Ditch the dining table for your next dinner party

Interior designer Jane Lockhart shares secrets to throwing an unforgettable holiday soiree

It’s dinner party season, and everything centres around the dining table. But who wants to go to yet another boring sit-down meal? We helped a client mix it up by turning their living room into a beautiful entertaining space where guests could happily circulate and enjoy great food, drinks and company — very dinner party-esque, with no dinner table in sight.

Satisfy all the senses 
Entertaining like this is all in the details: the aroma of fresh-baked goods, the taste of savoury and sweet nibbles, the visual beauty of flickering candlelight and decor, with low key background music fine-tuned for the occasion.

Every surface is an opportunity 
Create a feast for the eyes. This is the time to bring out your best serving pieces. You know that huge platter in the back of the cabinet? We layered fresh greenery on the bottom and holiday decor to add sparkle under generous candlelight. I like to mix votives, tapers and pillars and fill lanterns with large battery-operated candles, clustered in groups on the floor, so every surface has light. Varying the size and shape of decorations adds more visual interest. Large, sculpted reindeer stand guard over cheese plates, and shiny ornaments look festive on multi-tiered serving ware.

Movable feast  
I like to use a variety of surfaces as food and drink “stations.” For more visual interest, use different surfaces at different heights, with plenty of room to walk around. Everywhere the eye lands on surfaces around the room, a treat is waiting. Serving bite-sized, hot hors d’oeuvres on trays keeps guests out of the work station (kitchen) and gets you circulating too. You can mix and mingle and check the food stations to see if anything is running low.

Tricks and treats  
Delicious, pop-in-your-mouth cookies and sweets require a central location, like an ottoman where guests can move around and see the whole selection. Add glass or crystal jars filled with gold balls or battery-operated strings of lights. It’s a simple trick to set these out on a mirrored tray (or a flat mirror) to reflect the light and add sparkle. A sideboard is the ideal place to set out different food options. Having manageable portions available means less waste and invites return visits. Have a stack of small recyclable plates, flatware and napkins available at every station. A one-stop cleanup station can be set up outside the kitchen for convenience.

A side of coffee and tea 
Side tables are great for adding decor and candles, but we like to use larger ones as the coffee and tea station. Dig out the fine china and use the coffee and tea pots with matching cups and saucers, so guests can help themselves.

What’s better than a bar cart?
Two bar carts! Let them do the heavy lifting! One for desserts, one for the drinks. Keep the bar menu simple so guests can help themselves. We used the adjacent entry hall, closer to the kitchen, for replenishing drinks.

Add the holiday hygge 
Finally, add a cosy layer: lovely stockings hung by the chimney, scrumptious throws and squeezable pillows. Then, light the fireplace and add guests. Trust me, no one is going to miss sitting at the table.