House Beautiful

8 Ways to be the Hostess with the Mostess

With the holly-day season right around the corner, chances are LOTS of us will be fluffing pillows and hosting friends & relatives in our casas. I’ve done my share of sofa surfing over the years (I’m sure we all have) – and I feel like there are things I’ve taken mental note of that have made me feel super welcome and at ease in someone else’s home (and also things that haven’t- wahhhhnt wahhhhh). I was just talking to my college bestie about this on Sunday, too, because she just stayed with some (well, strangers) – her boyfriends’ friends – in their home over the weekend and said to me: “I have never felt more at ease in anyone’s home, ever.” And I was so intrigued, à la: “TELL ME EVERYTHING!”  She basically said that – aside from the fact that the people were lovely, the house was super clean, they had a super casual dinner made for them when they arrived, and that she baked cinnamon rolls in the morning for breakfast which made the whole house smell like heaven.

So all those gracious gestures that people have shown me (and shown her), I’ve tucked into my toolbox and always try to remember when people are coming to stay with us.  I feel like all you really have to do is think about what makes you comfortable and feel at home… and then do that for your peeps.  But if I’m breaking it down, I think hostess-ing with the mostess-ing comes down to these 8 things:

1. THE “MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME” LINE – BUT ON CRACK.  Otherwise known as “The Carey Largent Line.”  Carey Largent is a long-time client but also a longer-time dear friend (she played basketball at CofC while I played volleyball there, so we’ve known each other since college) – we did her custom build outside of Columbus, Ohio almost 4 years ago, and I came to stay with her and her family for the end of it in for some final things.  She is a super busy mom with 3 kids and said to me soon after I got there: “Please make yourself at home” (which is lovely, though that’s what people always say) – but THEN she continued and said: “Seriously, I mean it – it will take stress off of me wondering what you need so anything you need, just grab it.” *Lightbulb!* I was like, ohhhhkay, I get it!  So I’m actually HELPING you by rifling through your cabinets and raiding the pantry for snacks – kk will do.  And then I literally felt like I was at home for the week.

That said – not everyone is comfortable, well, rifling through your cabinets – so still keep an eye out and refill their water (or wine) glass when it needs refilling and try to anticipate their needs a bit.  I feel like I’m good at this and I attribute that solely to being a waitress for years and having to watch for what people need and make sure they’re comfortable.  Thanks, Kirkwood.

2. A COMFY GUEST ROOM.  If you haven’t done it already, I would spend a night in your own guest room and see how it sleeps – can you reach the bedside lamp to turn it on & off?  Is it too hot or too cold in there?  Is there a bright street light glaring through the window that makes it hard to sleep?  Is there a phone charger next to the bed?  Tee everything up in that room as if you were moving into it.  I would recommend:

  • A wee fan – for white noise, or in case they get hot at night.  I sleep super hot so I love it when people have them.
  • Extra blankets if they sleep cold.  Just fold one at the foot of the bed in case they need it.  My favorite one is a king sized fuzzy one from TJ Maxx that I’ve had for 10 years and I think it was $24.
  • Extra pillows – I would put 4 total if it’s a queen or a king.  I sleep with one between my knees at night, re: a crappy back.  And if I sleep without one, my spine feels like a question mark the next morning.
  • Blackout Shades or Drapery Panels, OR a Sleep Mask!  I would probably sh*t twice and die if someone put a sleep mask out for me.  Most people are super sensitive to light (myself included) and I sleep like a ROCK when it’s either super dark in the room, or if I put an eye mask on.
  • White Noise – also helps me sleep like a rock – this White Noise app.  Maybe stick a wee bluetooth speaker in there that they can connect to and listen to (their white noise app of choice) at night, if they need it.
  • Water Water Water – put either a bottle of water from customwater.com or a little carafe out on their nightstand so if they wake up parched, they don’t have to go looking for the bathroom in the dark.  This is VITAL especially where we live – at 10,000 feet elevation – because it is dry as a bone, and it hits out-of-towners super hard.
  • Fuzzy Socks or Slippers – did they forget their fuzzy socks or their Ugg mocks at home?  Worse, did they forget their PJ’s?  Maybe stock a drawer or a basket in the guest room with these things, just in case.  See #8 for more on this.
  • Are they bringing their pup?  If so, maybe leave out an old blanket or a dog bed on the floor of their room, if you have one.  And a water bowl in the kitchen for the four-legged friend.

3. DIRECTIONS FOR COFFEE & REMOTES.  I’m an early riser, so waking up at 5am in a house where no one else will be up until 8am is kind of a stinker. And if I don’t know how to use their coffee maker or worse, feel like I’m being invasive going through their kitchen looking for things, then that’s no bueno.

