The secret to entertaining is to expend time and effort on touches guests will notice and forget about those they won’t, says Arabella Youens.
Preparing to receive a large number of friends and family through your door this Christmas? There’s no need to make an already stressful time worse by slaving over endless touches which they wont even notice. Below is our rough guide on what to spend your valuable time on and what to outsource to supermarkets or forget altogether – you deserve a Christmas break too.
Things guests will notice
Flowers in their room
There’s no need to go over the top here, a small gathering is ideal. Pick seasonally – avoid showy hot-house blooms.
New soap in the bathroom
We don’t mean those bars swiped from hotel rooms. Kew Gardens does a range of vegetable soaps in delicious scents that are the perfect size. Throw in some Wiberg’s Pine Bath Essence for extra country-house nostalgia.
Magazines by the bed
Make sure they are recently published – with the exception of Country Life, which obviously doesn’t have a sell-by date.
An iPhone/Samsung charger to use in their room
It’ll limit the number of phones lying about attached to cables on kitchen surfaces.
Electric blankets or (non-vintage) hot-water bottles
There’s nothing more comforting than climbing into a ready-warmed bed. Don’t forget to put them on/in before bedtime.
Cocktails before supper
Stock up on gin, vodka and – to be trendy – tequila. Set out lemons and limes and plenty of good-quality tonic and soda (for calorie counters).
Their Christmas card
Remember to place it centre stage (see below for how not to arrange cards).
Really good lighting
It’s a truth, universally acknowledged, that everyone looks better under 20 watts. As a substitute, use plenty of low-level lighting and candles, although don’t forget to blow them all out when you go to bed.
Whether you own a little or a lot, it will add instant charm and civility to the table.
Lend a flourish to the final course. Alternatively, crack open another bottle of prosecco.
Things they won’t notice
An extravagant balustrade garland
They can look gorgeous, but are another element to have to keep an eye on and are too tempting for young children to play with, which invites disaster.
Over-the-top floral centrepieces
Although striking, they can wilt, get in the way or, at worst, set off an allergic reaction.
Christmas cards organised by theme or colour
The easiest way to hang Christmas cards is to slide their backs in between books.
The days are so short at this time of year, no one is likely to spend too much time gazing out of the window.
A chocolate soufflé or a homemade Christmas pudding
Outsource these elements to the supermarkets or a local deli.
The absence of starters
Either skip this course or take the easy street option and serve foie gras with good-quality brioche. Or blinis with smoked salmon.
Your best classed-growth claret
At least, not after the third glass.
Expensive brandy on the Christmas pudding
It’s going up in flames, anyway. Opt for Lidl’s best.
Arabella Youens examines the growing trend for baths in bedrooms.
Interior designer Henriette von Stockhausen of VSP Interiors shares her secrets for getting the right lighting.
Throw away the nice white sheets and washed out, floral wallpaper.