Guest post by Rachel Walder
I live in a small flat. A one-bedroomed flat in London, a crowded and expensive city. Nothing specially unusual about that and in fact I’m proud that I own property here (mortgaged property, but you know what I mean). I love where I live. I deliberately chose location over space. I have great neighbours, my place is very secure and safe and I can leave all the windows open when I’m not in.
But until recently I still had a kind of embarrassment about it, and specifically, feeling that I couldn’t entertain here, or hold parties, or really have more than one or two people visit at a time.
This isn’t unusual, not to entertain at home – us big-city-dwellers not only tend to live in smaller properties but we often live a long way from each other, coming into the centre to work but then going back out to get home. So we meet and celebrate and commiserate in bars and restaurants, or the park or other communal places. Or, of course, in the houses of friends who have houses (or apartments).
There comes a point though when you want to reciprocate and, not only that, you just want to open your home to your friends and invite them in. Yet still there’s this hesitation, this feeling you ‘should’ have somewhere bigger (by now). Feeling that by showing your home, and you …well, that you’ll be judged on it. Judged and found wanting. And how silly is that?!
It’s a LOVELY thing to be invited into someone’s home – well, it is when you feel welcome and comfortable and neither of those things have anything to do with the size of the person’s house or where it is.
It’s all about how you feel, and are made to feel.
I really wanted to be more sociable at home (I’m a natural homebody, something I’ve only come to realise after years and years of always being out!), but the thing is that it becomes a big ‘thing’ if you can only seat four. So who’s going to be the lucky two or three?! It all felt fraught.
And then came … my breakthrough. And I really want to share this and the things that helped me not only overcome this fear but mean I now regularly really enjoy entertaining at home and have turned those negatives into positives. You can find lots of other great reasons why living in a smaller space is great here.
How did I have my breakthrough? As so often happens, it was a beautifully unexpected benefit of doing something else. Also as so often happens, it was because I was doing something new.
And when you do something new, you never know what other new things and opportunities you’re opening up too.
I write a foodie-based blog, and a year ago decided to invite people round as ‘guinea pigs’ for me to trial some new recipes (plus I’d applied for Masterchef UK and wanted a sanity check that I wasn’t totally deluded in even giving it a go).
And so The Tiniest Thai was born, and is now a monthly-ish supperclub seating just four guests, who share a tasting menu of around eight dishes.
So here’s my tips to how you too can go from frustrated host wishing time away until you get that dream home (or, y’know, just a second bedroom / tiny courtyard garden / separate kitchen/living room).
When you have room to invite lots of people – and by lots I’m even thinking of eight for dinner – there’s a dilution effect. You can invite a few people who don’t know each other, some who do, add people you don’t know very well into the mix, do what you like. When you only have two or three seats, it feels a bit intense and intimate to invite people you don’t know very well.
So the fact I’d invited people to come and test some recipes for me took the pressure off, it made it more casual, and it had a focus. Because I was going to be cooking, I didn’t need one of the four seats around the table and suddenly being able to invite four, with me perching on the sofa between courses, opened it all up.
And this shift away from being invited to ‘a dinner party’ and instead to an ‘event’ meant that everyone relaxed.
I have to admit that when I say ‘everyone’, I suppose I mean me! There was a focus and a reason, which took the pressure of me having to ‘host’ and initiate conversations, and it made it relaxed for my guests too.
So make it an ‘event’, rather than a ‘dinner party’. Find a theme, or focus, or something – it doesn’t have to be recipe testing as I started with, but it could be something seasonal perhaps Chinese New Year, Midsummer, the clocks going back, anything really - there’s always something to celebrate. Make a virtue of the small space and limited places! Just jump in and announce it.
Hey everyone, I’m going to be making the First Autumn Stew on Friday and I’ve only got room for four people – so who wants to come?
Or you could make your event a regular thing.
Every first Friday of the month, it’s cheese and wine! Three places – who’s in this month?
Honestly, you’ll have a waiting list before you know it …
Secondly, I started focusing on how I wanted guests to feel, and stopped concentrating on how I felt. I spent a bit of time thinking about it and know that I want them to feel relaxed and at home, completely at ease, enjoying food and meeting new people. I want them to feel really welcomed, and to enjoy the evening, I want it relaxed, warm and fun.
When guests arrive, I immediately show them round - and they put their bags and coats in my bedroom (they real reason of course is that there wouldn’t be room if they all brought them through into the open plan kitchen/living room!), I show them the bathroom so they don’t have to ask me and once I’ve given them a drink and made introductions, I also show them the fridge and ask them to help themselves if they run out of wine and water.
This actually works and people do so because I’m cooking lots of dishes and standing up they don’t feel it’s rude to get up and help themselves, they know that it’s helpful.
And the big one … the getting-over-yourself-about-the-size-of-your-home?
First of all, this is YOUR judgement to deal with and no one else will be thinking about that. What helped me was realising all the positives about having a smaller space.
It’s easier to clean and make look welcoming in some ways, so play to its strengths. A big house can feel comfortable and homely if it’s messy and lived-in, a small space is going to look its best immaculately clean.
What I want to achieve is that feeling of walking into a boutique hotel suite or very luxe self-catering apartment. As guests will see all my home (not just those rooms on display) it gives me a chance to show all the lovely details I’ve chosen to live with.
Guests will see my bedroom as they put their coats there, which means they get to see the wallpaper I’ve chosen and love (on one-wall) in my bedroom and I like to put a jug of white roses on the bedside cabinet. I like to carry on the hotel-suite theme by making the bed look luxurious with pillows and a throw across the end of the bed. I make sure there are piles of clean towels in the bathroom, my dressing gown hanging behind the door, my favourite orchid on the windowsill.
Minimalism in a small space is key to making it look elegant, and it’s all about creating an atmosphere that involves more of the senses than just sight so I have candles burning, fresh flowers, some lemongrass oil in the diffuser and chose the music to have playing.
But basically, you have to trust me on this. People love to be invited to someone’s home. Really. You really have to trust this. And it’s a bit of a novelty being welcomed into a smaller space that definitely has its own charm.
I can honestly say that until a year ago, I didn’t regularly have groups of people in my flat and now I hold a supperclub or other celebration at least once a month. It’s changed the energy of the place too, for the better - there is more life and laughter and movement.
I just can’t recommend it highly enough to muster up the courage, and throw open your doors. I would really love to know your stories and thoughts on this and if, as someone in a small apartment, you took the plunge and what happened …
Author bio: Rachel Walder is a blogger, Francophile and chilli-fiend, lover of big beaches, new experiences and (one) tiny dog, and founder of The Tiniest Thai supperclub. Her motto: be happy, keep it simple - and look for the beauty in everything. You can visit her website here.