Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to Throw a Dinner Party and Keep Your Sanity

Oh, the fun of arriving at a house and feeling the spark that tells you that you are going to have a good time.
-Mark Hampton

Let's talk about dinner parties. The Food Network makes it look so easy! Paula Deen, Rachel Ray and Michael Chiarello effortlessly pull together a several course meal that is beautifully plated and ready to go before guests even arrive! This, my friends, is not possible in the real world. I do love my Food Network shows, but they are not reality TV. When it comes to entertaining, the dinner party is the hardest event to pull off. Almost once a month I throw a dinner party, either family dinners, dinners for friends, or dinners with work colleagues. Every single time, about one hour before people arrive, I ask myself, "What was I thinking?!!" Then, as the minutes tick away, I realize yet again, that I am not and never will be Martha Stewart. There will not be lemon slices in the water, nor individual place cards at each setting and perfectly pressed linen napkins. In fact, on at least two occasions there was not even time to take a shower, but guests didn't seem to notice. I find that candle light and lots of good wine hide a multitude of sins. And yes, the enormous effort involved in throwing a dinner party, is worth it. Just make sure to give yourself a few days to recover after it is all over.

Let's look at the basics of a good dinner party:

The Purpose of a Dinner Party
. Dinner parties are all about great conversation and good food. Celebrating a special occasion or accomplishment only adds to the fun.

The Guest List
. Guests are the ‘Rock Stars’ at a dinner party. To create a memorable event, bring the right players to the table.

· How many to invite? Decide how many people can sit comfortably at your dinner table. I can seat eight with plenty of leg room, or a very cozy ten.

· Who to invite? The success of any dinner party hinges on the invitation list. The food can be spectacular, but if guests feel like they can’t, or won’t talk to each other, the party might as well be a wake. The key is to invite a mix of people who will naturally talk and laugh when brought together. How do you do this? Make sure connections between your guests already exist or will easily arise. Guests who don’t expect to see each other again, will not make an effort to mingle.

Food and Drink
. A dinner party menu should not be complicated. Good simple food made with quality ingredients is always the best choice. Choose an entrée that always tastes delicious, and build the meal around it. If you don’t cook, find something you love from at a caterer. I like to build my dinner party menu around a marinated rosemary beef tenderloin. Let’s look at a sample menu.



Assorted cheeses, a crusty baguette and smoked salmon

Cocktails – Gin & Tonics, Martinis, Scotch & Water, Wine

First Course

Baby salad greens, red, orange and yellow peppers with balsamic vinagarette

White Wine – Chardonnay


Marinated rosemary beef tenderloin, twice-baked potatoes and grilled asparagus

Red Wine – Cabernet Sauvignon


Grapes, strawberries, lemon bars and fudgy brownies

Espresso coffee and After Dinner Drinks – Port, Sambucca, Limoncello, Cognac

. Conversation and food are the entertainment/activities at a dinner party. To keep conversation lively, I like to bring up a few topics of interest for all guests. Its good to have a mix of subjects, some humorous and some involving current issues. It’s also nice to focus the conversation with a toast during the entrée. This can be a toast to the guests or a celebratory toast recognizing the accomplishment of one individual.

Staging and Flow.
When throwing a dinner party, plan on using three rooms: the living room, dining room and the kitchen. The beauty of a dinner party in a Jewel Box Home is that all these rooms are close together, so guests never feel neglected and you are able to be part of the action.

Good luck with your next dinner party and let me know how it goes!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Scenes From My Sister's Jewel Box Home

Happy Holidays! I've just returned from Thanksgiving with my sister - Kelley's - family and wanted to share the wonderful Jewel Box elements she has in her home.

A Cozy Window Seat. My sister chose to build a window seat in a tight and awkward corner of her family room. This space is not only beautiful, but functional. It provides storage and a comfortable place for her children (she has three) to relax. Notice her use of photo frames as black accents, and the sunny yellow wall that beautifully complements the green pillows and seat cushion.
A Mirror on the Fireplace Mantel. A fireplace is an ideal spot for a mirror. It reflects light and adds life to the room by showcasing family life. Make the the mirror the focal point and add accents for interest. Kelley has done an expert job of adding detail with accessories without creating clutter.

