Get Your Kitchen Holiday Party-ready

Whether you have an open concept kitchen or one hidden behind closed doors, this space may be the most needing of a little extra TLC when throwing a party. The most important prep step? Plan ahead: “You don’t want to be exhausted the day of the party, and will want to enjoy it,” says professional party thrower Julia Lake. Follow these steps to not only avoid being a slave to your kitchen during your holiday party, but to help it be a useful and enjoyable entertaining space.

Clean Up

“Always make sure you kitchen is totally clean before the party starts,” says Lake. “There's nothing worse than a messy kitchen mid-party, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of prep time for the food.” Although you will need to re-clean immediately after the party, make sure all countertops, floors and even the inside of the refrigerator are spotless, so food can be prepared and displayed safely. Clean out your refrigerator in advance, and toss anything expired. Keep a stash of surface wipes handy for quick cleanup during food prep, display and serving.

Food Preparation and Display

“Try to pick recipes that can be prepared the day before, so you're not rushed all day getting everything ready,” says Lake. Or, prepare items in advance that can be frozen until party day, when you can easily pop them in the oven the day of your party.

If you have the space, the kitchen can also be used to display and serve food. The easiest option is to serve food buffet style on the kitchen table. Desserts and hors d’oeuvres can be displayed on tiered serving platters, or even open shelving. “Get creative with where you stick goodies,” says Lake. “It’s always fun for guests to find surprises in different corners of the room. Put a bowl of candies by the windowsill, or nuts tucked in the counter corner beside family photos.”

Decorate

Carry your holiday decorations through to the kitchen. In addition to choosing display dishes in festive holiday colors, place bags of caramel popcorn in baskets around the kitchen to serve as decoration and party favors for guests, says Lake. Above all, personalization is key. For inspiration, check out holiday Pinterest boards to find ideas that match your taste.

Serve

When deciding on the menu, keep it simple. Instead of complicated entrees, try easy appetizers like dips, pizzettes and toothpick-friendly options like meatballs for easy serving. “Use all white plates and platters for a chic, minimalist look,” says Seri Kertzner, founder of Little Miss Party Planner. Place all serving dishes, platters and plates in a designated spot in advance, so you aren’t looking for everything the day of the party.

The drink menu should also be kept simple. Designate a small bar area in the kitchen, so spills can be cleaned easily. Choose one themed drink, such as a red punch or pear sparkler, instead of stocking a full bar. Add in prosecco (champagne’s more inexpensive cousin), wine or beer, and prepare for a memorable night. 

Get Your Bathroom Holiday Party-ready

Prepping your bathroom for a holiday party may be the last thing on your busy mind, but this private space is more important than you think. After all, there will probably be a continuous flow of people in and out of this quiet room, so why not impress them with a little bathroom flare? Carve out time during your planning for prepping this room.

Organizing

The first step in bathroom party prep is to make sure the space is organized. Is your vanity covered with everyday items like makeup, hair dryers, toothpaste and face wash? Find empty drawers or closets to store these products. The room will be easier to clean, look less cluttered, and you’ll have more space for decorative items.

Sanitizing

Now that you’ve organized, grab your cleaning supplies. “The one spot in your home that should be shiny and spotless are the restrooms,” says Seri Kertzner, founder of Little Miss Party Planner. People are typically distracted at parties, but in the private bathroom, they’ll likely notice a clean versus dirty space. Focus on the vanity and toilet (a shower curtain can hide soap scum), and be sure to vacuum or wash any bathmats. Always be sure to keep a visible air freshener spray available for guests, or look for a plug-in freshener.

Personalizing

Don’t overlook the bathroom when it comes to party decorations. “Lay out nice hand towels for your guests,” says professional party thrower Julia Lake. “I have an embroidered linen set that only comes out for parties.” Look for inexpensive seasonal linens with snowflake patterns, or in holiday colors like red, silver or gold. 

Just as you would in any other room, help guests feel comfortable in this space. “Light a candle and place a small bud vase in the bathroom to make for a pleasant experience,” says Kertnzer. Small flowers and candles not only create a pretty and intimate feel, but can help mask smells. For added décor, swap out a normal hanging picture for a seasonal shot of a winter wonderland.

Finally, use the clear space on your vanity to provide your guests with an emergency hospitality basket. Fill with items like dental floss, hairspray, stockings, lotion and breath mints.

Living Room Holiday Makeover

Throwing a party doesn’t need to be a stressful planning process, as long as you’re prepared. By prioritizing rooms, you can focus your attention in spaces where it’s needed. What should be at the top of the list? The living room -- large open spaces, like a living room, are often where much of the festive action happens. Get ready, get set and get organized with this living room party preparation checklist.

