Being a good host thankfully requires very little: a warm invitation, some good food and guests to enjoy. It doesn’t hurt to have a few go-to entertaining pieces for the table, either. Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, founders of Canal House, a culinary, design and photography studio in Milford, N.J., and authors of the James Beard Award-winning “Canal House Cooks Every Day,” host dinners and gatherings four to five times a month, including for each other’s families. On their must-have list for hosting are platters, serving bowls, white taper candles, thin-lipped glasses and nice napkins — all in a restrained style. “It’s about the food and not the props,” Hamilton says. “The things we love have a simplicity and an elegance, a beautiful edge and are never too shiny.” Other food and entertaining experts we talked with added a water pitcher, favorite flower vase, cutting board and bar cart to the lists of musts. Because when you invest in pieces for entertaining, you want them to work not just for the holidays, but also for casual dinners, birthdays and beyond.
Hamilton and Hirsheimer recommend a good serving bowl for salads, mixed pasta, popcorn and even centerpieces, such as a bowl of bright oranges. They like East Fork’s pottery and its Weeknight serving bowl because of the hand glaze and its evidence of the craftsman ($110, eastfork.com). “The bowls come in gorgeous earthy colors,” Hamilton says.
“I use this for water and flowers always,” says Seri Kertzner, founder and “chief party officer” of Little Miss Party, an event-planning and styling company in New York, of Anchor’s large glass water carafe ($6.99, target.com). “Prep as much in advance” for get-togethers as possible, Kertzner says. “I find hosts often leave too much for the last minute and are scrambling at the party to get it all done.” When she can pre-fill water glasses, she uses her pitchers for flowers.
A fan of whimsy, interior designer Krista Watterworth Alterman of Krista + Home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., one of 2019’s designers for the Kip’s Bay Decorator Show House Palm Beach, breaks out her lip- and mustache-shaped place-card holders for dinner parties. But for buffet-style holiday parties, she always turns to the Portina marble cheese board ($88, anthropologie.com). “A beautiful array of meats and cheeses is a quick and easy crowd-pleaser. . . . I add fresh herbs to dress up the board.”
A bunch of flowers can cover a multitude of hosting oversights. Interior designer Tavia Forbes, of Forbes + Masters in Atlanta, says she often turns to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for flowers. “If floral arranging isn’t your thing, do a monochromatic arrangement in a cool vase,” she says. Skip “the clear vase and look for a colored or patterned glass or ceramic,” such as West Elm’s retro encased glass vases ($24-$59, westelm.com).
“A linen or cotton buffet napkin is a must,” says Kaitlin Moss, blogger at the Every Hostess, which won Saveur magazine’s editors’ choice for best entertaining blog of the year. “It’s an easy way to dress up a table setting, especially a simple white plate. . . . I recommend investing in a few different colored ones, but also white and black ones.” Her picks are the cotton buffet napkins from World Market, which come in a set of six and are available in 27 colors ($9.99, worldmarket.com).