Tips for Stylish, Stress-Free Entertaining

Michael Leva and Nancy Parker share their entertaining secrets with us.

Tips for stress-free, stylish entertaining from Michael Leva and Nancy Parker.

Hosting a dinner party at home can be daunting. There are menus to plan, food to cook, tables to set, and flowers to arrange — it’s no wonder that many hosts and hostesses wear themselves out with the planning. But entertaining at home doesn't need to be stressful or only left to the professionals.

According to Michael Leva, the author of Recipes for Parties along with Nancy Parker, “hosting a dinner is one of the most generous things you can do” for friends. Parker and Leva are the perfect example of two amateurs who love to entertain, and do it very well. Meeting through their work in the fashion industry, their conversations would often turn to their shared passions for flowers, food, and entertaining. Even though Leva is based in the Northeast, and Parker in the U.K., a friendship quickly formed. Whenever they are in the same country, Parker and Leva host parties together for their friends, always working to refine their adept entertaining skills while still enjoying the process.

We recently had the chance to sit down with Parker and Leva to talk about their secrets for hosting a stress-free and stylish party. They shared their most helpful tips with us.


1. Keep it simple, but do it well

There are no rules in entertaining! Whatever you plan to do, just make sure it is manageable so that you can do every step well. The most important thing to do is to make a to-do list, says Parker, as “this allows yourself to see on paper exactly what you have to do and plan accordingly — there is nothing worse than running out of time.” She advises some of the best dishes are those that you can prepare the day before the event, or even the morning of, so you are ready to go by the time the guests arrive. They've shared some of their favorites with us.


2. Set a neutral table

When setting the table, stick to a few colors. “People without experience in color tend to panic and throw too much at the situation, maroons, yellows, oranges all piled in together. They should simplify and stick to white, pale grays, or pale taupes,” Parker advises. With the neutral backdrop, you can then use one accent color that can be “reflected in the napkins, tea light holders, or the flowers,” she explains. 


3. Stick to simple arrangements inspired by nature

Credit: Pieter Estersohn

You don’t need to use rare or over-the-top flowers to create a stunning centerpiece for your table. Opt for modern arrangements that are fresh and simple. Leva is forever inspired by Madderlake’s floral concepts and uses whatever is growing outside his door, be it flowers or budding branches. “When creating arrangements at home, I love to use ferns, hellebores, and narcissus cut from my yard, varying the heights of each flower to add variety,” he explains.


4. Create ambiance

Turning on some music and lowering the lights contribute a lot when it comes to creating the right mood for your party. Parker and Leva both like to use lots of small lights when setting the table. Then again “I don’t have electricity in my dining room in Conn.,” Leva explains, so he doesn’t really have a choice! As for music, play whatever you want to play, just turn down the volume so that you can converse with your guests. Leva like to keep up with what’s current, and maybe push the envelope a little.


5. Don't forget to relax

Parker and Leva agree, “nobody wants to turn up for an extravagant dinner party if the host and hostess are miserable." Both have their own relaxing rituals before entertaining. Parker finds "a large gin and tonic, with the music ramped up, while I get dressed and pop on some makeup" to be "divine." Leva professes, "I’m a neurotic perfectionist, it’s true, but whenever I entertain, I always try to take a bath with a glass of champagne beforehand. If the host isn’t relaxed and calm, then no one will be!"

Click here to see A Simple Dinner Party Menu.


This story was originally published February 22, 2011.