A few weeks ago, Inez Trowell prepared, as she always does, the family Thanksgiving dinner.
For many people, it's tradition to celebrate the day with about a dozen or so children, parents, grandparents and other relatives. For the Trowells, the tradition includes a few more guests.
"We had about 60 or 70 people this year," said the wife and mother of two teenagers who married into her husband's large family 25 years ago. "It doesn't seem like a lot of people to us; we do it so often."
Because her mother-in-law had 11 children and has more than 30 grandchildren and around 20 great-grandchildren, such gatherings are commonplace, especially over the holidays, Mrs. Trowell said.
With help from three sisters-in-law, this year's feast included a 13-pound turkey with dressing, two hams, four pans of macaroni and cheese, potato salad made from 10 pounds of potatoes, pots of collards, peas and corn, six types of cakes, 12 pies and peach cobbler.
Though their three-bedroom Montmorenci, S.C., home is not a mansion, everything and everyone fit, she said.
With furniture removed, two tables that seat 40 were placed in the den and three tables, seating 30, were in the living room. One main kitchen table contained the meats, desserts and some sides; the vegetables remained in pots on the stove.
Mrs. Trowell said she's used several sets of her fine china in the past, but has conceded to paper plates for easier clean up. Guests serve themselves buffet style.
Mrs. Trowell, who has 10 siblings, will help with entertaining relatives on her side of the family this week. Her mother - who also has more than 40 grand- and great-grandchildren and whose house is smaller than Mrs. Trowell's - will hold an early Christmas gathering at her Clarks Hill home Friday.
At both places, Mrs. Trowell said, there's a lot of space consumed and tight squeezes.
"But nobody cares because everybody's family, so you just bump butts and keep going," she said.
Katie Brown, a lifestyle expert, New York Times syndicated columnist and star of Katie Brown Workshop, a cooking, decorating and gardening show that will begin airing on public television this spring, said people should never let the size of their homes be a deterrent from entertaining.
"No. It makes it so much more intimate if it's crowded," she said emphatically. "There's nothing worse than going into a party and seeing lots of empty space."
For a couple of years, LaTrell Pollard, of Aiken, was deterred from holding holiday parties because she was skeptical about fitting a lot of people into her one-bedroom apartment. When she wanted to hold a Mike Tyson fight-watching party last year, however, she realized it could work.
"I did it. There's an open dining room-den and a living room. What you do is you move most of the furniture into the bedroom," Ms. Pollard, 27, said, "and 20-something people fit comfortably."
Having lived in small apartments until a year and a half ago, Ms. Brown said, this type of situation is the story of her life. She recommends moving furniture around.
"Go ahead and rearrange the furniture, put a couch against the wall, put an ottoman in the closet. Rearrange it so it will accommodate, so when people get there they don't all hover in one place." she said.
Another "really important tip," she said, is to have more than one light source.
"Mix it up, have a table-top lamp, a floor lamp, mix in some votives. If you don't have a dimmer switch, it's a good time to switch out light bulbs to a dimmer wattage so it looks larger inside," she said.
"Lighting can really add to the ambience of the room."
Ms. Brown suggests utilizing rooms people don't usually consider.
"Remember not to put everything all in one place - put the bar in one area, a cheese platter on a table top, punch in the kitchen, fondue dip on another table," she said. "Don't be afraid to incorporate another room in the house. Breakfast trays are elevated, so set up a breakfast tray on the bed in the bedroom and put a platter on it. When you've got a small apartment, you've got to use most of the rooms."
Ms. Brown also suggests making sure the bathroom is really clean, and not overlooking it as a usable room.
"If you have super small space, it's not a bad idea to fill up the bathtub with ice cubes and fill it with bottles of champagne, wine, beer, soda and water if you don't have enough room to put a big bar somewhere," she said, adding that with limited space, it's a good idea to not do a full mixed bar station. "Choose a signature cocktail or cosmopolitan or spiced cider so really you're serving one mixed drink, but they'll also have beer, wine and soda," Ms. Brown said.
If there's no room for a full buffet or sit-down meal, choose bite-size appetizers that will be filling because "you want people to get full," she said.
"Do finger food, but that has substance. Go to the grocery store's freezer section and get sheets of puffed pastry, cut it into squares and layer with ham and prosciutto, apple and brie or cheddar and bacon with a little ranch dressing and chopped chives on top," she said.
Ms. Brown also suggested spreading holiday dcor around different rooms so people will "meander throughout." And have a place, preferably a closet, she said, to store coats.
Though Mrs. Trowell admits that doing the big holiday bashes in small settings requires "early planning, early set-up, family cooperation" and a lot of work that could be eliminated by renting a large facility to hold the gathering, she's not interested in that route.
"It's family and family needs to be together in family surroundings," she said. "It feels more like family to be in your own home."
Whether it's an event for a big family or entertaining for numerous friends, Ms. Brown said, it's possible to pull off without a hitch.
"I think you're lucky if you have great intimate space and a lot of people," she said. "Just do it right, have the right food, the right lighting, the right bar set up - and it will be fine."
Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
specialKatie Brown knows how to make do with what little room a host might have for gatherings.[CAPTION]
Getting the most out of it
Katie Brown, a New York Times syndicated columnist, author of Katie Brown Weekends, a book of projects and recipes, and star of the upcoming cooking, gardening and decorating Public Television show, Katie Brown Workshop, has these tips on big parties in small spaces:
- Rearrange furniture
- Mix up the lighting with lamps and votives
- Make use of all rooms
- Reserve closet space for coats
- Spread dcor throughout house
- Let bathtub double as cooler and fill with ice and bottles of champagne, wine, beer, soda and water
- Choose a signature cocktail or cosmo rather than having a full mixed bar station
- Have filling finger food if no room for a buffet or sit-down dinner
- Use personalized napkins and paper plates for easy cleanup
- Don't allow a seeming lack of space to be a deterrent
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