Hosting a Holiday Open House

By Mary Beth Schwartz

The holidays are here, and event planning beckons. This year may find you with a tight budget, limited design elements, and a hectic schedule. The perfect solution: a holiday open house – a festive yet frugal substitute to the traditional holiday party. Guests arrive at your house between specified hours for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, or even entree stations, and there is little stress.

Lee Gribben of Lee Gribben’s On Main in Emmaus  has been catering holiday open houses for Lehigh Valley residents for over 20 years. “It is important to know the palate of your guests. If you are on a budget, get a few hors d’oeuvres to supplement. A nice chicken dish will not break the bank. Little bowls of nuts and chocolates strategically placed around the house help to make the party,” Gribben says.

According to Gribben, his gourmet events can feature a variety of simple and elegant menus. A holiday open house tea can include mini tea sandwiches, specialty bar cookies, fruit tarts, and assorted mini desserts. A brunch might include an egg casserole, stuffed French toast, and breakfast potatoes. A buffet dinner option is a house chicken made with brown sugar, sherry, and herbs, accompanied by a type of mashed potato, salad, mixed vegetables, and rolls. Some hosts add special stations to a party, such as a hot chocolate station with a few selections.

With catering checked off of your list, next comes decor. Owner and Designer Lia P. Fraccaro of House Splendid in Emmaus helps clients design holiday open houses. “The pieces I choose to design with have to have longevity. I prefer pieces that are timeless, but they also have to be versatile. Great design is not just placing great objects around the client’s home. It is about selecting beautiful yet functional pieces that also have a special purpose and use. With our economy and people’s budgets, pieces need to do double duty. People feel better buying something that they can use not just for the holidays, but creatively throughout the year,” Fraccaro says.

Fraccaro offers creative, budget conscious decorating tips with many of the items she carries in her design studio/home accessory store. “Adding candles around the house for an open house creates great ambiance. Hurricane candle lanterns can feature a green or burgundy candle, with pine cones or Christmas balls added. Sand and seashells can be used for summer and acorns during the fall,” Fraccaro says. Double-sided pillows can add a pop of color all year long. “Tablecloths, placemats, hand towels, napkins, and other linens in earthy tones can be used for fall or a Christmas open house. Trade them out in spring and summer.” Fraccaro uses simple white platters year-round to not only serve food, but to showcase candles, lemons, even magnolia leaves. “Another fun element to design with during the holidays is chalkboards. You can draw on the board and it becomes seasonal art. You can write a warm welcome to guests, highlight a signature drink recipe, or list the menu for the party. After the open house, use the board to list groceries, appointments, and reminders,” Fraccaro says.

Some décor presents clients with design dilemmas, according to Fraccaro. “People like holiday art, but do not want to commit to putting a hole in the wall. I sell artwork with easels. The art can go on a foyer table, a corner table, a sofa table, or an area where you will be serving food.” Holiday wreaths also take up cherished wall space. Standing wreath hangers solve the problem.

Other helpful tips from Fraccaro for a holiday open house include:

• Changing out decorative hardware to give a room a facelift

• Playing jazzy background music

• Using lamps and overhead lights on dimmers rather than blaring light.

“All of these little simple elements will make a difference when entertaining,” Fraccaro says.

And last but not least, if you are a guest, do not forget to bring the host or hostess a present. “A well-chosen gift will be much appreciated – a wine stopper, coasters, an apron, hand towels, napkin rings, even recipe cards coupled with a music CD,” Fraccaro adds.

Owner Rosemary Tarola of Distinctive Accents in Macungie also has budget friendly design tips for a holiday open house. “First choose your theme, and create your invitation to match the theme. Gather your bowls, trays, and baskets. You can spray paint your old baskets with red, gold, silver, or white. Tie some festive ribbon around them to complete the look. Gather your vases and add some fresh greenery and flowers to put in different rooms of the house. If you choose to do lifelike greens and flowers, you can add some battery-operated willow branch lights. It adds a nice touch,” Tarola says.

Distinctive Accents hosts a Holiday Open House in November where Tarola and staff  help clients with holiday hosting needs.

Tarola adds not to forget major aspects of the holiday open house – the tree, mantle, and front entrance. Here are more of her tips:

Decorate your tree and mantle with light colors and add lots of lights. “The mantle looks great with nice big garlands and lights, and tuck in some inexpensive balls and ribbon.” Add candlesticks to give some height.

If you have a big hearth, get a large basket and fill it with scented pine cones.

“Place some garland around the front door and tie on ornaments that your guests can take home as they leave,” Tarola says.

Whether it is the décor or fare, it is possible to have simple and elegant for your open house budget.

Happy Holidays!

Distinctive Accents
The Shoppes at Caramoor Village
6465 Village Lane, Suite 2
Macungie, PA 18062

House Splendid
345 Chestnut Street
Emmaus, PA 18049

Lee Gribben’s On Main
194 Main Street
Emmaus, PA 18049

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram