How can we make our house a destination?

Fire pits = instant party house!
Last year, my husband and I bought a house. It is cool, it has a backyard, we've decorated (sort of), remodeled a weird rental unit into a fun room, and have a grill and patio furniture and everything. We're even conveniently located on a bus line and there's parking in front of our house.

We want to make our house the hangout spot for our friends, the way that our parents (or our friend's parents) made their houses the hangout spots for us. How do we do that? Every time we try to throw a party, we spend way too much time and money getting our place and the food and the music all ready.

How do we make our house ready all the time, without emptying the bank and becoming Martha Stewart?
-Masha

I've always been lucky that the spaces I live in have been frequently been used as a place for my friends to hang. To the point where I'd come home from work and find a group of friends had let themselves in, and were relaxing on my couch watching TV… which I LOVE! I happen to be a homebody, and am so much more comfortable partying at home then I am at a bar or club.

Now, pulling this off has been quite a feat because I've never had an outside space, I have nosey/complain-y neighbors, and parking is crap. So you already have a LOT going for you. Here are a few ideas on how you can easily make and keep your house party-ready.

  1. Don't stress. If you're getting all worked up about having the right food or the right music or if your guests are having a good time or not, it's probably obvious that you're stressing out. Your friends are going to notice and feel like they're putting you out. Which means they won't want to hang at your place, because they feel bad for you.
  2. Stock up on easy foods and drinks. Hotdogs last forever in the freezer. If you have fruit, you have a fruit salad. Keep chips and salsa on hand. If all else fails, you can always order in. Also, one of the reasons my place is so popular is because I'm known for being the gal who always has a bottle (or 4) of wine at the ready.
  3. Have a designated hang spot. Arrange your living room so that your couches and chairs are always arranged in an L or U shape — it's the best for encouraging conversations and for making everyone feel included.
  4. If you're outside invest in a fire pit. Even if your backyard isn't dressed up for a party, light the fire and watch the ambiance take shape.
  5. Wire for sound. My favorite part about my parents' house (which also was a party destination) was that they had indoor/outdoor speakers. Often times all you needed to do to get the party started was to turn on the outdoor speakers and it was go time.
  6. Have a couple party playlists ready to go. If it's small hang, some chill background music is fine. If it's a big hang, kick up the tempo. If it's a family party, pick music that won't offend. If it's an orgy, make sure you've got a lot of sexy tunes.

And just keep in mind that you don't need to be Martha Stewart to throw a good party. It's not about decorations, signature drinks, or Pinterest-worthy menus. If your friends are comfortable and you're having a good time, that's all you really need.

So what are YOUR tricks to having an easy party-ready pad?

  1. Totally on the not stressing about food. I'm super stresser when it comes to food at our parties. I'm always like, "I'll make pulled pork, and guacamole and taquitos and pigs in blankets and make a veggie tray and buy a gallon of salsa and get 7 oranges for old fashioneds and 15 limes for margaritas…" And then we end up with leftover food that ends up spoiling. The limes though, we used them up. We had a couple over a couple weeks ago to watch the hockey game, and my first thought was, "I'll make a lasagna!" Husband said, "I'll make turkey patties and fries." At first I was horrified that it wasn't OMGFANCY enough, but it was totally fine, no stress, and much fewer dishes. People are coming over to hang out with you, not to judge your culinary prowess.

    9 agree
    • I really, really need to hear this. I want to be a great hostess, but stressing and making sure everything is PERFECT probably makes me more of a downer than anything.

      4 agree
  2. Grab some folding chairs or cushions for extra seats, or throw down a blanket for seating. Stuff you can easily pull out and put away. You can also freeze cookies and stuff like that to have on hand.

    5 agree
  3. My tips… that I'm still figuring out!

    1. I find that having people over more often keeps the house cleaner! Straightening up and light cleaning after a couple of days takes a lot less time than undoing 3 weeks of letting it all get a bit out of hand.

