“We have plenty of room. Plenty of towels. Plenty of everything.” The Griswold family home in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (otherwise known as the best Christmas movie ever) did have plenty of room—though that didn’t stop mayhem from ensuing, because it wouldn’t be a Chevy Chase movie without it.
If you’ve got company headed your way for the holidays—whether unexpected family à la Cousin Eddie—or people you actually, you know, like, you’re probably in full-on Get Stuff Ready mode right about now. And if you don’t happen to have a sprawling home like the one every Christmas movie family seems to live in, do not worry. No matter how small or challenged your space, there are ways to make hosting holiday guests run more smoothly (sorry, no advice on the loopy relative front, though).
I spent several years in a 900-square-foot bungalow along with two dogs and my partner, and my mom marveled at every visit at how tiiiiiiiny it was, so I feel your pain. Now I run an 800-square-foot attic apartment Airbnb so I’m constantly looking for great small space hosting hacks myself. Luckily, the eight experts (a.k.a. people who actually live in tiny apartments) we turned to for more advice gave us some of their best tips to share with you.
Let’s meet our tiny space dwelling pros, shall we?
- Akhira is a New Jersey interior stylist and designer who recently moved from a 288-square-foot Brooklyn apartment.
- Christina is a wife, mama, artist, metalsmith, small business owner, and interior designer in a 900-square-foot lakeside bungalow in South Carolina.
- Katie, who lives for design + thrifting + coffee drinking, and her family call a 900-square-foot 1912 house in Massachusetts home.
- Robin is the managing director of multidisciplinary design studio Branch & People and has lived in tiny Vancouver spaces since 2008.
- Shannon, a tiny house dweller, wanderer, teacher, adventurer, and Harry Potter lover (currently) in upstate New York lives in a home on wheels with her partner and two big dogs.
- Sara, an executive assistant and ceramic artist in Louisville, recently moved, along with her partner and cat, from a 900-square-foot condo in Chicago.
- Satu, a salesperson from Finland whose passion is home styling, lives in a 226-square-foot apartment with her partner and toddler.
- Jeff and Chris live in a Victorian row house in DC—not a tiny house, but minus closets and with disjointed spaces, certainly not one designed for “how we live today.” Interior designer Todd Martz of Home on Cameron helped them address the space’s challenges.
And now, for the advice (take notes):
First things first:
Before anything, and if there’s only one thing you can do, clean. Every single person listed cleaning—often deep cleaning, and especially bathrooms—as priority number one before guests arrive. (It warranted eight exclamation points from Akhira.) When your space is small, it’s hard to hide dirty and clutter very well, so tidy, tidy, tidy.
What else is necessary before the doorbell rings?
- Jeff and Chris: Add over-the-door hooks to bathroom doors if you don’t already have them. It gives guests a place to hang wet towels. Include a decorative bag on the door hook for toiletries so they’re out of the way.
- Robin: On a West Coast slightly flaky note: I smudge often to help make everything smell and feel great—it’s a tiny space and every detail counts.
Okay, everybody wants to be in the kitchen when you’re cooking. How do you deal?
- Akhira: The secret is to turn on music and dance around each other. Make it fun. Also, have everything out that you may need to fix the meal instead of fumbling around trying to find things in all the weird places you might have stored them. As you finish one task, clean and put away the excess.
- Jeff and Chris: Make an assembly line. This way everyone stays in the same spot while working on their prep for the meal.
- Robin: It’s inevitable, but it helps to provide plenty of seating options—we have a long table down the middle of the space that seats six, as well as a three-person sofa and lounge chair in the “living room” space.
- Sara: Don’t serve something that needs a lot of condiments. That way you aren’t cluttering table space with sauces and dressings, or having people going back and forth from the fridge.
- Shannon: Having a grill with extra burners outside is key for us. We only have two burners and a small convection oven in the house, so we use the grill often, even without guests.
But, but, but, where do people sleep?
- At Akhira’s place it’s a sofa bed, with this hack: The pillows from that sofa that you have to remove to pull out the sofa bed, place behind the bed to act as a headboard. This saves you floor room and time with figuring out where to store them. [I can vouch for this one!]
- At Christina’s: A comfy couch layered with soft linens and bohemian blankets doubles as a bed.
- At Katie’s: I think maybe the most obvious is having an air mattresses on hand! I also love trundle beds; they’re so convenient to have extra sleeping space that can just be tucked away!
- At Satu’s: Our guests sleep on the floor in our kitchen. We have a small couch in our living room but it’s so small that a mattress on the floor is more comfortable. If our guest stays more than one night we lift their mattress and bedding from the floor and put it over our bed during the day so it’s ready and easy to move back to the kitchen floor.
- At Shannon’s: In the summer, we set up a tent in the yard. (A hammock is also on the horizon!)
How do you deal with the guest linens the rest of the time?
- Todd: Add an ottoman or coffee table with storage in the guest room as a place to keep linens for the sofa.
- Katie: I love wicker baskets! I usually go for ones that have an attached lid. They’re so functional and offer great storage as well as a natural texture. I also keep large vacuum bags handy for our out-of-season linens–its a great hack for anyone with limited storage.
- Shannon: [In addition to adding drawers to their closet] We have an amazing cubista ottoman from Resource Furniture. It breaks down into pieces, which turn into stools that we use for dinners when we have guests over, and it’s also open on the inside when it’s put together, so we keep our pillows in there during the day.
One last thing to remember:
Turns out, guests love staying with you, no matter—or even because of—your tiny space’s quirks and charms. So don’t worry about bumping elbows and stepping over each other—just enjoy the company and don’t fret too much!