Tuesday, February 14, 2006

When Nicole Spiridakis moved into a studio apartment in Adams Morgan four years ago, she knew she was swapping space for access to one of the District’s hippest neighborhoods.

What Ms. Spiridakis wasn’t willing to trade away was her penchant for parties.

“The first weekend [I moved in] I had a dinner party. We all sat on the floor. It was really fun,” the 27-year-old says.

The District resident is like many in the region who refuse to let their modest space prevent them from being festive.

It takes plenty of creativity and some understanding friends, but people who live in studios and small apartments can throw parties just like those living in larger homes.

For Ms. Spiridakis, it’s all about using “every little space.”

“I don’t have a lot of furniture. I have a lot of open space, and I keep clutter to a minimum,” says Ms. Spiridakis, who threw a surprise party with 20 guests for her boyfriend last month upon his return from Europe.

“Everyone seemed to go with it pretty well,” she says.

If studio dwellers can’t make their space bigger, the least they can do is create the illusion of size, says Jen King, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot.

“If you paint the walls a lighter color, it makes the room look bigger,” Ms. King says. “A darker color looks more cozy.”

Homeowners also can tinker with their lighting to give guests the feeling the space isn’t as cramped as it might appear.

“Be selective about how you light the room. Combine layers of lighting instead of one light source like a ceiling fan or chandelier,” Ms. King says.

Adding accent lighting helps make a room appear larger — a few table lamps can do the trick, she says.

It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to throw a party, just a little proactive thinking.

Michael Roberson, owner of her self-titled interior design firm in Arlington and a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, says District denizens can set the right party mood with little space and even less money.

“It’s amazing what [some] candles, flowers and drinkable wine will do,” Ms. Roberson says, adding that it doesn’t take a prohibitively tony bottle of bubbly to win over friends.

“The main thing is to serve the best that you can afford,” Ms. Roberson says. “Cheap wine will make people miserable.”

The food portion of the menu is just as critical, but party hosts should consider breaking free from the standard dinner or buffet format.

“You can do a wonderful American version of tapas, a selection of finger foods that are very filling,” she says.

Homeowners dealing with tight spaces should keep them as clutter-free as possible before a party, but Ms. Roberson says overstuffing is the biggest problem she sees in homes, no matter their floor space.

“Put away a few of the accessories so everyone has a space to put a drink down,” she says.

Too many people feel compelled to display every ounce of bric-a-brac in their collection, she adds, in part to avoid hurting the feelings of that favorite aunt whose gift they feel must be displayed.

Small spaces should feature clean design, with one room element, such as a large bookcase, serving as a focal point, she says.

Denise Willard, owner of Decor by Denise in McLean, says the bookcase can be pressed into service come party night.

Ms. Willard says she has helped clients maximize their space by converting bookshelves into food shelves. Her client added a candle on each shelf along with a dish or two to free up existing table space for other uses.

Ms. Willard says her clients often discuss with her the challenge of throwing parties in cramped quarters, and she, in turn, teaches them how to transform their homes into spaces for both everyday living and the occasional party.

Most of those clients have small homes, but even those with more square footage ask Ms. Willard for help entertaining guests.

“For parties, people tend to be all on the same floor,” she says.

No matter the size, the key is staying realistic about how many people can squeeze in a given area without making them uncomfortable, she says.

Putting people at ease can be a combination of keeping the guest list modest and using mirrors and glass to give the impression of added size.

“Trick your mind … maximize the space visually,” she says.

Ms. Willard offers clients a few simple tricks to create more seating space come dinnertime.

“Ottomans are great for entertaining,” she says, adding that they can be hidden easily under a coffee table.

She helped one client free up extra seats by converting a bed into a makeshift couch. She pushed the bed against the wall and arranged throw pillows on it to make it look extra-inviting, she says.

If the party is fairly casual and the homeowner has large pillows available, they can be distributed across the rooms to create cozy floor seating, she says.

Ms. Spiridakis, who throws roughly one dinner party a month, has learned from experience how to make the most of her humble home.

She suggests serving food that can be sampled hot or cold — food may sit awhile because the host won’t have enough space to cook while guests are loitering in the kitchen A quiche is a fine choice for eating either warm or at room temperature. She uses every inch of her kitchen during parties, including turning the counter where she normally dries dishes into the bar area.

Ms. Willard says keeping certain areas relegated to specific functions is smart.

“Keep clearly defined spaces for hors d’oeuvres versus your bar area,” she says. “If everyone’s in the same space, it’s not going to work.”

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