Project Reveal: Creating a Living Room Ideal for Hosting

The second room I designed for my amazing clients Boe + Sophie Hayward (whose ping pong dining room I also designed), was their formal living room. The family upsized when moving into this house, so they found that they didn’t quite have furniture or plans for the formal front living room.

On top of that, the rest of the home is an open-concept layout, with the dining room, sitting room, kitchen, and family/TV room all connected – whereas the formal living room is separated on the other side of the entry/foyer on the front of the house. As a consequence, when I first saw the home, the living room was being used as an impromptu storage area, with hand-me-down furniture from their parents, boxes, and kids’ toys left in there.

While the fireplace + mantle were perfect places for holiday decor, the rest of the formal living room was not quite working for the family.

I started working with the Haywards during the holidays of 2014, which is why there are so many stockings + nutcrackers (their nutcracker collection is ON POINT!).

Boe + Sophie, who often entertain at their home, envisioned the formal living room being a chic “showcase” space in the house where grown-up guests could enjoy a cocktail when they arrived. Without further ado, the reveal:

Photo by Colin Price

Photography by Colin Price!

Since the family has three kids under age 5, I also wanted to make sure that even though the space is meant for grown-up guests, the furnishings would be safe for kids to romp around as well.

WHAT WAS ALREADY IN THE SPACE: The wall paint, which the stagers or previous owners had painted before the Haywards moved in, was fabulous – so I recommended we keep the paint as it was (in the “Before” photo, the color looks totally different). The blue sofa had just been reupholstered less than a year before, so we opted to keep it as-is also.

WHAT I ADDED + UPDATED: First I wanted to add some life to the floor covering situation in the formal living room. I chose one of my favorite rugs, the Surya Smithsonian Archive Rug in Brown, to bring together the olive-brown walls and deep brown floors. This selection meant that the primary colors in the room were brown, blue (sofa), and white – so whatever color the coffee table / occasional seats would be had to enhance this color palette.

After doing a ton of hunting for standard coffee tables, I landed on the idea of a giant tufted ottoman-coffee-table – and my clients loved the concept! The ready-to-order options I’d found were either not the right dimensions or the right colors, so I went custom and found a beautiful ochre/mustard fabric from Robert Allen, and worked with my amazing upholstery partners-in-crime to fabricate the piece. I LOVE how the colors + textures came together in the room. Plus, Boe + Sophie told me that their kids love running in and crashing onto the ottoman, so I couldn’t be more thrilled with the piece’s versatility.

Not pictured is the fabulous Room & Board sideboard that we got. It serves as the house bar – and the serving tray on the ottoman is a nod to the cocktails that will be served to grown-up guests in this space!

Not pictured is the fabulous Room & Board sideboard that we got. It serves as the house bar – and the serving tray on the ottoman is a nod to the cocktails that will be served to grown-up guests in this space!

The wooden stools with blue felt cushions are from Blu Dot – they’re fabulously casual + modern, and are easy to move around for versatile seating. Most of the time they stay in the family room on the other side of the house.

The final touches were the gold urchin ceiling light fixture and my *tszujing* of the books in the bookcases (side note, I learned how to spell that word by literally googling “how do you spell juj”). I purchased some bookends and decorative objects to complement Sophie’s collection of novels, and then color-blocked the books to give them a sense of organization and visual order. My personal favorite decorative objects are the Golden Gate Bridge bookends (which I used to hold the red books, and which are meant to look like a long *bridge* that extends through the fireplace) and the brass bear (the youngest of the Hayward children’s nickname is Bear). Here are the two bookcases together:

Sorry, Dewey Decimal System, but you have no home in this house.

Sorry, Dewey Decimal System, but you have no home in this house.

This living room was also featured recently in an article on Houzz about living rooms with fireplaces! If you’d like to read more about how I designed the room to highlight the fireplace, check it out here!

5 House Party Tips for the Up-&-Coming Host or Hostess

I love a good house party – in particular, I love hosting them. Hedge and I just threw our annual holiday party last weekend (a tradition of mine since 2009, and one we have shared since 2013!!), which we relish in trying to make bigger and better every year – more guests, fancier food + drink, more features. That said, we’re both “normal” people, throwing parties on a budget, so we’ve gotten pretty clever at stretching our spend to reach for Gatsby-esque party glitz.

For those of us hosts + hostesses who similarly have grown out of red Solo cup parties but aren’t quite at hiring full-service caterers + valets, here are some tips to take your next house party to the next level:

1. RENT YOUR GLASSWARE

This was the "drinks station" we set up for the 2013 holiday party.

This was the “drinks station” we set up for the 2013 holiday party.

A lot of people don’t realize you can rent wine glasses, champagne flutes, low balls, etc. (not to mention serving plates, silverware, etc.) from party rental companies. These are the same companies that outfit large-scale events like corporate parties and weddings, but they also accept small orders that you can pick up and drop off at will-call. Just google “[your city] stemware rental” to find some options.

Not only does real glassware take the “class” level up immeasurably from plastic disposable options, it’s also much more environmentally friendly. Plus, I’ve noticed that guests are better-behaved when holding a real glass – maybe out of fear of breaking it, but also I think because it adds a different elegant tone to the party.

Good news too: when the party’s over, you don’t need to wash or rinse anything: just put everything back in the shipping crates and bring it back the next weekday.

