February 26, 2018
“This is rather forward of me,” came the text from my cultured friend Lisa, who sits on the board of our city’s Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’m wondering if you guys would be interested in hosting a ‘Connect with the Phil’ event in your new home …?”
My first thought was she meant to text someone else. Lisa knows DC and I moved into our home just two months ago, and there are many swankier houses around.
“Usually about 50 to 60 people attend,” the text continues. “The next one is a month away.” She sounds serious.
“Oh my,” I text back, woozily. “What all would be involved?”
What am I crazy? I start breathing into a paper bag.
She fills me in. The Philharmonic would cover the costs of all food, drink and catering, and handle invitations and RSVPs. ‘All’ we would need to provide is our home.
“I’ll ask DC tonight,” I text.
“You would be loved and esteemed forever!” she adds, which, I confess, carries some weight.
My mind is on fire with all we’d need to do. While part of me is hitting the panic button, the other more reckless part, which most of you are familiar with, is thinking: Why not? We’re perfect for this. DC is a big patron of the arts, and I love a good party. But I wasn’t so sure DC would share my enthusiasm.
That night at dinner, I pour him a glass of wine and broach the subject: “Honey, you know how when we were looking for a house we said we wanted one that would be good for entertaining?” He nods tentatively, suspecting a catch.
“And remember how when we bought this house, we actually said it would be good for entertaining?”
His look implores me to continue.
“Well, ….” I roll out Lisa’s proposition.
A very long pause follows. So long I can hear an entire train go by in the distance and fade into the next town. I half expect him to ask if I am out of my ever-loving mind, which is valid. Instead, he asks the quintessential question: “What all would we need to do?” As if I needed any more reasons to love this man!
I have a list, of course, which I whip out.
“Just cuffs and collars,” I say. He looks perplexed until I explain how in college my sorority sisters and I would iron only those parts of our blouses before pulling on a sweater. We looked crisp, but underneath, our shirts were as wrinkled as fall leaves. “Only what people will notice.”
We survey my list and prioritize. To him, naturally, most important, is to finish the existing built-in entertainment center to accommodate our television. Me, I want drapes.
Also on the list: Recover the armchairs in the living room, reframe some art, get an entryway rug, paint the kitchen chairs, fluff up the landscape. I grab another paper bag and start breathing.
“We can say no,” I say.
“I’m fine with hosting an event that would support the arts and our community,” DC says. “Plus, we’ll find out if we really do have an entertainment house.”
I text Lisa a thumbs-up sign.
Before the matter is settled, however, someone from the Philharmonic event committee must come by to make sure the venue will work. This someone arrives the next morning with her assistant. “We could host these friend raisers in a public space,” she says, “but having them in a home is so much warmer.”
“We’re delighted to host if our house works for you,” I say, inviting them to look around. Within a minute, they assure us it will.
The party is on.
Because I’m always curious what exactly those real estate ads that bray, “Great house for entertaining” really mean, I tuned in to find out just what event planners look for:
- Location, location, location. Tops on their list, they said, was a home on a street that is easy to find, and central for guests. Many more remote homes are lovely but not well located for gatherings.
- Ample parking. Unless you hire a valet, you want to make sure the surrounding streets can support a good number of cars.
- Access. The catering company will need a place to pull up, set up, and access the kitchen, without navigating through guests. At our house, they can pull up in the driveway behind the house, and access the kitchen through a laundry room, where they can hide their equipment.
- An inviting entry. The planners looked for a place by the front door to set up a table to greet guests. “If we have the door open and a table out front, people know they’re at the right place.”
- Enough space. A big kitchen is a benefit because that’s where guests like to gather. If the kitchen opens onto a spacious family room or great room, even better.
- Flow. More important than space is flow. Rooms that open onto one another, without doors, foster mingling.
- A powder room. A good entertainment house has a powder room designed for guests, one that is not a personal bathroom.
- Outdoor area. Access to an outdoor area, whether a terrace or patio, is a plus. In our case, the planners decided to put the bar on the covered patio to help draw guests out of the house and encourage mixing.
- Traffic control. So the guests don’t get too dispersed, close doors to rooms you don’t want them in. Putting a catering station in front of a room that’s off limits is another good way to keep guests where you want them.
- Multiple seating and dining areas. Great conversations don’t happen in big groups, but in small clusters. Entertainment houses offer a variety of comfortable spaces for guests to eat, drink and talk. Don’t worry about having a seat for everyone. Many guests stand, lean and roam.
CAPTION: Party house – A great entertainment house doesn’t have to be huge, says party guru Susan MacTavish. And you don’t have to have a seat for everyone. Many guests stand, lean, roam or even sit on the floor. Photo courtesy of Gene X Hwang.