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How to Make the Most of Your Small Dining Space

When thinking about how to entertain in a small space, the first rule is to play to your strengths.

‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings! It’s a magical time of year — except for those of us living in a space that more closely resembles a walk-in closet than an Architectural Digest spread.

For us, the idea of hosting a huge group of family or friends can be cringe-inducing. Where will the coats go? Where will everyone sit? How many cocktails do I need to serve before people forget how tiny my apartment is?

When thinking about how to entertain in a small space, my first rule is to play to your strengths. A real estate agent wouldn’t call your dining space small — she’d call it “cozy.” Embrace that! Cozy is exactly what everyone wants during the holidays.

Dress up your table

Pick a warm, textural tablecloth (a length of burlap or velvet is easy to come by at any fabric store, and you can cut both to size without hemming) and pile on the candles. Line the table with several small vases (or jelly jars) filled with flowers. Dim the lights, turn on the music (Van Morrison or Zee Avi are my go-to Pandora stations for dinner parties), and make sure there’s a pot with apple cider and fragrant cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove.

Two words: more mirrors

If you’re really self-conscious about the size of your space, a couple of well-placed floor mirrors can work wonders. Lean two on opposite walls or hang one (or a trio) on the wall above the dining table instead of art. It’s a trick I’ve employed more than once in my tiny dining space, and it never fails.

Belly up to the buffet

If you’re hosting a dinner, buffets are your best friend in a small space. Appetizers go on your coffee table, and line up entrees and sides on your kitchen counter, bar, or even a repurposed console table. I find it helpful to put a table runner beneath the food, so it feels more intentional and less like you just threw everything out haphazardly (these mats from Chilewich get bonus points for being trimmable, so you can cut to size).

Build levels for more space

Also, it can help with both aesthetics and tight spaces if you use cake stands as platforms for a few dishes. (If you don’t have a cake plate, an overturned bowl under a plate secured with a few gobs of removable adhesive putty will do the job remarkably well.) Put utensils in drink glasses or clean old tomato cans, set out a stack of plates and a roll of cotton napkins, and you’re set.

Seating for 10? No problem

If you have a dining table that seats four and want to host eight to 10, you have a few options. Bring your patio table inside (or borrow one from your neighbor) and set two small tables. Use coordinating tablecloths to make the two feel cohesive together. Or, create one long table by adding a card table from your friendly neighborhood big box store (of course, I would never suggest returning it the next day…) and leveling the two tables to match using a few furniture-moving casters.

Bench your guests

Grab a stylish bench to accommodate extra seating — I guarantee you’ll always find a use for it elsewhere in your home, however tiny it may be. (Find a tablecloth long enough to cover both, and no one will be the wiser.)

Hit the floor

Another options is to split into small groups: place one group at your dining table, and let another group dine Moroccan style at your coffee table. Throw down some floor pillows or poufs, embrace the theme with a beautiful block-printed tablecloth, and I’m guessing your guests will be fighting over who gets to sit on the floor.

Embrace the space

If all else fails, skip the formal table altogether. Use your small dining table as the buffet, move the chairs out into your living space, and have a few extra side tables on hand. Some of the best dinner conversations I’ve ever had were during meals when I gave up the ghost and let everyone eat wherever they wanted. Show your guests you’re relaxed, and they will be too.