Ah, yes…the holidays, upon us again with all the pre-Christmas angst and jitters of a pending mad dash to make everything perfect for ourselves as well as those we love and cherish the most.
Parties, presents, food, fun and laughter. New beginnings, fond memories and family traditions. Andy Williams was quite right. It is “the most wonderful time of the year!” Well…sort of. Most of us approach this yearly epoch with some trepidation. After all, Christmas can mean family and friends come to call or call to book a room for a few days. Even if you have no extended family, the holidays may still transform your house into a hotel. What to do? Better still, how best to do it?
In a perfect world, our kitchens would be spotless; our foyers uncluttered with heavy galoshes and dampened coats, scarves and mittens; our bedrooms immaculate and our living rooms tricked out in the latest holiday fashion. Ah me – perfection! Has it ever been achieved? Well, yes…and no. Nobody is perfect. But you can minimize your misfires by planning ahead. For example: nothing says ‘dirty’ like a pile of dishes in the sink. And nothing adds more frustration to the joys of hosting either an elaborate or intimate Christmas dinner than a dishwasher already jam-packed with the unclean, with the promise of much more overflow to follow it.
So, keep cool, Jack Frost! And keep it together by boning up on a few simple stay-cation rules re-adjusted and re-applied to casual visitors and/or overnight guests alike.
#1: Always plan your menu ahead. Sounds simple – but there are always a few unknown quantities to reconsider. First of all, consider other peoples’ food allergies. Your guests may not want to bring this up on their own, either out of embarrassment or simply from concern their requests may sound ‘snobbish’ or ‘demanding’. You can take the onus off your visitor by asking weeks ahead of your planned gathering, “Is there anything you can’t eat or would prefer?” Not only will this avoid making mistakes with your main course, you will equally ensure everything set before your guests is welcomed and allergen-free.
#2: Okay, so it’s after dinner. We haven’t poisoned the lactose-sensitive and tree-nut allergic with peanut butter cookies and chocolate milk frosties. Everyone’s happy and full and teeming with good conversation. And now the hours begin to whittle away; one, then two and so on until its late into the cold winter’s night. If you’re like me, then good conversation melts away the minutes. It can also lead to those post-dinner munchies, despite having put away a goodly amount of the Christmas turkey and all its accoutrements.
Good rule of thumb: you will want to have both sweet and salty treats on hand for guests to snack on throughout the night. When it comes to snack time, the motto ‘something for everyone’ should apply. So, chips (tortilla, plain and flavored) plus popcorn, and, if there are no objections or allergy concerns, assorted nuts for those with a salty yen; cookies, chocolates and individual wrapped hard candies for those satisfying their sweet tooth. You can add various dips and dipping sauces to this assortment of goodies; also, slices of torte, panettone, fruit and cranberry loaves, and any other snack-able treats your heart desires. The aim again should be for ‘variety’.
#3: Okay, so it’s a quarter to one in the morning and everyone agrees it is time to retire for the night…er…morning. For overnight guests, my rule is to give them the ole five-star treatment. If they were staying at a hotel your guests would have certain expectations about their room. And even if they are too shy to expect or ask for them while staying with you, you should still endeavor to provide as many luxuries as you can to make their stay a pleasant one. This goes well beyond stocking the bathroom with enough tissues and toilet paper so your guests do not have to go looking for them or ask you for more. Ditto for clean bed sheets and enough blankets, comforters and pillows to keep everyone cozy and warm.
A lot of people prefer to have a drink of water either before they go to sleep or perhaps sometime during the middle of the night. Do the concierge one better. Have some natural spring water chilling on a bedside table, placing a bucket or vessel large enough to accommodate some ice and a few sealed bottles of sparkling water for their convenience.
We have all stayed in spare rooms that look as though no one has ever spent a night there, or worse, moth-eaten and monastic, characterized by sparse old furnishings and mismatched pieces, simply brought together out of necessity rather than instilling any sort of real charm. You can minimize this foreboding sense of isolation by adding a few homey touches to the room. You can also treat the spare room as a suite in a hotel; laying out wrapped chocolates and perhaps a few freshly cut blooms and/or an aroma candle or plug-in to provide an inviting scent. Also, provide your guests with ample drawer and closet space for their belongings. Lay out clean towels and wash clothes for their bathroom rituals. Briefly show them the amenities. But once your guests have ‘moved in’ treat the room as their space for the duration. So, hands off and keep away.
Speaking of it – space permitting, provide your guests with comfortable chairs or perhaps a settee with pillows and throws where they can rest and relax when they are not in bed. You may also want to consider an adjacent table with good adjustable-brightness lights for stay-in guests. This can serve double duty as a desk, stocked with pens and writing paper, note cards, envelopes, and stamps. For the more ambitious; try compiling a list of some favorite local places – restaurants, cafes, museums, antiques shops, movie theaters, etc. et al. And provide timetables, if appropriate, for buses, ferries and/or trains.
To round out your generosity, try assembling a small personal library to include a diverse cross-section of magazines, favorite novels and, of course, the daily newspaper (useful for local listings, like concerts). A radio for morning news and quiet listening in the evening is also thoughtful, as is a portable CD player with a selection of music. If it is possible, you may also wish to provide your guests with internet/Wi-fi access and perhaps a personal TV patched into your local cable network, or a Blu-ray player with a selection of choice movies stacked neatly beside. Remember, it’s all about making your guests feel less like visitors and more like people who belong here with you – family, actually. So, prepare for the deluge with a smile. It’s going to be fun. As the old Spanish proverb suggests, “Mi casa es su casa” – my home is yours. Welcome!
Laura N. Blair
Principal Interior Design Consultant
Laura Nicole Design
Downstairs at Coulter’s Furniture
1324 Windsor, Avenue
Windsor, Ontario, N8X 3L9
Phone: 519.253.7422 Ext. 239