Our Dinner Party Transformation

Our tiny West Village apartment, transformed for a dinner party

The idea of hosting a dinner party in a small apartment can seem daunting. It’s something that we have wanted to do for a long time and finally, after scheduling our spring tasting dinner on a whim, we did it. Here’s how.

First of all, we don’t even own a dining table. Our apartment’s layout just isn’t conducive to one. Thus, the first order of business was getting furniture so that our guests would have a place to sit and eat.

The tiny living room of our Manhattan apartment, before setting up for a dinner party

Awhile ago, I had read a blog post by an interior designer who regularly hosted large parties in his studio apartment. His secret? Renting furniture.

After calling multiple party rental places and being told about $500 Manhattan delivery minimums, I was beginning to think that we might end up eating on the living room rug, but I finally found Brooklyn Party Rental, who quoted me a very reasonable price for renting a table and eight ballroom chairs.

Our small West Village apartment, decorated for a dinner party

Since we don’t have enough dishware for multiple courses for eight people, we went the disposable route—this stuff has come a long way since the flimsy Dixie plates from family picnics.

All of the party supply stores we visited had a good selection of different colors, shapes and sizes of nice-looking dishes. We even bought flatware that looked virtually identical to real silverware, until you picked it up. All of the disposable dishes we bought are even heavy-duty enough to be washed and reused. Accompanied by red damask-pattern napkins, our place settings were complete.

(One thing we didn’t go disposable on: glassware. All wine was served in Marta tumblers from CB2. At $1.95 per glass, they’re inexpensive enough where you won’t cry if one gets broken, but you also won’t cry when you have to pay for 10 of them.)

Setting a table for a dinner party, with wine bottles used as floral vases

We both admire the dramatic floral arrangements in some of the city’s best restaurants and wanted to emulate that for our party.

The quickest and easiest way to bring drama and add space to a small room is with an arrangement of branches. We’ve used cherry blossom branches in the past, but for this party, I bought several bunches of apple blossom branches from a farmer at the greenmarket and shoved them in a big hurricane vase with the goal of somewhat obscuring our television for the evening. Forsythia, lilac, and hydrangea branches are also beautiful.

The flower district in New York City, perfect for getting cheap flowers for dinner parties

Using wine bottles as vases for floral arrangements for a dinner party

The rest of our flowers came from the various flower markets along West 28th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in Manhattan. Most of the shops open very, very early—think 6 a.m.—and are buzzing with florists from hotels, restaurants, and bodegas. After ducking into each store to browse the selections available that day, we settled on buying multiple bunches of various-colored ranunculus, as well as one bunch of anemones, a bunch of billy balls and a bunch of carnation moss.

When we got home, we trimmed the stems to various lengths and stuck them in any vessel that would work. For the table’s centerpiece, we made arrangements using our collected wine bottles as vases. We also used a small decanter, an old tin of coffee beans and a Stumptown iced coffee bottle for our eclectic and colorful arrangements.

The small bathroom inside our West Village, NYC apartment, decorated for a dinner party with candles and low light

The bathroom sink filled with ice, an elegant touch for a dinner party

Our tiny bathroom has come a long way since we first moved in, as we’ve painted and replaced the dated ’80s vanity, but we wanted it to be warm and cozy for our visitors. We replaced our regular soap with a pretty bar of soap from Anthropologie and exchanged our regular towels for fluffy hand towels. Our bathroom’s overhead light is a bit harsh, so we brought in a lamp from our bedroom and set it on top of our medicine cabinet. Accented by candelight, the new lamp gave the room a nice glow.

We also tried two other neat tricks that we borrowed from restaurants: we filled the bathroom sink with a bag of ice, and had a book on tape (James Bond’s Goldfinger) playing softly in the background. The ice makes the sink look clean and fresh, whereas the book on tape is a soothing touch that lets you escape the party for just a few minutes.

Like all good dinner parties, music is a must and we created four-hour playlist of some of our favorites, streamed from our computer through our AppleTV.

We put up a sheer white curtain at the threshold of our kitchen to diffuse some of the kitchen’s light and give a bit of separation. It made things less stressful for us while cooking and made the rest of the “dining” room seem a bit more elegant. Other than that, we let our living room’s decor shine; we’re particularly proud of our eclectic bookshelf, our salvaged bar cart and our mid-century credenza.

Our West Village dinner party table setup

After putting all of this together, it was amazing to see our apartment filled with eight shining, happy faces the next evening. It’s certainly not easy, but with a little bit of effort, you can transcend your available space and turn even the tiniest apartment into a dazzling gem, if but for a night.

– Laura and Ryan

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