Well, it has taken me some time to get around to my first post on Simple Hospitality…because I’ve been entertaining! We have had a busy few days, with quite a bit of cooking, cleaning, setting tables, and sharing food with friends. Things have slowed down a little, so come right on in, settle in on the couch, and let’s chat about decorating, dishes, and dirty laundry!
1. I chose a style that worked for our family.
I wasn’t always drawn to cottage style decor and furnishings. When we were first married, my husband and I had a lot of black, cream, and brown throughout our apartment, and I was drawn to more modern accesories. I have always liked greens and reds, but I didn’t use white much, and had yet to discover pink. Then my mother gave me an old quilt of my grandmother’s, a flower garden style with a white background and lots of pastel prints. I stuffed it out of the way for awhile, then it eventually wound up getting draped over the back of our couch. Our brown couch. Every time I looked at that quilt I smiled and something of spring flowers and sunshine would pop into my head. I really, really liked it.
Very gradually, over the years, I have collected a full range of white, pink, red, and green furniture and accessories around me. I am also drawn to honey-toned woods, and a little distressing is a plus. There was no feasible way for me to have polished, fine furniture with my tumbly children about, so “shabby” works really well for us! Tag sales, flea markets, and thrift stores provide a wealth of vintage and antique finds that fit right in with my farmhouse/cottage/beach house style.
When friends come in to my home and express admiration for my decor, at times I will wink and smile and point out that all my decorations are at a height of four feet or above…just out of reach of little hands! So I have had to adjust and realize that for now, I can’t have bowls of potpurri on lamp tables…or candles, glass, picture frames, plants…all those things are present in my house, they’re just up on a shelf or on the wall.
2. We plan carefully for major purchases that simplify our life.
My best example of this, although I could give several, is my front-loading washer and dryer. They are super capacity, set up on pedestal drawers, a top name brand, and were by no means inexpensive. With four small children, I was already finding myself drowning under a mountain of dirty laundry. What happens when tiny little jeans become big jeans, and itsy bitsy sweatshirts are not so itsy bitsy? Those of you with teens could tell me, I’m sure! Also, I was having some back trouble and contemplating regular intervention that would mean a co-pay at least twice a week. We seriously thought it over, and I did a lot of research. Given the savings in water and electricity that we could expect from such a purchase, and waiting for an opportunity when we would not have to go in to debt to do it, we altered our laundry closet by nailing up some beadboard and installed a shelf for baskets. The new machines hide behind a pretty floral curtain that hangs from the shelf when they are not being used. Not only do I love the new look, I also have not had any back trouble since making the switch, I do laundry just one day a week now, and based on our new utility bills we will be saving $320 per year in water and electricity, and that does not include whatever heating oil costs we are saving on due to the lowered hot water usage. Sometimes, a large purchase can save money in the long run and greatly simplify your life, which can free you up to extend hospitality more often. I don’t know about you, but lots of dirty laundry lying around, or having to do wash almost every day, can interfere with my desire to have anyone over!
3. I use my dishwasher. Almost exclusively. If I can fit it in there, in it goes. Most days I just do one load of dishes, but if I have been doing a good deal of cooking it’s easily two, and after having friends over for dinner last night I did three loads of dishes today and still have more waiting in the sink. It is simply easier and faster for me to run a machine than to spend an hour at the sink washing dishes, and with little ones running around it’s hard for me to spend a solid ten minutes doing anything, let alone a longer stretch of time. I long ago stopped feeling guilty about this, especially since it doesn’t have much of an impact on our utility bills.
Also regarding dishes, I have streamlined and simplified what I store in my kitchen. We don’t have a huge collection of mugs, just a set that matches our plates and a few extra, in sets of two. If I have something I use all the time and it’s pretty or interesting to look at, it goes out on an open shelf or counter, so that it may double as a decoration. I have a few favorite kitchen gadgets, but if the one drawer that I store them in is too full to open, something has to go.
What I do have is a collection of vintage and antique glass plates, mostly dessert plates, and a growing collection of fine bone china teacups. I also collect vintage glass serving plates. Pulling these out for a tea party or for snack time after small group adds sparkle and shine and dresses the kitchen up instantly. It’s little touches like these–real plates, cloth napkins, a candle, background music, a pitcher of lemon water…simple but beautiful things that brighten and cheer and make people feel like you took time to do something special for them.
So, until next time, happy entertaining! Perhaps you could take a moment to sit down, plan a simple menu, call up a friend and extend an invitation to your home. In my next post, I will address cleaning and organizing, and then I hope to spend some time on cooking after that and I’ll share a couple of my favorite “gourmet” recipes that are simple and easy to prepare.