    2. Plan lots of small casual gatherings instead of one big one. It might help create a pattern for your friends if they know that YOUR house is where to find some fun.

    3. Keep your pantry stocked with a handfull of staple items. (Wine, good crackers, a couple of cheeses, chips and salsa, popcorn, hummus and a drawer full of takeout menus) Then you can augment it with fruits and veggies, adding specialty items for something extra fancy. Serving a couple of options is PLENTY… you don't need a buffet every time. and don't forget to encourage contributions! When people ask what to bring, take advantage of it.

    My challenge is distance… we have a great party house, but are at least 40 minutes from most of our close friends. I have asking-people-to-drive guilt.

    7 agree
    • #1 is absolutely true. We're lazy and hate cleaning, so inviting people over helps us because we don't want people to see what slobs we are ;)

      3 agree
  4. We used to have people over for games and always had the rule that everyone brought something – a bottle of wine, a bag of crisps, nuts, juice, beer whatever. That helps keeping costs down. Also, they don't feel guilty eating all your stuff all the time.

    3 agree
  5. We seem to end up having people over a lot, which I love. Often one friend "stopping by" turns into a dozen people hanging out for hours. Given that that sometimes occurs at the drop of a hat, I have a couple tips to offer:
    1. If you worry about appearances, try to keep your house tidy all the time, so that when a last minute party is going to happen you don't have to go nuts cleaning. Doing a bit of tidying each day will make it easier to get party-ready quickly. (Bonus: a tidy house will probably feel nice for you even when you're home alone.)
    2. Keep cheese and libations handy (or the equivalent if you don't eat cheese/drink alcohol) and they will draw the crowds. We've had multiple friends say things like "I love your house because whenever I walk in there's fancy cheese and good beer!" I just throw a little block or two of interesting cheese in my basket when I'm at the market. If guests don't come by to eat it… darn, I have to eat it myself!

    4 agree
  6. Crash space. Maybe this doesn't apply for every social group, but our house became the go to hang out spot because we had the most spare beds. A lot of our friends are suburbanites who like to come in for the weekend. They'll stay out til three on Friday, crash at our place, and then we can all hang out on Saturday. Or, we all go out Saturday night, and then come back to hang out at our place til dawn. Since there are plenty of places to sleep and no pressure to leave while you "still have energy to drive home," it makes hanging out a lot easier. Even if people do end up going home at the end of the night, they're more likely to come over if they know they don't HAVE to if they get too tired/drunk to drive.

    We have a twin bed tucked into our library, a broken (but still usable) futon in our basement, a full bed in our craft room (it doubles as my fabric/pattern spreading surface), two air mattresses in our closet, bunk beds in the nursery (the babe is still in a crib), and the world's most comfortable sofa.

    17 agree
  7. I have found that whatever group of friends I may have at any point in my life, we all tended to congregate around the most chill person. They would have the mentality of, "Hey, I don't really want to leave my dorm/apartment/house right now, but if you want to come over and hang out, that's cool." Often this would actually be the least convenient place (smallest dorm room of anyone that didn't even fit everyone comfortably standing) but everyone would still gravitate there. I think it was because they knew they could grab a drink from the fridge, or turn on the tv/play a game without having to ask. They didn't feel like guests because they hadn't been "invited for a movie or dinner" or anything. And the "host" would often just do whatever he had been doing, but talk a little with the other guys, or maybe join them or let them join him. It was always so casual. I think the no stress thing is important. They have to feel like they're at a second home. :)

    7 agree
  8. We've started doing a pizza night every Thursday. We provide crust, sauce, and cheese, and our friends bring over whatever other toppings they want for a potlucky type celebration. We're still ironing out some of the kinks (mostly that some people don't understand that it's rude not to bring food to a potluck if you're planning to eat), but our friends know that they're welcome over any Thursday.

    2 agree
    • A couple I know used to do Quesadilla Night on Thursdays. They'd do up quesadillas for everyone, then frozen fruit + yogurt smoothies for dessert. Cheap, quick and satisfying.
      I think having a designated get-together is awesome. Everyone knows then to show up on Thursday between 6 and 11, no need for reservations.

