gift tables are typically small, so they don’t require too much extra room. And whether the event is a birthday, holiday, bridal shower, or baby shower, they’re sure to become a center of attention whenever you find the need.  

This ornately turned side table makes a perfect gift table, keeping everything well-contained while still offering an eye-catching display. When finding a place for your own gift table, remember that location is everything. You want to find a spot in your room that is accessible, but not central. Making it easy for people to navigate the room without necessarily having to go by the table is a useful way to keep all of the presents on it safe and intact.

gift table

Photo Credit: Chinasa Cooper (

6. Extend the table

At any dinner party, it’s easy for the table to get overcrowded. Food mixes with drinks and decorations and soon there’s no room to breathe, let alone eat. One of the best ways to handle this, provided a longer table is not an option, is with a buffet that acts an extension of the table, holding everything that doesn’t quite fit while offering guests a bit more elbow room.

This dining space is perfectly arranged to have the buffet be there for overflow. Trays of sparkling cider and snacks sit alongside extra decorations to complete the look of the festive display. When using this trick, remember that the buffet should be close enough to the table that whatever it holds is still easy to access. Also, even though the buffet is technically holding the overflow from the table decor, remember that it too is an opportunity for styling, and has to be well-kept in order to maintain the overall decor of the room.

table setting

Photo Credit: Leon Belt (

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