hosting holidays in a small house

kdw72697December 8, 2012

Hello Smaller Homes posters,

I'm looking for advice on squeezing a whole bunch of family into a tiny house.

My husband and I rarely host anything since several of our family members have larger homes. But for a variety of reasons, we have somehow ended up on the schedule to host both of our large families over Christmas (separate days, thank family is around 20 and his closer to 30).

It's a mix of kids and adults, and they will all help out with the food by bringing side dishes, beverages, etc.

We can fit enough tables and chairs if we strategically remove some furniture and stash it in the garage. I'm thinking we would then have to eat right away upon everyone's arrival, then break down the tables and chairs and socialize, do presents, etc.

We can do desserts on coffee tables, laps, snack trays, etc., but the very youngest and the very oldest among us would have a hard time managing a full dinner that way.

Any advice from any of you who have done something similar? I'm not going for Martha Stewart-like elegance, just want to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.


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I have folding tables, like long card tables light and easy to set up, that will fit in front of the love seat in living room over coffee table seating 4. A small drop leaf table can sit with couch in dinning room on one side with chairs around the other three sides of the table seating 6 closely.TV trays in front of the three recliners. Another fold up table in front of the window seats 2 more or 4 if I moved the dinning room couch over a bit. I could bring the table and chairs from the porch in adding seating for another four. I would have to push the love seat back against the gun cabinet. Would get pretty crowded this way and I think people would be more comfortable not having to have a table.

Being you are going to do this two days in a row that would be a whole lot of furniture moving for you in and out each day. Could you set up a table for the older ones and little ones that can be left in place the whole time and let the rest bring their TV trays with them when they come if possible or do lap trays. We eat every meal at our recliners on lap trays. Have for years. Not acceptable for some but it is what we do. The main table could become part of the decoration with pretty center piece.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 9:35PM
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I hadn't thought about drop-leaf tables. They take up very little space when folded up but give you lots of table area when you pull them out. Thanks!!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 10:13PM
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kdw, if the garage is attached to the house instead of putting furniture out there why not borrow or rent a long table and chairs from some place and sit it up in the garage. My mother in law use to do this for Thanksgiving and Christmas none of us younger ones minded sitting in the garage.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 8:49AM
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Definitely serve the food buffet-style. Line it up on your kitchen table or counters. And I hope your visitors include lots of helpful females. Good luck and happy holiday hosting!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 9:03AM
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Unfortunately, the garage is a detached structure with a dirt/rock floor and no heat. Maybe I could put the cranky people out there. ;)

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 9:06AM
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I was going to suggest using the garage, too. Even though it's detached, dirt floor, etc., I'm still thinking it could be pressed into service if your climate allows for it. Still set up the food buffet-style, then borrow/rent the folding tables (church, community center, maybe?) and set up a whole rustic thing in the garage. Think of it like one of those summer, sit-on-hay-bales, daisies-in-jelly-jars weddings everyone is doing now -- just with greenery and ivy in place of the daisies.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 11:40AM
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jannie, I think I will definitely do buffet-style food set up in the kitchen and they can take it to eat in another room. Thx!

jakabedy and anyone else, do you have any experience with those outdoor space heaters? Because you've got me thinking now...I doubt I can clean the garage out sufficiently in time to use it for Christmas, but construction is supposed to begin tomorrow (YAY!) on my deck. There is a decent chance that it might actually be done in time. It's going to be 12 x 30, so it could hold quite a few people.

Only problem is I live i NJ and it's going to be a tad cold out for a BBQ. :)

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 11:51AM
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Outdoor space heaters sound like a good idea-put the beer and wine out there and you may not get them to come in for dinner!
How about staggering the hours so that a certain number of people could eat and then drift off outside or to watch football (or take a nap) while next group arrives. Everyone will have eaten by the time the cake & coffee are ready. The oldest and youngest(and any cat and dog-once they are happy they beg a little less LOL) could eat first...

