The mark of a good host is someone who makes it all seem effortless. Yes, that croquembouche may have cost you the majority of the morning and all your sanity, but as far as your guests know, it’s something you whipped up while they were commuting. For Vanessa Traina, founder of The Line and one of New York City’s most stylish women, it’s all about working ahead to ensure you (and your guests) leave all stress behind as soon as the fete starts.
“Your party is only as good as how much people enjoy themselves,” says Traina. “[It] is about encouraging whoever you’re hosting to forget about everything and have the most fun experience. Set up the bar, arrange the florals, light the candles before everyone arrives… actually, it’s a pet peeve [of mine] if anyone gets up and tries to help clear the table! Whatever you can do to make them forget about any kind of maintenance.”
Traina, an accomplished stylist in addition to her current role as The Line’s creative director, knows a thing or two about setting the scene. We saw her work in action most recently at a dinner party curated for Grey Goose to celebrate the launch of the brand’s limited-edition martini fountain, dubbed La Fontaine. Set in a stylish Manhattan loft, she left no detail unattended; from holiday crackers that doubled as name tags to two-tone flatware that matched the navy blue theme, every part of the tablescape was intentional.
Which is why we figured Traina would be the perfect font of wisdom for all our holiday hosting–related questions. She’s equally as comfortable helming a formal gathering as a casual get-together (pulling inspiration from the French dinner party style, which Traina is a fan of)—so, no matter what kind of evening you have planned, here are some tips to see you through.
Vanessa Traina of The Line on…
The one design tip for setting the table everyone should follow?
I have so much fun setting a table. I don’t think I have any more room for china or placemats in my apartment, but I will find more. I may start storing them in the oven or something because I’m always mixing them around and trying new things. When it comes to a table, mixing and matching is the best. If you don’t have enough chairs, pull some from other areas of the house and take some out so it feels intentionally undone.
The one centerpiece that never fails?
I think any good table should have something living and beautiful and immersive or interactive. [It’s] a feast for the eyes that draws you to the table. Typically, for me, that’s flowers, candles, and food.
The one floral combo you’re loving right now?
This time of year, I like something that feels warm and lush. Seasonal fruits like persimmons and pomegranates [paired with] magnolia leaves give that feeling of fall.
The one unexpected tablescape addition no party should be without?
You should always have something playful that’s an icebreaker for your guests. It could be traditional party crackers or hats; something for your guests to get into the moment and interact as soon as they sit down. When you’re doing something for the holidays, it’s always fun to be festive and joyous.
The one dish you can’t go wrong with?
I’m very good at dressing the table but less good at serving any kind of food. But for the holidays, it’s so fun to be decadent. Maybe if you’re having a small dinner party, have a white truffle pasta.
The one place you find the perfect recipe?
I find everything on Instagram. I also rip recipes out of magazines; I do still read magazines. I’m not sure if I’ve ever made one, but I have a folder of them.
The one cocktail always stocked in your bar cart?
A martini, bien sur!
The one trick for the perfect playlist?
I do find that it’s always nice to play a mix of familiar, older tunes that people know. They immediately feel relaxed and comfortable.
The one piece of entertaining advice you’ve learned over the years?
Hire a caterer. And I think placement is very important if you’re having a seated dinner. You should always think about how your guests will interact with one another. If you have guests who are more outgoing, scatter them around the table.
See more entertaining stories to prep for the holidays:
Psst: The Best Expensive-Looking Holiday Decor Is at Target
The 7 Best Mail-Order Pies for Those Who Can’t Bake
Go for Bold: How to Style a Graphic Tabletop