Plus, people keep their coffee in funny places – sometimes in the freezer, sometimes in a tin that they’ve got in a non-obvious place, etc etc.  At our house, I wouldn’t know what in the Sam Hill to do if I were a guest – we use French Presses, and we have two of them.  One that you need to use 1/2 cup of coffee in, and one where you use 3/4 cups. Which is which?  Where’s the coffee?  Where are the saucepans to boil water in?  Where are the mugs?  What size sauce pan do you use?  HOW THE FLIP DO YOU EVEN USE A FRENCH PRESS?  You get the idea.  If they have an espresso machine or another gadget?  Pssshhht forget it – I’d be totally lost.  So either leave written directions out and let your guests know to feel free to make themselves some coffee if they wake up before you, OR just prep it the night before (if it’s a traditional drip coffee maker).

Remotes are even worse.  I don’t even try, cuz most people have 7 of them (insert my eyes crossed and brain exploding).

4. CHECK-IN ON THEIR LIKES & DISLIKES (OR ALLERGIES).  Food allergies?  Vegan?  Hate mushrooms, love orange juice?  Whatever it is, just ask them beforehand so you can prep accordingly.  I also find it’s nice to ask if there’s “anything special they need?” – for me, that’s Half & Half.  I don’t care what I eat, but I would honestly rather chew on sweaty socks than drink black coffee, or even coffee + milk.  I’m a strict Half-and-Halfer, so I love it when people ask (and they always do!) – and it sounds ridiculous but it’s such a comfort to me when there’s half & half in the fridge.

5. THE WELCOME PARTY!  Have a drink and something to nosh on at the ready when they arrive (meat & cheese plate, anyone?)  Chances are they’ve traveled to get to you and are probably hungry & thirsty.  In fact, make sure they know where the water is or just have a big carafe of something (like Crystal Light lemonade) on hand that they can replenish their glass with as needed.  If you wanna be a super weirdo like I am, you can freeze mint leaves in giant ice cubes and use that in your lemonade.

Extra mile: I LOVE a sweet note when I get to someone’s house!  I got this a few years ago from a client’s kiddo I was staying with, and it’s still in a box under my bed, tucked away with all the sweet things people have given me over the years.  You don’t have to be 5 and you don’t have to write it in crayon, but a wee handwritten note goes a long way.

6. RELAX… (AND DO ALL YOUR PREP IN ADVANCE).  If you’re cooking a meal or meals for your guests, do your prepping beforehand – it makes you non-frantic and non-crazy while they’re in your home.  I’m making this mushroom quiche for this weekend (we have friends coming in on Thursday), tacos for one night, and a cheese & meat board for another night, and you better believe I already pre-ordered groceries and am doing all the meal prep the day prior so nothing is a fuss while they’re here.  It’s not even that you don’t want to be feel stressed or be rushing around the kitchen while you have guests in the house, but it’s also that you want to be freed up to spend time with them.

If you’re not much for cooking, make a few reservations at a few different places so you all have options and can make game-time decisions based on whether you feel like Italian or whether you feel like Thai.

7. GIVE THEM SOME BREATHING ROOM.  It’s tough to be “on” all the time – and even if they’re close pals or relatives, everybody needs a few minutes to themselves every day – to not talk, to put their feet up, to take a nap – whatever it is.  Go for a walk or go run some errands or (whatever) in the morning and let them know you’ll be back in a bit, and to help themselves to anything.  Spending time with your guests is great (and I’m sure there will be plenty of it)… but sometimes it’s nice for a few minutes to have some down time and not feel like you need to entertain someone else (or be entertained).  Plus… people gotta do their biz in peace in the mornings, if you know what I mean.  And if we’re being real candid, let’s be real: lots of people have stage fright anyway.  On that note, Poo-Pourri isn’t a bad thing to stock.

8. JUST MAKE THEM FEEL WELCOME.  This has nothing to do with a fancy blanket or noise machine – it’s just your attitude towards your guests.  When I used to go home to my Dad’s house, he would have always stocked the fridge with my favorite things, always laid a pair of sweats out on my bed with slippers on the floor next to it, always laid out Gus’ food & water bowls, and sometimes would even be like: “You tired?  Go over there and take a nap if you need to.” – and lots of times, I needed to.  There is never any pressure and it’s like, you kick back and do you, kid – I gotchoo.  He also once handed me a glass of wine when I came through the front door, and that might’ve been his best move ever.

