How to Entertain Big in Small(er) Spaces

“Simple Matters” author Erin Boyle shares her tips for making guests feel welcome in closer quarters.

Living in an efficient space—as in, a small and affordable apartment—is a fact of life for many city-dwellers. That’s the tradeoff for being able to walk to a bodega for snacks at any hour of the night, after all.

But cultivating a simple lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t entertain. In fact, small spaces can actually create tons of room for intimate conversation and merry memory-making. Since the dawn of time, people have gotten together to enjoy each other’s company, have a laugh, and eat some snacks—it’s that simple.

Erin Boyle, the author of “Simple Matters” and the minimalist lifestyle blog Reading My Tea Leaves, once lived in a 173-square-foot apartment, so she knows a thing or two about living lightly. She now shares a small New York City abode with her husband and two young children.

“I tend to keep gatherings in our home pretty low-key,” Boyle told ESTATENVY. “If there are more than two other adults, you start to feel it. But really, hosting in our home is not that much different than in a larger space. It’s about creating the opportunity for people to gather more than where you’re doing it.”

Boyle said that cultivating an inviting atmosphere starts well ahead of the first doorbell buzz. “There are actually some useful constraints with entertaining in a small space,” said Boyle. “I know I can’t escape to another room to go prepare something. I can’t have the kitchen covered in dirty dishes, because that’s where we’re also serving the food. Being well prepared also takes the pressure off entertaining, so the host gets to have more fun.”

The more at-ease the host, the cozier the guests. “Have an honest conversation with yourself about what you’re comfortable with,” advised Boyle. “For larger gatherings, I am only comfortable with close family and friends. Think about what your guests’ comfort level may be, too. Are you inviting people who can easily sit on the floor if need be, and will they be happy to do that? Can you serve foods that don't require being around a table?”

Consider the times you’ve been a guest yourself. Maybe without even realizing it at the time, you took social cues from the host, letting them set the tone from the get-go. “We are those people who have guests take off their shoes, so we lead by example by having our own shoes outside the door,” said Boyle. “When guests arrive, put their coats on hangers in the closet right away to make more room. If you have kids or live with other people, divvy up the welcoming tasks to make the transition into the apartment smooth.”

From there, make it clear where you want guests to settle in. “I’ll put a bowl of snacks out, and invite people to take a seat next to it. Or, just sit down yourself,” said Boyle. “Lighting a candle, and putting out olives, nuts or cheese makes the space feel people-centered, and creates a great atmosphere for conversation.”

Boyle advises minimalist dwellers to be flexible and always ready to shift furniture around. She moves things around frequently, for entertaining or just everyday life, so she puts felt pads on the feet of all her pieces for smooth, scratch-proof mobility.

“At Christmastime, we had around 10 adults over,” she said. “We pushed all the furniture to the sides and edges of the room, and we all ended up kind of sitting in a circle. It was sort of funny, but it got everyone on an equal playing field.”

Boyle noted that when your bedroom happens to also be your living room and your kitchen, you can’t really hide anything. Instead of stashing and dashing, consider how you can get your storage containers to pull double duty.

“I’m a bit obsessed with crates,” she said. “They can serve as so many different things. I’ll put an old wooden fruit or bottle crate next to our bed as a side table or bookshelf. We don’t keep a crate next to the couch typically, but if people are over, we can drag one over so they can put down their glasses. We keep our shoes in wooden crates in our closet. If you need something functional, let it also be something you like to look at.”

Popular tiny home philosophies aside, there are many added benefits to hosting in quaint spaces. Have you ever been to a party that fractures off into two-to-four-person discussions? There’s something about the kitchen in particular that draws guests toward its beaconing lights. You don’t have to worry about this phenomenon when entertaining in a smaller space.

“The stakes can feel lower. You know there isn’t room for a seated dinner party, or those trappings that people may worry about,” said Boyle. “It is what it is.”

Certainly, laying it all out there often brings people closer together, in more ways than one.