What makes a home party friendly?
Decorations are an essential part of setting the mood, but how your home is arranged and where you place the food and drinks also play a crucial role.
These ingredients can mean the difference between a get-together that's a fabulous whirl of sparkling conversation and activity and a less-than-lively, staid affair.
If you make it easy for people to talk to each other by creating space for the festivities ahead, everything else will fall into place. And that is the definition of a party friendly home.
Whether your home is spacious or small, if you're having a large party, you'll want to make room for your guests in the party areas - the living room, dining room, and family room - of your home.
If necessary, roll them up and move them out: Remove an area rug from your living room to clear out space for dancing; haul the big furnishings, like the sofa and ottoman, out of the living room and place them behind closed doors in another room.
Or you can push the furniture against the walls to open up more floor space and ease of circulation.
After all, a lively gathering is one that encourages people to meet new friends, and with more space in which to wander, your guests will feel more relaxed.
One key strategy for keeping everyone active: Have fewer chairs than people. Except for dinner parties, a party stops being festive as soon as everyone is seated. Remove the dining room chairs, and let the table serve as an hors d'oeuvres station.
Keep your guests circulating through your home: Place the refreshments in one room, the buffet in another, and the desserts and coffee in a third area or room.
For small groups, limit the party to just one or two rooms of your house and direct guests to the bathroom you want them to use.
Avoid opening your den or upstairs rooms to guests. Once the group disperses into your home's outer reaches, cliques will form that can leave some of your guests feeling left out.
Your party should be a reflection of you, so choose a theme that makes you feel bright and alive.
Exaggerate a single element - if pink's your theme color, scatter pink balloons about the house or fill vases with pink roses: greet arrivals with a rosy drink.
For a Mexican fiesta, place a different pinata on the food table in every room; serve drinks in margarita glasses.
Remember to look at the whole picture - lighting, texture, scale, and progression (such as pots of flowers lining the front walk). Fill your home with background music that's appropriate for the party's theme: classical for sit-down dinner parties, salsa for spirited celebrations.
Dim the lights for a more intimate mood. The senses should be tickled by imaginative surprises: a centerpiece that soars above the buffet table, glitter scattered along a walkway, gardenias floating in glass bowls.
Simple touches like these can add a happy note that guests detect even before you open the door to welcome them to the party inside.
And remember - you'll enjoy yourself and your guests more if you finish decorating your party friendly home well in advance of party time.