Holiday Bliss

Decorator Phoebe Howard shares her top 10 tips for gracious holiday style.

Decorator Phoebe Howard is no stranger to elegant entertaining. Using her Peachtree Hills home décor shop as her laboratory, she shares with us her tried-and-true secrets for any successful soirée.

1. Music is key. It sets the tone when you open the door and carries you through the evening. Start out with something lively and fun. Then for dinner, play something soothing but still upbeat—and lower the volume. After dinner, increase the tempo for a fun sendoff. Thoughtfully plan your music in advance; I typically do not play Christmas music at Christmas parties, and I think my guests enjoy the unexpected break from tradition.

2. Parties are not the time to experiment with new recipes. Always go with what is tried and true for your food selections; it takes away a lot of pressure and will give you confidence that the evening will go well. Your guests will most likely never know how many times you have cooked that recipe before.

3. Make time for yourself. Allow enough time to primp and polish yourself. I usually shower and fix my hair earlier in the day but wait until just before the party to put on makeup and get dressed. Be refreshed and relaxed when your guests arrive, not stressed out and harried.

4. Do an assessment of your house the day before the party. Set out flowers, greenery, candles and all other supplies not relating to food well in advance. Is your bar stocked? Are the front door and porch clean and sparkling (door hardware included)? Is the front door properly lit? Do you have adequate space for coats and umbrellas? Does your fireplace need cleaning? If it is a cold night, and you plan to light the fire, make sure those supplies are on hand. Do you have fresh guest towels and fresh soap in the powder room? Doing all of this ahead of time will remove stress and help to make your party seamless.

5. Set the table a day or two in advance. Check all linens for spots or wear and make sure they are properly ironed. Polish all glasses and silver. Arrange seating and write place cards. Make sure candles are fresh and set out a lighter. Select vases, carafes, salt and pepper shakers, and water pitchers. There is no reason to wait until the day of the party to prepare the table. Again, make it easy on yourself by being organized.

6. Consider your menu selection well in advance. Is anyone on your guest list a vegetarian or have food allergies? Or on a restrictive diet? Asking ahead will prevent you from serving something your guests cannot eat. They will appreciate that you cared enough to do your homework.

7. I am a big fan of seated dinner parties and place cards. I do think buffet serving has its advantages, but to me, there is nothing better than pulling up a chair to a beautifully set table for what you know will be a wonderful meal—and a memorable evening.

8. Candles are like magic. Nothing makes your house feel more festive and special than candles. I use votives in the kitchen and powder room, hurricanes on the mantel and coffee table, and tall, elegant tapers on the dining table. Keep overhead lights to a minimum, and use soft lamp and chandelier lighting to their full advantage. Pay close attention to the candles throughout the evening and don’t forget to blow them out!

9. Prepare a little gift for your guests. This can be something as simple as a CD of the evening’s music or a small tree ornament, chocolate candy wrapped in a special box or a small bag with cookies or nuts. These small details say that you care and will be remembered.

10. Choose the appropriate start and end time. Make sure the evening progresses at a comfortable pace. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped at a late-night party because the hostess is either unorganized or unaware. Make a schedule and try to adhere to it: One hour for cocktails, one hour for dinner, 30 minutes for dessert. Of course, some parties take on a life of their own and when that happens, go with it!

Phoebe Howard’s Buckhead shop, Mrs. Howard, is decked out for the holidays. Dried boxwood orbs in crystal bowls grace the tabletop, along with a centerpiece created with fresh cedar and white hydrangeas. Gracing the mantel, simple greenery and pinecones are elegant in their simplicity.