Friday, December 13, 2013

My recipe for a successful party

It's the holiday season and some of us are hosting parties. So what makes a successful party so awsome? the food? the drinks? your fabulous new outfit? not so much. It's the people, you and your guests, and how welcome and comfortable they feel in your home.

Imagine this:
Your guests feel at home the moment they arrive.
Everyone to has a great time and stays until the end.
Afterward, they can't stop talking about it.
Wouldn't that be great?

So what can you do to make your space feel warm and welcoming?  there's a LOT of things you can do, and two of the most important are these: 
1. Conversational seating arrangements.
2. The right kind of lighting.

Conversational seating arrangements 
What's most popular living room seating configurations? the L shape sofa and a love seat (at right angles to each other). This may work well for watching TV, but not for conversation. For people to converse comfortably, they need to be seating close and face each other. In the L shaped arrangement, it's only the ones seating at the end of the sofa/love seat that can talk to each other relatively comfortably. Why relatively? because they need to twist and turn to face each other. All the others will find it uncomfortable to converse across the room.
so what's the best conversational seating arrangements?

A sofa + two chairs (and a coffee table in between) 
Why does that work?
  1. Everyone is close enough and facing each other so it's easy to converse. The "chair people" are directly facing the "sofa people" and close enough to each other.
  2. Flexibility - chairs can be moved so it allows your guests to move them around as needed.
  3. Casual, comfortable feel - if the chairs are at a diagonal, the room feels more casual then if they are placed at straight angles. It's easy to switch between a formal to informal look, simply by moving the chairs.
  4. Visually balanced look - from a design point of view, it's a balanced, symmetrical look that can be easily switched over to a more formal look by placing the chairs at right angles to the sofa or next to each other (facing the sofa).
  5. It's best to have a combination of sofa's and chairs so everyone finds their own comfortable spot, whether it's seating close to their spouse on the couch or keeping their personal space with an individual chair.

Where  would that seating arrangement work best? everywhere, but especially in small to medium living rooms. 

Two sofas facing each other with a coffee table in between.
Why it works? People are close enough and facing each other, like around a rectangular dining table.
Where would it work?
In a large open space living area with a focal point facing the coffee table (like a fireplace). This is why it's not a very popular plan around where I live, where most houses are traditionally built, with smaller spaces confined by walls. In these houses, "floating" two sofas in the center of a room would most likely stop the flow. Contemporary, high ceiling, open spaced rooms often feel too expansive and open, so floating furniture would "cozy up" the room without breaking the traffic flow.

U shaped seating (for large living rooms)
This one has many variations: sofa plus love seat and two chairs facing the love seat, a sofa and four chairs (two on either side), sectional plus two chairs etc. Again, this works because everyone is in close proximity and facing each other, much like around a square dining table.
If you ever noticed the lighting in upscale restaurants? it's warm, somewhat dim, no shadows or dark spots, the kind of lighting that makes you feel better about your looks. That's what you'd like your living room to feel like. Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars to achieve the kind of lighting that will make your guests want to move into your living room forever. Basically, good conversational lighting means: creating a warm, slightly dim lighting all around. No shadows and dark spots.
Here are some guidelines to help you achieve that:

  1. Flattering light - which kind of lighting is more flattering?candle light or strong bright light? the answer is obvious, and everyone feels more confident when they look good, especially the ladies. Your guests would naturally gravitate to where the lighting is warm and dim, and away from the bright, cool light.
  2. Table and floor lamps cast a warmer light then recessed lights do. "Down lights" like recessed lights can create unflattering shadows on people's faces.Dim your recessed and ceiling lights and turn all the floor lamps and table lamps on. 
  3. Pay attention to the color temperature of your light bulbs - if you're using fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, choose the "soft white" and not the "daylight" (the daylight have a cooler light spectrum).
  4. Multiple light sources - better to place multiple lamps around the room on medium wattage then just one or two strong ones. They allow to control the mood. No one feels comfortable talking under a strong light source.
So to cap it all up, just remember this:
People feel comfortable talking when:
1. They are close enough and facing each other, but still maintain their own personal space.
2. When they have choices (between cozying up on a sofa or keeping their personal space on a chair).
3. Flexibility - being able to move around chairs, ottomans will allow people to move around and not get "stuck" in one single conversation.
4. Don't skip the coffee table - it's not only there for glasses and plates, but it anchors the whole seating arrangement. You should have about 18" clear space between the chair/sofa and the coffee table for comfortable reach and walk through.
5. Lighting

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