How to Create a Warm and Inviting Home for Your Holiday Gatherings
Life’s most precious moments are spent in the company of people you cherish. Most will readily agree that life is richer and more fulfilling when it is shared; a number of studies show that deep, meaningful connections with others make us happier people. In your own home, you can thoughtfully design spaces to encourage opportunities to gather and facilitate moments of connection with family, friends, and neighbors. This Thanksgiving, here are some tips for how to create a welcoming environment for your those you love:
Your guests’ impression of your home begins as they approach the front door. When my husband, Koen, and I are expecting company, we like to light a special outdoor candle (one that won’t blow out in the wind) that glows deeply and brightly, a simple gesture to demonstrate that we are anticipating our guests’ arrival with pleasure. A wreath on the door and a brightly lit entryway similarly convey a cheerful greeting.
MOMENTS OF GREETING
Throughout my life, whenever I visited my grandmother’s home, she always offered me a cup of tea immediately upon my arrival. I thought this behavior was unique to my grandmother, but when I lived in Europe, I recognized that this was a cultural gesture of hospitality. To accept the drink was to allow the host to welcome me into his or her space; it marked the beginning of our time together. This Thanksgiving, consider offering a welcome drink to guests in your home, a small but meaningful gesture to convey how happy you are to be in their company. If you are entertaining on a cold day, a big pot of mulled cider on the stovetop lures people with its enticing aroma.
There are areas in the home that may facilitate casual conversations, an easy-going, everyday togetherness. A bar top can be a great place for pleasant chats with family members or guests. Instead of shooing people from the kitchen as you prepare a meal, an open countertop or island is a natural gathering place where everyone feels comfortable and at home. You might even put those who stray into the kitchen to work chopping vegetables or pouring wine!
A THOUGHTFUL TABLE SETTING
While Koen loves to cook, my favorite part of preparing for a meal is setting the table. I relish creating an atmosphere suitable for the type of food that will be served, who will be sitting around the table, and the occasion or season. We have a tucked-away kitchen cabinet filled with tablecloths, cloth napkins, candleholders, and other special pieces like antique silver
spoons, cheese knives, and so on. Our collection continues to grow as we fall in love with special pieces on our travels, items almost always found while perusing flea market stands or shopping in small, local boutiques.
Seating around the dining table should be comfortable enough to allow for long conversations and lingering at the table. Chairs needn’t be upholstered to be comfortable, in fact, bench seating naturally creates a feeling of togetherness and is an easy way to make a table feel cozier. Whether a table has chairs or benches, we often like to drape sheepskins on our seating. The padding and softness increase the cozy factor even more and adds a feeling of casual luxury.
Dining tables are made to be used, and as such, they are not meant to be pristine. Scratches and nicks appear over time and add character to the furniture. Likewise, table linens eventually show wear, but I argue that this simply adds to the charm. Think of colorful, quality French table linens that fade with washing and drying in the sunshine. What could be lovelier?
Likewise, Belgian linen tablecloths and linen napkins needn’t be perfectly pressed. In fact, the nature of linen is such that gentle wrinkles are part of the very look of the fabric. Linen washes easily only get better with use. Embrace these “imperfections” and let them be subtle reminders of the good times you enjoy around your table.
While I adore the look of vintage china and the stories that come along with them, I find that I prefer to use sturdy, durable dishes. I know that these pieces can handle almost anything with grace, from rowdy dinners with my nieces and nephews to backyard barbecues to a holiday meal. The same is true for glassware; in fact, jelly jar glasses have an inherent charm and are nearly indestructible. Functional yet beautiful tableware will withstand the test of time and allow you to relax and let life happen around your table, with worries about broken dishes far from your mind.
As with every space in the home, the proper lighting is a crucial element of a comfortable dining atmosphere. Overhead lighting fixtures come in an array of styles, giving you endless décor options from rustic to industrial, classic to modern, and everything in-between. It’s lovely to have overhead lighting on a dimmer to create a more intimate feeling in the space. For us, the best dining table lighting is candlelight. In our home, a meal doesn’t go by without a candle lit. Our table invariably features some combination of taper candles, pillar candles, or even tealights in tiny holders. Lighting a candle marks a moment—it means that you will be there, in that particular space, for a length of time. This acknowledgment prompts you to slow down and enjoy that time. We find that the act of lighting a candle helps us to release any preoccupations and let go of distractions and focus on enjoying a meal together.
Home is where our deepest connections are fostered and where our most precious moments occur. With a thoughtful approach to home design and décor, we can actively, intentionally create a home environment that encourages gathering for moments of togetherness and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and true with one another, a sure way to cultivate rich connections with the people you hold dearest.
This is a book excerpt from Dwell, Gather, Be: Design for Moments.
This excerpt was featured in the November 24th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.