Party Prep Step No. 1: Cleaning and Organization

Living room spaces often double as playrooms and TV rooms -- basically a space where anything goes. “Spend a few hours de-cluttering or ‘primping’ your room so every corner looks its best,” says professional party thrower Julia Lake.  “Clear off surfaces and dust your shelves so you have space for bites, drinks and decorations.” Aside from getting your room organized, get yourself organized. Seri Kertzner, aka Little Miss Party Planner, suggests following a checklist so you’re not stressing to get things done. Plan a timeline needed for this room, such as décor, accessories and other DIY projects.

Party Prep Step No. 2: Choosing a Theme

“A theme is a great way to set a cohesive tone or to cast a color palate,” says Lake. Since the living room is often the largest space, it’s where your themed décor can really shine. This year, think about seasonal décor rather than holiday-specific décor.

  • Spray-paint a few pinecones or holly berries in gold and place around the coffee table to spruce things up, says Kertzner.
  • Place monochromatic flowers, such as dark purple dahlias or maroon garden roses, in a clear glass container on end tables or above the fireplace, says Kertzner.
  • Instead of the traditional red and green color scheme, use neutrals with copper accents, tree bark or pheasant feathers, says Lake. “It’s non-traditional but has undertones of subtle elegance with a bit of flash.”

Party Prep Step No. 3: Setting a Mood

Lighting is the easiest way to set a mood at a party. Instead of harsh overhead lighting, work with table lamps and floor lamps at different heights to create a more intimate feel. “Candles always bring great warmth to a holiday party,” says Kertzner. Look for candles in festive colors and seasonal scents, but be sure to place in safe, out-of-reach locations.

Party Prep Step No. 4: Arranging Furniture

Be sure to provide enough seating options for guests. Not all guests will be sitting at once, but be on the safe side and bring in extra folding chairs in addition to your couches and chairs, and decorate them to match the décor. Arrange seating so guests can have comfortable conversations. Lastly, swap out your everyday pillows for inexpensive seasonal throw pillows. And keep them until the weather starts to warm!

Make Your Own Dog Bed

The only thing cuter than a sleeping puppy is a one snoozing on a bed you made for nothing. With just a few materials you already have around the house and some amateur sewing skills, you can ensure your pooch always has a comfortable, cozy bed.

1. Make a cover.

We want to make the bed as simple and with as little sewing as possible. Pillowcases are the best covers: They come in different sizes perfect for various breeds, and you only need to sew up one end. “Tightly woven fabrics like cotton are best for since it’s harder for dogs to chew it up; they can’t get their teeth in between the fabric,” says Diana Porper, a volunteer at Cape Ann Animal Aid in Gloucester, Mass. “Dogs, especially puppies, like to suck and tear up fabric.”

Cotton pillowcases are ideal, but you can also use cut-up sheets to stitch a cover together. Porper says that bedspreads, duvet covers or thin quilted blankets work well. Towels are the softest, toughest and most luxurious options for the dog bed cover, so keep that in mind before you toss out your old bath towels. “The higher the thread count, the better,” she says. “Because if it has a high thread count, dogs’ teeth can’t fit between the spaces of the fabric because it’s so tightly woven.”

2. Stuff it.

You can fill the cover with just about anything, as long as it’s not tufted polyester or down. To create the most versatile dog bed, cut out pieces of blankets, towels or cotton comforters the size of the cover. (Remember to wash these scraps or spray them with a fabric freshener.) Layer these pieces up to 2 inches thick and place them inside. Create enough of a cushion that the dog is comfortable.

“Dogs don’t care, I can tell you that,” says Porper. “They just want something between them and the floor that feels good and smells like home to them.” If your dog is arthritic or older, you may want to use more padding. A thinner bed also allows you to use it as a covering for your dog’s favorite couch cushion, the back seat of the car and to bring with you on trips. It’s flat, easy to pack, and easy to wash. “Just toss it in with your clothes,” says Porper.

3. Sew it up.

After you’ve layered your stuffing, insert the pile into the open end of the pillowcase or cover you’ve made, pin the fabric down and get your sewing machine ready. Stitch the length of the case every 3 inches or so, creating long column-like pockets. This will hold the stuffing into place and create little tufts on the surface. By securing the stuffing, you’ve made the bed more durable, but most importantly, it will come out of the washer (and dryer) in perfect condition -- no bunching or shifting. As such, you can wash your dog’s bed dozens of times and it will come out in the same condition it went in. To freshen up the dog bed between washes, spritz a pet odor eliminator fabric refresher.

If you’ve got more advanced skills (and extra time), you can stitch across the cover, making square quilts. The more pockets will further secure the stuffing inside. If you really want to make your dog more secure, try stuffing it with old T-shirts or the fabric from one of its dog toys that’s ready for the trash bin. Regardless, you now have the knowledge to save a ton of money and make a dog bed (or five) that’s washing-machine-safe, durable, and most importantly, comfortable for your best four-legged furry friend.