Cost: it varies by the style (I mean, you can rent actual crystal!), but expect a wine glass to cost $0.75-$2.00 a piece to rent from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, and a lowball to stay under $1.00.

2. START A TRADITION

Of course, traditions are only official after they have happened more than once, but even if you think you might throw another party again, it’s worth thinking of something special you would like to your guests to remember about your events. For instance, Hedge used to live in Sevilla; and during the holidays in Spain, a family will put out a big leg of jamon serrano (or ibérico, if you’re fancy) and slice pieces off throughout the season. He wanted to share that Spanish tradition with our friends last year, and it was such a hit that we knew it needed to be a feature of our holiday parties every year.

Before and after: our leg of jamon serrano. Note to the wise that in 2013 we had the leg be a participatory thing, but we decided going forward that drunk friends wielding 14" fileting knives = not the safest.

Before and after: our leg of jamon serrano. Note to the wise that in 2013 we had the leg be a participatory thing, but we decided going forward that drunk friends wielding 14″ fileting knives = not the safest.

3. SET UP A PHOTO BOOTH

In this age of social media and digital storage limitlessness, people love taking photos at events – and house parties should be no exception! Hedge’s awesome idea for this year’s holiday party was to turn his man cave into a photo booth for guests, using my Nikon DSLR, backdrop decor + silly festive hats from Amazon.com, and this $50 photo booth software for his laptop.

Our little photo booth template, which I created in Illustrator. Lil Viv in her reindeer antlers stars in the template, as well as photos!

Our little photo booth template, which I created in Illustrator. Lil Viv in her reindeer antlers stars in the template, as well as photos!

Another cute thing about this software is that you can create custom templates for guests’ photos to be arranged into – from a single photo to multiple, and include party messages or hashtags. We chose to make the largest photo in the template the *third* photo taken, since we figured the first would be practice and the third would be the wackiest.

Then, guests can email the finished photo booth output to themselves, or even text (but it costs $0.0075 per text, via Twilio).

NOZNOZNOZ - House Party Tips - Photo Booth example photo

Hedge’s friends from college and +1s, a few hours into the party (lolz), sporting festive headwear.

For backdrop inspiration, I turned to the interwebs for how to get something cheap + decent looking for our first photo booth attempt – turns out a lot of fabulous bloggers have shared their insanely creative photo booth decor ideas. Next year, the backdrop will be taken to the next level: green screen (maybe. Or just less janky).

NOZNOZNOZ - House Party Tips - Photo Booth backdrop 1

Our backdrop, a little haggard the day after the party. It’s made of 2 cheap plastic tablecloths, and 2 packs of tinsel “curtains,” all from Amazon.

4. CONSIDER BOXED WINE IN DECANTERS (Yes, really!)

Our go-to boxed wine brand is Wine Cube (far right), available at Target of all places.

Our go-to boxed wine brand is Wine Cube (far right), available at Target of all places.

Boxed wine has come a long way since the Franzia days. Really legit winemakers have been introducing new brands of boxed wine whose quality is on-par with very reputable *traditional bottled* wine. I have taste-tested many Wine Cube wines with my wine-loving friends over the past couple years, and they’ve all been so surprised and impressed.

Another benefit, besides cost-effectiveness (average $4-5/750mL), is how much waste you minimize with boxed wine. 8 boxes of Wine Cube (at 3L in each box) takes up only 2 cubic feet of space, and only weighs what the wine weighs inside – compare that to its weight and space-taking equivalent of 32 bottles! You’re saving from consuming and disposing of all that glass, as well as (if you’re an eco-friendly nerd like me) the amount of energy + fuel it takes to produce the bottles and transport them. PLUS… Hedge and I live in a 3rd story walk-up, so party prep AND clean-up involves carrying everything up and down a bunch of stairs. It was a lot tougher when we were trucking cases and cases of wine vs. just a few boxes.

That said, don’t serve boxed wine out of the box – that’s tacky. Decanters, on the other hand, are so beautiful, and functionally help aerate the wine. I’ve collected a few over the years, and a very thoughtful friend bought me one as a hostess gift; but if you don’t have enough for your party, guess what – yes, party rental places do rent decanters as well 🙂

Wacky Carafes

Some wacky decanters, which wouldn’t hold a ton of wine, but would definitely impress some guests and start conversation

5. GET A COAT RACK

It sounds really minor, but giving your guests a civilized place to put away their coats and bags when they arrive at your house (especially during winter parties) makes such a difference – particularly if you live in a city-sized place, as we do. I’ve always felt that having your guests throw their belongings down on a bed or a couch in another room makes their process of leaving the party more stressful. Inevitably, someone loses their coat, or takes someone else’s, or their coat falls off the bed and gets stepped on.

Party rental companies rent coat racks (super affordable – ours was a 6 foot rack that folded down for transportation, and only $16 for the weekend!), but you can also buy them on Amazon for $20-80 (“garment rack, or rolling garment rack”), if you have room to store one after. Note: whether your rent or buy a coat rack, the rack will NOT come with hangers. So you’ll need to get some online or borrow a bunch from your neighborhood dry cleaners.

Do you have any other house party advice for those of us with fancy party tastes on a budget? Share the wealth!! And happiest of holidays, everyone!!