When I was twenty-four I moved into my first apartment alone. It was a 400-square-foot studio, and the kitchen flowed into the living room, and the living room flowed into the bedroom. It was impossible to host in the “conventional” sense—friends sprawled about spaciously, conversation flowing from a large kitchen island to a dining room to a sitting room for after-dinner drinks. And yet, it was impossible not to host at all.
And so host I did.
I hosted friends around a coffee table that served as a dining table too, with endless bottles of wine and conversations that lasted well into the night. It didn’t matter that there weren’t enough chairs or that the bed was in plain sight or that I never had quite enough dishes for every single one to match. We made do and we huddled together, alternating our perches atop the couch and the stools and the pillows on the floor.
I’ve jumped around to a few different apartments in the years since then and have even doubled my apartment size to a whopping 800 square feet. I still don’t have space for a dining table, and yet I still host. Today I’m sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the many gatherings I’ve welcomed into the small spaces I’ve called home.
One of the fun parts about being human is the uncomfortable movements we make with our hands when we don’t have anywhere to put them. Do you know what I’m talking about? Put me in the middle of a room, sans purse to grasp, ledge to lean on, or drink to hold, and I will be internally lost while trying to feign some semblance of external composure.
All that to say, when you’re entertaining, a drink in hand should be the first thing to come to mind. Said drink can be of the alcoholic variety, the nonalcoholic variety, or the water variety (please always offer water!!), but the number one rule of entertaining is that they should be accessible.
Ultimately, entertaining is all in the details. And when you’re hosting in a small space, it’s the little things that make even more of a difference.
Ultimately, entertaining is all in the details. And when you’re hosting in a small space, it’s the little things that make even more of a difference. Even if you don’t have endless room to display your drinks, you can still make use of the space you have. Line up beverage options on a shelf in your fridge, keep a pitcher of water filled on your counter, and maybe even create a little cocktail-making station complete with glasses and any ingredients your guests would need.
Don’t let lack of standard seating options keep you from having people over. As long as your guests have a designated place to perch, you’re in business. This could be a couch, this could be stools pulled from your kitchen, this could be a chair from your office, this could even be a pillow on the floor. A hodgepodge of pieces works just as well as a matching set.
Oh the meals my coffee table has seen in its seven years of life. When you don’t have a dining table upon which to place your food, any surface will do. Consider your coffee table a suitable replacement, or your kitchen island (should you have one), or a mix of said coffee table and said kitchen island and several side tables in the nearby vicinity. Nothing needs to be too precious here. You can, as it turns out, always make it work.
While a full meal is absolutely an option (buffet style tends to be the best bet!), grazing is especially welcome when it comes to entertaining in a small space. Pull out a couple of your best serving trays or boards, top them with whatever snacking delicacies you so choose, and display them on the most convenient surface for munching. A generously-sized charcuterie board can count as a meal of its own, yes?
Okay, so this is where my most recent home is different. I am now the proud owner of a tiny bistro dining table, complete with two chairs, all of which sit atop a small balcony. While it won’t be the central seating option of any soirée for more than two, it is a nice additional option to have in the months between late winter (spring) and early winter (fall) here in Minnesota.
Should you have an outdoor space to your name, I encourage you to utilize it to the fullest! Get yourself a table and some chairs, or even spread out a blanket or two in the nearest patch of grass and call it a picnic. Fresh air and dining were a match made in heaven.
When the obvious markers of a hosted meal aren’t present (say, a dining table—perhaps one complete with place cards and multiple glasses for various drinks), guests will look to you for instruction even more. Such instructions don’t have to be formal! You could even consider them gentle nudges, if that’s more your style.
As space allows, put all the accouterments of a gathering out in the open, so no one has to guess as to the location of the glasses or the plates or the napkins. Encourage guests to help themselves to drinks in the fridge and let them know when it’s time to eat. Pull out your card game of choice if there’s a post-eating lull in the conversation and offer up your cocktail-making services if it seems like anyone’s been lingering with an empty glass for too long.
If you disregard everything else, remember this: Don’t let your lack of space (or a dining table!) deter you from entertaining in the first place.
If you disregard everything else, remember this: Don’t let your lack of space (or a dining table!) deter you from entertaining in the first place. Do a bit of planning ahead, enjoy the process, and create some memories in that lovely home of yours.
Jackie is the Editorial Director at Wit & Delight. In her spare time, you can find her running along the river road, loitering in the vicinity of the nearest puppy at a local brewery, or recharging her soul in her tiny sanctuary of an apartment. You can follow her on Instagram @jackiesaffert.
BY Jackie Saffert - June 10, 2022
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.