      3 agree
  9. Our living room is a little small and sometimes seating can be a challenge, to solve that problem I made some big cushions and had my dad help me make a small 'floor table' everything slides under my couch perfectly! I try to keep a deck of cards with the table too.
    We also started doing some fun theme nights, last weekend was board games. We invited everyone to bring some food and a game, we provided punch and it was a blast. The thing that seems to make it all fun is how low key it is, and that its a group effort. Less stress on us and our friends.

    1 agrees
  10. Be sure people know that if you don't want them there, you'll kick them out. This helps the shy types (like me), who upon being told to stop by any time immediately say, "Oh, I'd love to, but I don't want to bother you and I'd hate to be a nuisance but I'm really not doing anything tonight and I'm lonely but I'm sure you're busy nice talking to you bye."

    When I was in college and our apartment was a "destination," we made it clear that company was welcome unless we told them to leave. Sometimes we did (usually in the form of "I HAVE TO STUDY BYE"), and everyone was cool with it.

    6 agree
    • I love this! I think some of our friends are super-polite and don't want to intrude – so we spend a lot of time convincing people that yes, we do want you to stop by – and balancing that with being too pushy for you to just COME OVER to our g-d house already!

      2 agree
  11. I keep all the stuff we need for a bbq in an old wine crate (plastic plates, forks, napkins, grill tongs, party cups and of course balls for beer pong!)
    It makes hosting BBQs of any size so much simpler, because I don't need to run around gathering stuff I just pull out this box and we're ready to go!

    4 agree
  12. My #1 tip is to get over the idea that your house has to be super clean to have people over. Pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen? We'll sit outside!

    My #2 tip is to buy 2-buck Chuck or other cheap wine by the case. That way, you always have something for a low-key hang-out.

    4 agree
  13. The biggest thing you can do to let people enjoy coming over is to WANT them to come over and make them feel welcome… whatever that translates to in your circle. And keep inviting. Just because guests decline 3 times doesn't mean they don't like you – they might just be busy.

    I agree with the crash space, especially if serving booze. I have a sign up letting people know that they're welcome to stay over. (You also want to keep at least one entertaining space and restroom free of clutter, dirt and bad smells at all times.)

    I also store "alternate" foods like non-alcoholic drinks and gluten-free vegan/vegetarian fare to accommodate a wide range of diets.

    Naturally vegan and gluten-free snacks include:
    chips and salsa
    popcorn
    fruit
    veggies and hummus

    For impromptu meals, keep some brown rice pasta and basic marinara, brown rice and ready-made Indian food, or hearty vegetable soup in the pantry. They store well and are cheap to buy and serve.

    2 agree
  14. Along with hot dogs, keep a couple of those tubes of Pillsbury rolls…then cut hot dog into pieces, roll into dough, bake for a bit, serve with condiments on the side, and you have
    quick easy and yummy hor'dourves! And ALWAYS have a bottle of bubbly on hand:)

    3 agree
  15. Box of wine. Seriously. It lasts forever and I'm always thankful to have it when friends come over!

    0 agree
  16. I tend to make a big pot of spaghetti bolognese for dinner when we have friends over because it's easy, yummy, cheap and freezes well. We live close to a bottle shop as well as a brilliant pizza store, I make great coffee and we're very easygoing, so our place is automatically our friends second home.

    I have always noticed though, that if the house is perfect… no one drops in. They only seem come over when there are dishes to be done and toys strewn across 3 rooms.

    3 agree
  17. Pandora is a great way to have a soundtrack without creating time consuming playlists. A bookshelf with a lot of board games stacked on it gives people something to do when they stop by. Besides game night, you can also do movie night, game watching parties, smores nights outside… The possibilities are endless.

