We kept décor low-key this time around to foster a comfortable, come-as-you-are vibe. Strike a similar note at your next dinner party with these entertaining tips:
Counter Argument: The first rule of entertaining is that everyone ends up in the kitchen. So why not start there, by inviting your guests to get up close and personal at the kitchen counter or island as you put the finishing touches on dinner? We set the counter with flame-red striped place mats (four for $140) from Commune in L.A., which add pop to the meal and hide the inevitable stew stain or two. Plus, there's a primal pleasure to sticking close to the stove on a cold night.
Help Yourself: Stack dishes and glasses buffet-style, and let guests help themselves to flatware collected in a Mason jar or large tumbler. We chose simple Bistroware serving bowls ($25) from Canvas--a favorite source for no-frills tableware--and hefty stemless wineglasses ($15 each) from Canvas' sister store, Ochre. The bowls' substantial size feels generous and encourages guests to eat up. And don't worry about cloth napkins; paper will do just fine.
Double Duty: The tools you cook with can easily double as serving pieces. Arrange appetizers on cutting boards--we used these handsome slabs (from $48) from Canvas--and plunk that pot down in the center of the counter. An Ethiopian cotton napkin ($21) spread across a baking sheet acts as a tray for serving dessert.