If you want, you can go the extra mile and put some fresh flowers and a welcome basket in their room.  Fill it with things they may’ve forgotten or that you know they’ll need – toothbrush, toothpaste, bottled water, etc.  BONUS: eye makeup remover pads!!!!  I ALWAYS, always forget to pack them.  Always.  There’s a tiny, non-fancy little hotel in Salida that Chris & I stay at sometimes.  No fluff in this place whatsoever, but the staff is so kind AND THEY SET OUT EYE MAKEUP REMOVER ON THE BATHROOM SINK, and it takes that place from 3 stars to 5 stars in my mind.  That and the fact that there’s a plaid wool blanket at the foot of every bed.

The point of this entire story is – nothing needs to be fancy; it just needs to be thoughtful.  Happy hosting!

* Wine Punts Carafe & Glasses

* Sound Machine

* Hawaiian Coffee

* Slippers or Robe

* Makeup remover & wink towels

* Comfy sheets and bedding

* Boyfriend Matelassé // Nap Sheets // Extra Pillows // Fuzzy Blanket // Blackout shades

I was also talking to my college bestie yesterday, who just came off of a wedding weekend staying at a stranger’s house (friends of her BF) and was like: “I have never felt more welcome in a stranger’s home.”

Gift Ideas | FOR THE HOME

WHAT’S UP TEAM!  Here are a few of my faaaaavorite things:

Crystal Champagne Coupes, Etsy, $168.  I’m crying as I type this because I wanted to order these so badly, but a) we don’t need them, but b) if I bring one more set of glassware into this house I swear Chris will serve me with divorce papers.  So, may the fastest typing hands win them.

Rattan Scallop Ottoman Tray, 20″ x 20″, Covet Living Interiors, $150.  I love this thing so much.  I am about to place an order for them so I can’t promise they’ll get shipped from my shop to you before Christmas which makes this gift guide item a huge bust; nonetheless, let me know if you’d like a swell January surprise 🙂  We’ve all seen a joe schmo tray, but this one ups the ante with the scallop detail – 4.5″ high.  Holla for preorder!

Bone Inlay Frame, Etsy, $65 for 8×10.  Probably also not getting to you by Christmas OHMYGYAH I AM THE WORST – does it still work to gift wrap a Polaroid of whatever you got so-and-so that’s not here yet?  Anyhow – I think this is so beautiful and you can specify your color which I love.

Blue Crush Artwork, 57″ x 41″, Covet Living Interiors, about $750 shipped (depends on destination), January delivery.  My New Years rager continues.  Christine Flynn has some similar, surf-radical stuff on One Kings Lane, but this one is my favorite.  I did it in one lovely client’s house in LA and it’s a stunner.  Send me an email to place an order!

Farm Table Plank, 40″ x 10″, Hudson Grace, $195.  Someone just bought this for us from our registry and I am straight tickled to get it.

Brass Clean / Dirty Dishwasher Magnet, Sir | Madam, $34.  Thirty four dollars is a lot for a magnet, but not having your S/O have a reason to say: “I didn’t unload the dishwasher cuz I didn’t know if they were clean or dirty” = priceless.  THIS CAPTION WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN 30 SECONDS.

Gingham Napkins in Cognac & Blue, Covet Living Interiors, $110 per S/4.  Another day, another January party.  These JYEST came back in stock after almost a year of being impossible to find.  I have the dish towel version and the weight and texture is perfection.  You will have these forever.  Holla for preorder!

The Prettiest & Most Vibrant Bolivian Frasada You Have Ever Seen, 56″ x 64″, Covet Living Interiors, $350.  These are HARD TO FIND in great condition and especially in the right colors.  This is the happiest textile I have in the shop.  Dying to cover (a bench, a chair – anything) in it but I just ran out of time and it’s so good, I feel like I should send it out into the universe.

Here’s a dining bench we used another one on in a client’s house 2 years ago… and at that point, that one was the most vibrant one I’ve ever seen.

Vintage Anatolian Runner, 43″W x 109″L, Covet Living Interiors, $1300.  This is one of those pieces that I will probably cry when it sells.  It is really beautiful – purples/violet, this greyish sage color, and then the pumpkin.  I acquired it years ago but never really found a place for it, so it’s a recent addition to the shop.  Holla for dibs.

Rialto Rocks Glasses in Millicent, S/2, Sir | Madam, $52.  What kind of list would this be if the caboose was something that was actually in stock?  It DOES come in the most beautiful rainbow of colors – and also in coupes / martini glasses etc – but the green was calling to me.  I would have these except, again, I’ll be in timeout till 2022 if I bring more glassware across that threshold.

Happy Trails & Happy Shopping!  For any of the items listed at Covet Living Interiors – holla at me to order – stephanie.m.ballard@gmail.com.  I’m off to polish off the rest of the cookie dough in the fridge and pretend like I’m starting a cleanse in the morning.  See yaaaaaaaaa!

xoxo,