i planned this post earlier to be relevant during the holiday season, but between the flu, and the demands of work, somehow it didn't happen. but better late than never, right? so here's the story: early in the holiday season, maison21 attended a party at an acquaintance's home that promised to be a lovely evening- the guests were chic, the host's new home was pretty darn fabulous, the food was amazing and the liquor abundant. and you know what? maison21 couldn't wait to leave! he thinks many of the other guests felt the same way, too. the reason? because the hosts committed one glaring error, and i do mean glaring- the house was lit as if by klieg lights! every single ceiling light, chandelier, and table lamp were all blazing away at full wattage- it was so bright, you could have easily performed surgery in the living room! in a word, it was uncomfortable. maison21 was a little shocked- he really thought that since the hosts were fairly sophisticated people, that they would have known better. so maison21 started paying close attention to the other parties he attended, as well as to the parties and dinners he observed while walking his dog in the evening hours, and he realized that this partay faux pas was actually fairly common. while most of you reading this are probably already aware of the power of proper lighting (and by proper, maison21 means dim), maison21 thought if he can save just one last holiday party from a potential ambiance disaster, then this tardy post will have been worth the effort...
in the age of trader joe's and whole foods, everyone can serve delicious food at their parties, (even without the expense of a caterer), and everyone has access to a costco or sam's club to load up on the jumbo bottles of ketel one, so it's the little things- that extra attention to detail- that will make your party stand out. maison21 thinks that one of the simplest ways to establish an ambiance that signals your gathering is an event, not just another party, is with your lighting. and when maison21 talks lighting, he means lots and lots of it, but with the end effect of seeming like none at all.
in a simple poll of my friends, i found that most of them weren't even aware of god's gift to the table lamp, the 7 1/2 watt bulb (on right in below photo). maison21 always has these in the table lamps of the public areas of his house, and before a party will actually go through every other room and replace every single bulb with them as well. lamps with black or opaque shades get the clear version to create a pretty puddle of light, and the rest get the frosted white version. you can get these little miracles at most hardware stores, and sometimes at places like target, for about 3 bucks a pop. but if you buy online in bulk, in advance, you can get them for as little as .50 cents each (here's a source). with these lovely little bulbs, you can have every lamp in your home blazing away, yet still keep things deliciously dim- think intimate lounge or restaurant kind of dim. your guests will look fabulous in this lighting, and so will your home, and when your guests feel they look good, they are much more likely to freely mingle and flirt, and that's the real secret to a great party (of course, lots and lots of liquor helps too).
now here's where maison21 gets even a little crazier with the lighting shenanigans- he then gets up on a ladder and replaces all the bulbs in his ceiling fixtures and chandeliers with lower wattages as well. even though all his ceiling fixtures are on dimmers, he likes to take this extra step because nothing ruins his carefully lit atmosphere faster than someone cranking up a dimmer switch to full blast so they can share baby pictures or vacation photos- maison21 will gladly provide you with a flashlight for that purpose if needed, thank you! most specialty light bulb retailers have 5 and 10 watt candelabra base bulbs bulbs available (online as well, of course), and in the above photo, i placed a clear 10 watt globe next to a standard 25 watt clear globe from the grocery store. they are a little smaller but still look fine in most chandeliers (maison21 almost always prefers a clear bulb in overhead fixtures and sconces).
the last step to successful party lighting is fire- lots and lots of it. maison21 likes candles everywhere, and if you have a working fireplace, it should be lit as well- even if you have to run the air conditioning! maison21 thinks candles should be in every room where guests will congregate or pass through, including entries and bathrooms (hallways and stairwells too, if you can do it without creating a fire hazard). don't overlook the kitchen- maison21 changes the wattage in there too, and scatters lots of votives over the counter tops and shelves, because like it or not, guests always end up in the kitchen at the end of the night, and even dirty dishes look prettier by candlelight!
one last note- go easy on the scented candles- maison21 loves a scented candle, especially since he has pets and is a little paranoid about odeurs (mariage freres' thé des mandarins is his favorite if you are reading this, santa). masion21 likes to extinguish any scented candles before guests arrive ,though- the scents can become rather overwhelming over long periods, like the course of a cocktail party. oh- and never light a scented candle beforehand if you are having a dinner party- your guests should have their appetites whetted by smelling the food to come, not a diptyque candle.
now, please go enjoy the last of your holiday parties- maison21 has to go a plan a cocktail party of his own for the new year, since now all his friends are going to be too scared to invite him to their next party lest he critique their lighting on the internets...
ps- kudos to patrick, one of maison21's oldest and dearest friends, and from who's delightful party maison21 just returned- your ambiance was perfection!