Designer Robert Passal offers tips to keep in mind when preparing your home for holiday entertaining.
By Kevin Phinney
There’s no place like home for the holidays, and as we invite others to celebrate these special moments with us, we want to transform our homes into warm and welcoming showcases. So, when it comes to making the most of every occasion many turn to interior designer Robert Passal.
“Most clients come to me looking for advice on holiday decor, and what we call ‘fluffing,’” Passal’s word for “how the floral arrangements should look, how the home should be laid out and how the rooms flow from one into another.” As he sees it, entertaining ought to be fully immersive, and anything that a visitor can perceive is worth taking into consideration.
First and foremost, he says, hosts need to make sure their guests will interact. “You want to create areas that foster conversation,” he says. “It’s also kind of a guiding principle that you should never have enough chairs for every attendee because that encourages people to circulate.”
Using your imagination can help create a sense of occasion. “A party, whether it’s a holiday party or not, is meant to be a little more extravagant,” he explains. “You can choose to be more avant-garde and adventurous.” What does that look like? “Perhaps the food is more visually interesting and is worked into the decor: For example, we did a party once where the hosts wanted everything in white — white flowers, white ornaments, and they even served only white food.”
When it comes to centerpieces, look to the unexpected. “I have this 18th-century Buddha [pictured, above] I sometimes use as a table setting. It’s something unpredictable, like that which puts your personal stamp on the event and makes a statement about you and the occasion.”
But adding sparkle need not break the budget. “Believe it or not, Ikea makes these terrific 12-by-12-inch mirrored tiles, and you can use them as place settings or table runners,” Passal explains. “We’ve used those with little disco balls to provide a a wonderful little accent that adds a lot of character.”
An exotic theme can help unify the decor. “We did a dinner event several months ago based on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We did some simple things like finding a plethora of palm trees to give the place a kind of plantation feel,” he says. “As opposed to using flowers, we purchased cases of tropical fruits to create a centerpiece, and inside we had seashells and an occasional flower and it created a real mystique. We also lit the space all in blue, to contribute an aura of it actually being midnight.”
This leads the designer to a simple piece of advice that can add immeasurably to the atmosphere of any space: “It’s actually the one piece of advice I give to every homeowner,” he says. “Dimmers, dimmers, dimmers. It’s never sexy to walk into a place where all the lights are turned up to full power. [If dimmers aren’t an option at your location], three-way lamps make a great second choice.”
Another concern for many hosts is creating the right balance of music, but as Passal sees it, services like Pandora have taken much of that worry away. “Just type in ‘Party Mix,’ and you have an instant variety,” says the designer. At the same time, there is plenty of room to demonstrate creativity. “In places like New York, we often have musicians who are in subways and on street corners who are just terrific and will be happy to entertain at a party. I had a client who loved doo-wop; it was something that really spoke to her. And one day I was walking through SoHo and I just happened to hear these four guys harmonizing on the stoop. I asked, ‘Do you ever do parties?’ And they agreed to do it for a small amount of money and an open bar. Ha! They were terrific. They serenaded people as they entered and did songs here and there. It made the hostess’s night.”
Keeping the food simple and easy to prepare will also help assure that you actually get to attend the party you’re throwing, Pascal says. “You want an abundance of food, and worry a lot less about variety,” he says. “Cook some and cater some, too. … Get a few prepared things that allow you more time to socialize,” he says. “Parties are great and everyone loves to go to them, but the people who throw them need to remember their guests want to spend time with them,” Passal reminds. “You can throw a great party, but what’s the point if you miss it?”
Last modified: August 22, 2019