Wall Art. Accessories and wall art are the finishing touches for any beautifully decorated space. The right accessories can bring a room to life, the wrong accessories will destroy an otherwise beautiful space. In her home, Kelley has followed a simple design trick and placed her wall accessories in groups of threes. Objects grouped in odd numbers, are more pleasing to the eye. Kelley has also chosen wall accessories that reflect her personality. The stars highlight her preference for an American Cottage feel and the photos in the basement hall showcase her dogs and cat. It all comes together beautifully because Kelley has shown restraint and refused to clutter the walls with oddly matched frames or wildly random photos.

A big thank you to Kelley for her hospitality over Thanksgiving and the chance to show off her lovely home. And it looks this good even though she has a husband, three children - aged 9 through 17 - two dogs, a cat and fish!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Make Your Home Look Fabulous For the Holidays


In just 1/2 hour I'll be in the car, with my two teenage sons, husband and dog, driving to Iowa for Thanksgiving. Its at least a six hour ride. As you can imagine, this is not one of my favorite things to do. An extended drive with two teenagers takes nerves of steel, especially when the car is not equipped with video and TV hook-ups, which ours is not. As a dear friend reminded me, even the best teenagers are horrible people, particularly when forced into making a long boring drive. But I am excited to see my sister and her family who live in Iowa, in my childhood home. I plan to take some pictures and have them up on the blog or website next month.

For those of you who want a Jewel Box look for the holidays, here are some tips - both big and small - to add warmth, beauty and functionality.

Creating the Jewel Box Look

  1. Put rooms on a diet. Too much furniture is a common problem in small homes. Get rid of pieces that aren’t needed to satisfy the main purpose of a room. This opens up natural walkways and creates space so that a room can harmoniously function as intended.
  2. Downsize furniture. Oversized pieces might look good on a showroom floor, but they will overpower a small area. Proportion is the key. Smaller pieces for smaller rooms. They also are less expensive. For seating, use a love seat instead of a sofa, and for an entertainment cabinet, use a buffet instead of an armoire.
  3. Keep color in its place. Color is the background for a room, not the focal point. In a small home it is best to use a neutral color throughout the house or a variety of shades from the same color family. This way your eye flows naturally from room to room making the space feel harmonious.
  4. Add a little black. A little black is an important element in any room. It creates a focal point and makes other elements in the room pop. A black lampshade or black leather chair seat can add the perfect touch.
  5. Flower power. Flowers are an important, often overlooked accessory. These are living works of art that automatically add color and beauty to any room. Find at least one place in your home for fresh flowers and plan to change these often.
  6. Mirror, mirror on the wall. A well placed mirror adds depth to a room and reflects light; making the space brighter and appear larger. Just make sure the mirror reflects something other than a blank wall. Try a large rectangular mirror over the dining room buffet, or a floor mirror in the living room beside a favorite chair.
  7. Show a little leg. Let the legs show on all your upholstered pieces. This creates a feeling of space and light by allowing your eye to travel across the room and see ‘through’ furniture.
  8. Accessorize with care. Use a light touch when adding accessories. Be selective, put out only your favorite things. Cluttering the room with accessories will destroy otherwise graceful proportions. No more than one to three decorative objects on any table surface. One pillow for each chair and two for the sofa is enough.
  9. Don’t overdress windows. Keep window treatments simple and clean so that natural light can fill the space. Use sheer fabrics rather than heavy draperies. To visually enlarge a room, hang curtain rods above the window frame. For an elegant clean look, choose a beautiful curtain rod and drape fabric only over the rod.
  10. Let there be light. Good lighting is critical in a small home. The key elements are soft diffuse lighting to create warmth and focused task lighting for functionality. Use dimmer switches for overhead lighting to prevent harshness and glare. Try a pair of tall candlestick lamps on the dining room buffet and create a focal point in the living room with a beautiful lamp on an end table. Create different looks by changing lamp shades.
Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Jewel Box Home Gets Some Press

On November 8th, the Pioneer Press, a local Chicagoland newspaper featured the Jewel Box Home in its Home & Design section. It has been a pleasure to hear from so many of you who also appreciate and enjoy small home living. The link to the complete article can be found at,on-jewelbox-110807-s1.article