    3 agree
  18. The main reason people will want to hang out at your place is because they love hanging out with you. So don't make a fuzz – food does not to be special, as long as no one leaves hungry, and people tend to bring their own drinks if you ask them nicely. ^^

    However, I will gladly assume that our place is mainly the reason for most hang-outs (althouhg we live about 1hr by public transportation from most other people we know) because we have got a projector, allowing for cinema-like experiences with wine, homemade cookies and inappropriate jokes without getting thrown out. ^^

    0 agree
  19. This may not be your thing but we have a hot dog roller (this one) and we love it. We get so much use out of it with guests. It takes about ten minutes to warm up and twenty minutes to cook the dogs and you don't have to *do* anything but toss them on. For us it's a lot easier than firing up the grill.

    0 agree
  20. It has taken years of me making too much fuss over events to realize a few things that people have already mentioned:

    – don't make a big deal out of people coming over. no one wants to feel like a burden.

    – the level of effort you put into prepping for an event should never exceed the significance of the event.. i.e. don't spend days/weeks planning a st. patty's day brunch, that's what weddings are for.

    – stock up! we always keep our liquor cabinet well stocked, beer in the fridge, and snacks in the cabinet. I always keep pre-made cookie dough in the freezer and brownie mix in the cabinet in the event of an emergency.

    – enjoy the company. people want to feel comfortable and relaxed.. and it's a lot easier to do that if the host is relaxed as well.

    – Keep perspective on what's important. personally, i would rather eat frozen pizza at someone's house than watch them cook the entire time i'm there!

    :)

    2 agree
  21. Our house is a destination with our friends. As a professional gardener our yard is epic so the scenery may have something to do with it. We have lots of flowers and a sweet patio. Tons of plastic lawn chairs and a fire pit. Croquet, shuttle cock, bocce ball, and horse shoes are group favorites with our friends. In the winter months we have movie marathons and board game night.

    We're super green here so when the friends come over I just pull all of the plates out of the cabinet, all the napkins out of the drawer and place all the cutlery into mason jars. My friends know to at least place their dishes by the sink but many of them will even wash and/or load the dishwasher. Anyone asks what to do with their cloth napkin? Right into the washing machine please!

    We are drinkers and have a keg-o-rator (yes, yes we do) so friends know they can always grab a beer and then throw a dollar in the jar on top. We often have friends put a larger bill in there occasionally and I feel fine having people over without them chipping in for kegs. I also love mixed drinks and wine. So we can offer OPTIONS when people are over. Since having a kid we've started having juice boxes and other kid friendly TREATS available. We're partying, they should too.

    Our house is modestly sized(1100sqft) and honestly I think this helps. It doesn't take many people to make the party feel bumping and it's also super quick to tidy up.

    Our house has a reputation for being clean. We may be two working parents but our house is never filthy. So no fears upon entering the bathroom. BUT I'm a klutz, we have a 20 month old and we own two dogs and a cat. So things are never perfect. If you spill something we'll clean it but please don't feel too bad. I know you would never throw your drink/mac n cheese on my sofa!

    I haven't had a party that wasn't a potluck (excluding our wedding!)of some kind ever. Who cares if the food doesn't go together. Or maybe it's gorgeous but tasteless. People are the focus, food is secondary. If everyone brings dessert, more dessert for us! We will often have theme food parties in the winter months. Sushi night is a fav. We make rice and buy the staples. And then friends bring the fillings, or miso, or whatever! Pizza night where people bring toppings! BBQ where people bring things to grill and other random-ness in the summer. We've also had appetizer parties, and pie parties. When inviting people I always tell them what we will be providing. Then I feel they are in charge of their own dietary requirements.

    Finally one needs to be a good hostess/host. Try to introduce people who don't know each other. Make a point to do this with kids and adults too. Offer people a beverage (at our house they then fetch it themselves usually)and then let them know what you've been doing and what people are up to now. As a hostess you will be providing sweaters to the chilly, napkins to the messy, directions to the lost and conversation to the wall flowers.

    Don't get wasted, your guests need you.

    6 agree

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