Country houses for sale

Seating plans and filing

Dear Mrs Danvers, We are planning a lunch party to celebrate our parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, inviting about 70 people. My sister says we need a seating plan, but it seems to me that this would spoil the informal atmosphere we want to create.

If by informal, you mean chaotic, with crowds of guests vainly trying to find a place to sit away from bores or enemies who they don’t want to talk to (no gathering this size is without hidden agendas) go ahead. Even a party of 10 needs a seating plan.

Anyone who has ever been a guest at an unplanned party will know the embarrassment and annoyance this can cause. You are left at a table and no one comes to join you; there are only three places left at a table for 10; you end up next to the person you’ve been talking to for half an hour and are trying to avoid. Seating plans are essential. I cannot say this strongly enough.

To avoid over-formality, however, mix your guests up young and old, married and single, guests from different families. Try to put people beside like minded others, do a bit of networking with an important businessman next to a lad looking for a career, a hotel owner beside a would be chef. I know it takes time to organise (have a slip of paper for each guest and larger bits of paper for each table), but, believe me, it is fun. You will have a much better party as a result.

Dear Mrs Danvers, I have just redesigned my home office in shades of black and beige with steel handles and fittings. What I now need is a series of box files that will match. Those available at most office shops are quite awful primary colours, shiny plastic, cheap styles. Can you suggest somewhere I can get fabric filing boxes in suitable colours?

You can start with the Conran shop, which usually has a few filing boxes and stationery in plain black fabric (check they are in stock first). Failing that, Kate Forman (01962 732244; makes up filing boxes, wastepaper baskets and address books in various fabrics. I like striped cotton in beige and black: very efficient and chic.