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 3:35PM
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I saw a very cool looking one at a yard sale this spring. Was a chilly morning and this tall heater put out a nice comfortable amount of heat around it. Then I happened to see one at Home Depot the other day for sale at $99.00 I was shocked it did not cost more. Will see if I can find it and link to it.
Well I can not find it. I think it was propane had a round head on it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Was some thing like this but not $249.00

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 7:43PM
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Of course after posting I found it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Patio Heater

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 7:48PM
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Don't use the garage! This might be an idea for the future, but it would not be a good idea from the way you describe it.
I like the idea of removing some furniture and using folding tables. Don't break them down during the party. Just make sure that the older folks get the more comfortable chairs.
If your set up turns out to be uncomfortable, then you probably won't have to do it again for a while. I think the party of 20 will be more manageable.
The good thing is that you are taking a turn hosting . It is my feeling that
things don't always have to be tit for tat. Your relatives will see how your space works and that you are trying your best to accommodate everyone . Good luck and report back so we know things went.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 9:32PM
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nice heater! surprised it's only $99. Thanks! Will see if I can check on out in person @ my local store.

beer & wine outside would definitely encourage people to go out there!

I am happy to take a turn hosting, but also grateful that my smaller home will make the hosting a "sometimes" thing. :) Nobody is going to beg to squeeze in here every year, but doing it every so often is manageable.

Deck construction delayed today due to rain, but at least the lumber was delivered and is ready to go!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:18PM
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I purchased two 8 ft banquet tables for precisely this. They are more sturdy and even the narrow ones can seat people on both sides if the food is served buffet style. I moved everything out of the living room except the couch, then lined up the two tables and used all my wooden and folding chairs, had a few people bring chairs from home. For a long meal, real chairs are more comfortable if you have tall or big people in the family. You can rent tables and chairs if needed.

Tips: use a lot of slow cookers to keep food hot, and get them going early (warm water in them until their contents show up with a guest). Put hot food in them unless you have a couple of hours for them to heat the food. Use big coffee carafes (the ones that look like white ceramic but are really plastic thermos containers) to hold gravy at the table. Hot gravy will rewarm the food. If cooking a turkey or ham, use a counter-top roaster and save the oven for side dishes and rolls. Every time you open that door, it slows down the big meat dish and it will never get done! Say yes to anybody who wants to load the dishwasher and get a load done before desert. Don't let dogs lick the foil roasting pan full of drippings - pancreatitis is bad for all involved.

Have someone bring a lot of disposable gladware and send a lot of leftovers home. (My sister would start saving coupons for this months in advance.) You can take that job, as others clear the table. You can sit at the table and ask Aunt Sue if she wants green bean casserole and creamed corn with her roast, put her containers in a bag and have someone run it out to her car. That way, the food is OUT OF YOUR WAY before the company has left. It keeps kids busy running things out to cars, and nobody can forget their goodies. It will be colder there than on your counters.

Put leftovers you are keeping in meal-sized containers and freeze them if there is too much for the next day or two. Ditch bones and carcasses unless you have a proven track record of actually making the soup that you SAY you are going to make with them. Or send carcasses home with a person with a proven soup track record. Make a lunch date at their house for next week!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:36PM
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WOW Nancy Fantastic ideas here. I am going to save this for the time we might host a large dinner party.Will tuck it in my recipe box. Thanks

P.S. I am one of those that DOES make the soup. I usually toss the bones in the crock pot as soon as it is out of the bird. Then I make the broth and finish peeling the last bits of meat off the bones. When the rest of the left overs start getting slim I toss all of it in the pot of broth and heat it up. Even the stuffing and mashed spuds gravy everything but the cranberry sauce. So yummy.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:50PM
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WOW!!! You are good at this, Nancy!

"proven track record of actually making soup". tee hee. I have let many a carcass go bad in the fridge while the days tick by. :)

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 5:37PM
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Don't have a full sit down dinner. For years we had Christmas in our small house. Everyone would bring finger type or easy to eat foods. You can get in your favorite foods, just be more creative with them. There was some room to sit down if you needed to. Others just stood and eat. After sitting some would get up and others would sit down. Not everyone ate at the exact same time. Kind of like a cocktail party. Those parties were the most fun.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:40AM
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I'm planning a simple "wine and cheese" party for Christmas this year. Four kinds of cheese, assorted crackers, honey, figs, strawberry jam,two kinds pf wine, a couple kinds of sodapop plus a platter of sliced ham and turkey. Just 6 of us. It doesn't matter at all that our house is small. We don't do anything special for Christmas Eve, that used to be MIL's pride and joy, serving the Italian seven fishes.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:55AM
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I agree with debrack. We had parties when we lived in an apartment and buffet is the way to go. People will find a place to land or stand. You just have to make sure the older people who need a table to place food has it.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 4:53PM
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We have a small home and host gatherings of 20 to 30 people for some holidays.

