“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
When I think of the style of French women, one of the many words that comes to mind is “effortless.” They just seem to glide through life on a cushion of confidence and simple beauty that is practically their birthright. How do they do it? Honestly, I don’t really know. But I do think it has a lot to do with the fact that French women aren’t overly fussy. They don’t overthink things, and they aren’t obsessive about what other people think. This makes them excellent hostesses because they can enjoy their own parties, and that joy is infectious.
This year I’ve been doing more entertaining than I usually do, partly because it’s the holidays, and partly because I’ve just been feeling especially grateful for my home and my friends. However, if I’m not ready, haven’t planned, and am not fully prepared, then entertaining can be stressful and ruin the party for me and for everyone else. Luckily, that rarely happens because I’ve learned a trick or 2– or 5– and I want to share them with you.
So, here you have it: 5 tips for (almost) effortless entertaining, inspired by that French “je ne sais quoi” that makes everything they do appear so effortless…
#1: Let there be (dim) light
No one looks good in harsh lighting. Especially those of us “d’un certain age“. So turn off ALL overhead lights, or at least make sure they are on dimmers and are turned down low. (It’s super easy to change all of your wall switches to dimmers. If you’re confident, you can do it yourself. As long as you don’t electrocute yourself, you’ll be glad you did it. If you’re not confident, hire someone; they can do all your switches in a couple hours.) If you have a fireplace, light it. Then, add the real magic: candles. Lots and lots of candles. I prefer tea lights because they are meant to be placed in containers that protect guests and their clothing from open flame. Also, they put themselves out in a few hours (the ones I linked to above are 8 hours). Also, they’re cheap, so you can light them en masse. The goal here is glow. You want your home and all your guests to have a warm glow, not a harsh glare. It makes everyone look better, it’s relaxing, and it’s cozy.
#2: Don’t clean your house
Yes, I just said that. Or typed it. Whatever. If you followed #1 above, your house is not brightly lit. So, no one is going to see every little dust particle and speck of dirt. Wipe down your bathroom, put a fresh set of hand towels out, make sure there is a spare roll of TP available, and wipe down your kitchen surfaces. And obviously, put away any clutter. But don’t bother with a deep clean. You’ll want to do that after your party, not before. If you spend hours cleaning before your party, and hours cleaning after, you will never want to have another party again.
#3: Pre-mix all beverages, or just serve wine
Just wine is fine. Le vin suffice. Don’t play bartender to 20 people, or you will never stop playing mixologist all night. I usually just serve wine at my parties, and I’ve never had a complaint. If you do want to serve cocktails, decide on one “signature” blend, and make it up ahead of time. Pour into a pretty cocktail pitcher, and have a bowl or two of garnishes that guests can help themselves to. No fuss, no muss. And meanwhile, you are enjoying your party rather than playing bartender.
#4: Music is the food of love, and parties
Music gets everyone in the mood right away, and it sets the tone as soon as people walk in the door. Create a playlist online or on your iTunes, make sure it is long enough to play through your whole party time, and just hit “play”. Keep the volume to a level where people can hear it, but they don’t have to shout over it. We’re not in high school, people. And as much as you may love heavy metal, skip it for a party. I recommend big band style, jazz, or classical. The music is timeless and sophisticated. Also, you can find lots of pre-made playlists for those genres on Spotify or Pandora. If music be the food of love (and parties), play on!
#5: What’s that smell?
Luckily, any time I’ve been asked that at a party, it’s been a compliment! Whether it’s scented candles or diffusing essential oils, I always make sure my home smells delicious. Since you’re already burning candles (see #1), you can easily make one or two of them scented candles. (Here’s a link to my very favorite brand. Also, if you want to be tres French, Dyptique is the quintessential French candle.) Just make sure you are only burning one scent! Multiple, conflicting scents can actually be a turn-off because they tend to overwhelm the senses. Also, if you’re going to use candles as your scent, buy the best quality you can afford, and one that uses real essential oils for the fragrance. Otherwise, you are burning chemicals that add to poor air quality and can actually be harmful to guests with asthma or other sensitivities.
Your other option is to diffuse essential oils. They are natural and do not diminish air quality (in fact, some actually help purify the air), and as long as you diffuse relatively safe oils, no one should be negatively affected by them. A few I recommend are lavender, sweet orange, cinnamon, pine, cedar, ylang-ylang, and geranium. Play around with blends. You could even come up with a signature party blend that you always use. Over time, your guests will come to associate that blend with you, your home, and your mad hosting skills.
Bonus #6: Party Blends, Just for You…
To get you started with a couple blends that diffuse beautifully, here are two recipes to try. And yes, you can claim you made them up yourself. 😉
5 drops lavender
3 drops sweet orange
3 drops ylang ylang or geranium
5 drops pine
3 drops cedar
2 drops cinnamon
2 drops sweet orange
Bonus #7: What about food??
I’ve got you. Of course, you need to serve food, but you do not need to slave all day in your kitchen! Unless you are a chef and love to cook, skip the stove and head to the store. Trader Joe’s or my natural foods co-op are my go-to’s. Why? Their refrigerated dips! Grab 3 and a baguette. Also, swing by the cheese section and grab one soft (brie), one hard (gruyere) and one blue or flavored cheese (I love a truffle or black pepper cheddar or a goat cheese rolled in blueberry or cranberry). When you get home, transfer the dips to pretty bowls. NEVER serve store-bought items in their plastic containers! Mon dieu! Throw the baguette into a warm (not hot) oven so it gets crispy on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside. Or, better yet, if you’ve planned ahead, serve my 10 Minute Boule! You’ll also want to unwrap your cheeses and put them on a cheeseboard or platter with some pretty cheese knives.
Eh bon, voila! You are the hostess extraordinaire! And you don’t need to tell anyone just how easy it really was. Ms. Chanel would be proud.