How to host in a small space: expert tips for a successful gathering

how to host in a small space
How to host in a small spaceh&m

Hosting a dinner or party comes with fairly high stakes, but should you have the space to accommodate large groups, ample countertops, masses of storage and a spare dishwasher or two, the task is made somewhat easier. Hosting in a small kitchen, with barely enough space for a tray of canapes is infinitely more challenging.

'Celebrations can feel daunting in a small space,' says Jen Nash, head of design at Magnet, 'But from rearranging your layout and removing excess clutter, to opting for clever dining strategies and storage, there are lots of little tricks you can use to maximise the space you have, transforming it into a practical and versatile hosting space that your guests feel comfortable and at ease in.'

Here are some top tips for hosting in a compact space...

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1. Prepare food in advance

'Allowing yourself plenty of time to prepare is essential when storage and counter space is limited and you have fewer kitchen appliances,' says Jen. 'Prepare any dishes which can be made in advance of the day. Sauces and baked goods can be made the furthest in advance, with sweet dishes like pies and cakes having a shelf life of 3-4 days. Some sides such as mashed potatoes and stuffing can also be made two days ahead.'

Stackable containers to hold your goods is invaluable in this instance.

2. Remove any clutter

It's easy for small living areas to get cluttered and overcrowded, especially with the addition of guests, but before they arrive, take the time to remove any items that won't be used on the day.

If you can steal yourself to upend your home for an evening, then pile anything that won't be used into a bedroom and out of sight – down to the vases that take up space on side tables and any laptops or monitors at your desk.

'In the kitchen, remove any appliances, such as air fryers and coffee machines that are perhaps not needed on the day. This will maximise counter space for your dinner prep and make you feel a lot more organised,' adds Jen.

3. Try diagonal dining

Group dining is so tricky in small spaces, and you'll likely have to rearrange your largest room to accommodate everyone. But there's a clever layout strategy to help you maximise space and ensure all guests can dine comfortably.

'Rearranging furniture and placing it at the perimeter of the room will open up a central space where the dining table and chairs can go,' explains Jen. 'You may want to consider diagonal dining – positioning your table at an angle to run diagonally across the room. This clever trick maximises floor space and allows for more seating.'

4. Or, consider informal dining

This is really our favourite piece of advice for small spaces – forgo the expectations of a formal dinner, and instead relax your space and evening with a buffet.

Jen explains: 'If space is really tight and perhaps you don’t have a table, don’t feel the pressure to have a formal dining setup. An informal dining experience can be just as special and in a small space, it can feel more cosy and intimate. Set up food in a buffet style, using the kitchen countertops as a serving surface and then dot chairs around the space where guests can sit.

'Not many people in small living spaces have chairs in the dozens, so get creative with your seating too. From piano benches to dressing chairs, make use of what you have and tie the dining experience together by layering them with cosy blankets and cushions.’

5. Manage foot traffic

There always tends to be a spot that people crowd and gather in when it comes to celebrations, but to avoid this, scatter a few serving areas throughout the home to keep foot traffic moving and make your small space seem less crowded.

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'Not putting everything in one spot is key. For example, put your bar or drinks station on a small table in one corner of the room, your meal on the main table and the dessert in the kitchen. This allows for better flow, and guests won’t all congregate in one spot,' advises Jen.

'Another great tip to minimise guests from congregating around the bar, and to save money, is to serve a "signature drink" unique to you, or pre-made drinks you know your guests love. Put it in pitchers next to a stack of glasses and guests can quickly refill rather than gathering around the bar area and spending lots of time making drinks.'

6. Keep table decor simple

small space hosting

If you prefer a more formal dining style, minimal table decor will be the most effective when space is tight, says Jen. Large centrepieces and foliage displays will overwhelm the table and interfere with the practicalities of eating, so instead experiment with candles at varying heights. They take up little space and will still create an ambient dining experience.

But if you're tied to the idea of a big statement at the dining table, a neat solution here is to try a festive flower cloud or hanging centrepiece. There are plenty of pre-made hanging garlands (we love this Garden Trading one.) Equally, you can use rods that clamp to your table (like this one from Not On The High Street,) and create a frame for wrapping foliage and flowers.

7. Be creative with storage

'In a small home, it’s likely you have a small fridge and freezer not built to accommodate food for large amounts of people. To maximise its storage, you can adjust shelves to make them more efficient,' suggests Jen. 'Shift them around and increase the gaps between them to free up space.'

There are a few clever buys to help you maximise space, take a look at our favourites below.

8. Clean as you go

An obvious, but often disregarded step is to clean as you go throughout your meal prep, especially if you are without a dishwasher. 'After the meal, if your sink is at capacity, keep a large container of hot soapy water on the countertop for soaking dishes and loosening stuck-on leftovers. That way when it comes to cleaning them, it takes much less time,' says Jen.

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