I move some of the furniture into my bedroom, and I have been known to move a little of it outside if the weather is not wet or damp.

We set up tv trays in the office and in the living room. We set up a card table with the drinks outside, which gives us a little more room for the food.

The young people (high school/college age) tend to gravitate to the office where there is a big screen tv and an x box. They seem to like being in there by themselves.

Another thing we've done at parties is to have a bonfire going outside if the weather is cold. The young people will go out there and drink hot chocolate and roast marshmallows. Sometimes the grownups like to go out there, poke the fire and hang out, too.

I've been to parties where the outdoor heaters were used and they worked fine, but it was in warmer climates than NJ (southeast U.S. and Arizona).

If there is anything you can do or have to play with that will encourage the teens and children to socialize outside, that works well as long as the weather is nice enough.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 5:40PM
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Have you considered doing Appetizer Christmas? (This was the first link I could find, but it's very popular these days.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Appetizer Christmas ideas

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:46PM
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I think I am stuck with full-on Christmas Dinner, especially for the in-laws. ;)

I do have a small fire pit to use outside if it's not windy. Might have to buy some marshmallows, etc. to keep the younger people out there as much as possible (as well as the beer for the 20-somethings).

Bought the skinniest Christmas tree I've ever had today...

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:37PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We used to just set up the table and leave it up...we all hung out around the table for the whole holiday....

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 5:31PM
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A few years ago, Mom and I decided we were tired of doing the big Chriwtmas dinner, so decided to do the appetizer Christmas. We got out all the silver we both had been collecting for over 20 years and bought the appetizers from SAMs club etc. Family members only brought appetizers that mostly required no prep on their part. It was spectacular. We had such fun decorating the table, rearranging the furniture cocktail style and not cooking. Family members still talk about walking in and seeing all that "BLING'. Since most people had other dinners to attend also, it was appreciated even more.
After Christmas Mom and I both culled out many of the silver serving pieces that we knew we would never use again. Just glad we got to see it all in it's splender before we downsized.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 10:36PM
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That's so sweet!
I don't have silver, but I do have a set of Christmas china given to me by my grandmother 17 years ago that I have NEVER used - mostly because I never hosted. I am SO getting that out of the attic!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Thanks for all your suggestions! We managed to fit everyone in and have a good time as well.

I put a link to some photos if anyone following the thread is interested. :)

We had all the tables set up and ready to go upon arrival. After dinner, we broke down some of the tables to allow room for relaxing/socializing/presents, but left some for people that were more comfortable lingering there. Dessert was buffet-style served off the kitchen counter and enjoyed in whatever room on whatever couch/chair/bench available.

We kept the beverages on the deck, and it worked like a walk-in fridge.

It will be a few years before things rotate back to my house again, but it was fun to see that we could actually do it!

Here is a link that might be useful: tiny house christmas

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 7:19PM
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Looks great ! So glad you had a festive & well fed Christmas !! LOL
I have had parties of 25 people in my small apt. without any deck and it worked out great. Your deck is a BIG plus to have, I put beer/wine in a big cooler and if cold enough use the fire escape.
As long as all the good stuff is assessable people will find any corner to relax in. Once again we prove that a small space lives large and you do not need a magazine showroom to have good parties.
I hope to have a load of assorted misfit friends over in January(I am keeping my tree up) and will post my results.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 9:06PM
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Congrats! Looks like everyone had a great time. Goes to show you that anything is possible. Most important is that you took your turn at hosting.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 10:01PM
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Yes, with a little planning, a small house can do big things! I am glad that you had a happy day with your family in your home.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 12:12PM
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It's not about the surroundings, but the folks gathered around the table. :)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 3:37PM
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Really glad it all worked out for you. Looks like every one was having a great time and that is what is the most important thing. Next time it will be easier for you and every one else. They will know what to expect and accommodate.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 5:55PM
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