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Susan MacTavish Best shares holiday entertaining tips

In San Francisco, and now NYC, Susan MacTavish Best's soirées are the stuff of legend (and envy).

Her guest lists? Never dull. The setting is glamorous but comfortable enough to encourage the kicking up of feet. And the food is always unpretentious but delicious.

The entertaining guru and author of the blog Living MacTavish is bringing the party to New York with her Soho pop-up, Living the Lab, where she's selling some of the artwork, furniture and tabletop pieces she's collected over the years: Think antique silver serving pieces ($1,500), colorful Moroccan glassware ($48 for a set of six), a folding Federal-style birch table ($1,700)--all on sale through December 1.

The space will also serve as a salon for nighttime events. She's already hosted a party for poet and lyricist John Perry Barlow, and a dinner on the future of food with Hampton Creek Foods founder Josh Tetrick is on the calendar.

Just in time for the holidays, MacTavish Best shared some party-throwing tips with us.

Chill out. "The only way for your guests to be at ease is if you're at ease."

Mix up your guest list. A range of ages and professions is important. "You don't want a dinner full of plastic surgeons or attorneys because they're just going to talk shop."

Less is more. Prepare a few pre-mixed drinks in advance. "People don't want a mass of choices; they like what's familiar. I also make a few tapenades, like my olive tapenade, and that takes care of my appetizers. Just go to Fairway and get a bunch of olives. It's so easy."

Save on serving platters. She prefers white platters, which she gets at shops like CB2 and estate sales, and inexpensive, functional wood cutting boards. "You can get wooden cutting boards at places like Marshall's for ten dollars."

Label everything. MacTavish Best always scrawls her menu on a chalkboard and labels all of the dishes and drinks on her table. "Otherwise, people will keep asking you, and it's a waste of time. Use travel tags or whatever you want."

Have a few creative touches. "Test tubes ($10 for four tubes) allow you to add a shot to drinks. I love beakers ($10 each); you can cook eggs in the microwave in them--and they're measuring cups. Down with Mason jars, up with beakers."

Living the Lab 91 Grand St. New York NY 10002

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