Party Planner

How to: Welcome guests in style

How to: Welcome guests in style Author: Style At Home

Party Planner

How to: Welcome guests in style

In the great country manors of Victorian England, inviting guests for extended stays was a normal part of the social calendar. While you may not live on a sprawling estate or employ a large staff, the art of welcoming out-of-town guests is still alive and well. According to author and Martha Stewart Living alumna Amy Nebens' book, A Gracious Welcome (Raincoast Books, 2004), the secret to making guests feel at home lies in a combination of advance planning and thoughtful attention to details.

Welcome2-inline.jpgAs soon as you've extended the invitation -- be it a friendly e-mail or phone call, or an engraved invitation to go with a formal event such as a wedding -- Amy says to start taking stock and making lists. Map out practical matters such as sleeping arrangements: guest room(s), a sofa bed in the den, or sleeping bags on the floor (a popular option with kids, especially en masse). Different kinds of guests have specific needs; older people might prefer a peaceful, low-key atmosphere or a main-floor bedroom that precludes climbing stairs, or have special dietary needs, while parents with kids will have very different preferences than your old college roommate. Plan out meals and menus in advance, perhaps including a barbecue in summer or a night on the town if you're in a big city. Especially for a large group, leaving breakfast and lunch as casual affairs and concentrating on dinner together is relaxing for both host and guest.

If you have a separate guest room (or a spare room that can be turned into one), emulate a fine hotel. The room should contain a bureau with at least a couple of empty drawers, and clear closet space equipped with extra hangers. Naturally, the room should be freshly cleaned and the linens spotless; put out extra pillows and a choice of light or warm blankets, on the bed or in the closet. Outfit the nightstand with a good reading lamp and a selection of books and magazines and an alarm clock. “It's essential if the visit is for a formal occasion like a wedding, but it's also nice for casual visitors too, who might like to have a snooze before supper,” says Amy. Thoughtful extras might include a carafe of fresh water and a glass (refilled each night), bedside phone, radio or TV and TV Guide and a vase of fresh or dried flowers.

Photography by Sang An, excerpted from A Gracious Welcome, (Raincoast Books, 2004)

If you don't have a guest room, anything that gives your guests a sense of their own space is essential. If home is a sofa bed for the next few nights, place a basket or attractive box nearby to house your guest's things. If possible, make up the sofa bed beforehand, so that all that's needed at bedtime is to pull it out and add pillows. A folding screen, bookcase or side table can define a private space for overnight bags, shopping purchases or other belongings.

It's also important to arrange an itinerary of activities and things to do during the visit. You needn't plan every minute, but before the visit, ask what your guests would like to do and have a range of options at the ready. If they're here for a formal event like a wedding, they might see your home as a quiet refuge from the madding crowd; in that case, a good supply of books, CDs and perhaps some board games may be all you need. Out-of-town visitors might enjoy sightseeing, shopping or local attractions such as the beach, skiing or fine dining (make all necessary reservations well in advance, including pre-payment arrangements if appropriate). But if the main attraction is simply spending time with you, build in plenty of downtime for chatting, as well as a night out or an activity you all enjoy.

The key, Amy says, is not to go overboard with fuss and effort – which often makes people more uncomfortable, not less – but to make them feel relaxed and special. With some thought and planning, you can spend more time concentrating on the whole reason you suggested your home, rather than a hotel, in the first place.

“With everyone so busy today, and friends and family spread out all over the country, inviting people to visit lets you connect with each other again,” says Amy. “It's a wonderful way to slow down and take back ownership of your life for a few days. And that's just as true for you as it is for your guests.”

Photography by Sang An, excerpted from A Gracious Welcome, (Raincoast Books, 2004)

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Party Planner

How to: Welcome guests in style