Entertaining Basics: Ambiance

There are a few key things that sometimes get overlooked when throwing a party or entertaining that are key to your success.

These things aren’t super complicated nor super expensive, but are essential to making people feel comfortable and have a great time at a party.

LIGHTING

One of perhaps the most overlooked issues I see when hosting people is improper lighting.

Let’s just start off by noting that overhead lighting is a big no-no. That one light in the ceiling that you turn on? Only to be used in case of emergencies. Otherwise, leave it off. The shadows it will cast are never favorable to your features or your skin tone, the color is usually some horrible 6000K blue fluorescent light, and it will highlight everything you don’t want your guests to see, and hide everything that you want your guests to see.

BONUS: LIGHT BULB COLOR SELECTION

Let’s go back to that 6000K that I mentioned. What does that mean?

On every box of light bulbs - whether LED, fluorescent or halogen or other - they will have a color spectrum on it. 6000K is blue, white, bright and cool - usually called “cool” or “daylight” - which is perfect if you’re lighting an aquarium, but isn’t what you want to create a warm and cozy lighting situation in your home.

Instead, choose bulbs in the 3000K range - these will be usually called “warm”, and they are that lovely golden-orange color that you want.

Instead, use a variety of lamps (with warm bulbs) to ensure that the lighting is warm and glowy in your home. They don’t have to be super expensive, but you want to ensure that you have at least three sources of light in each room - preferably at different levels. For example, in the bedroom you’d want to have a light on a nightstand next to the bed, a floor lamp of some sort, and maybe a third lamp on the dresser.

The main exceptions to this are areas where the overhead lighting is much more subtle- think overhead chandelier in the dining room, pendants above a kitchen counter, spotlights in the kitchen. These have already been set in place to allow for more subtle lighting, so you don’t need to worry about those.

If you want to layer in another set of lighting, you can also add candles too. On the table is a nice touch, but also having some lit in a darker area of the home is a great way to make people feel cozy in your home.

MUSIC

The biggest way to make your guests feel uncomfortable? Keep your home absolutely silent.

There’s a reason why when you enter a restaurant or any place of business they have some sort of music playing. It’s to distract you and make you forget just how awkward the interaction is. As humans, we find ourselves drawn to and changed by music. Fast-paced jazzy music will get you up and moving, while a quiet list of Chopin makes you just want to sit and chat.

We usually set the mood with some very chill and relaxing music - Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Adele among others and during the summer Kee-ju usually plays salsa music during outdoor dinner parties. You just have to know your guests and think of what they’ll be comfortable with.

Just remember: uncomfortable silences are uncomfortable. Play some music to set the mood and smooth over those uncomfortable or awkward pauses in conversation.

FRAGRANCES

Kee-ju used to have a roommate that would always light a Yankee candle whenever people came over. Despite the fact that Yankee candles smell terrible, he did have the right idea - scent is an important component of ambiance.

Here’s the thing about fragrances. Whether from a candle, incense, or other sources, eerybody is a bit different when it comes to fragrances. Some people really love certain fragrances and hate others. There are also people who dislike anything strong smelling, while there are other people who aren’t bothered by any scent.

What’s a host to do? The most important thing is to try and keep the smell as neutral as possible - or at least as appropriate as possible.

Citrus is my preferred scent - whether that’s orange or grapefruit or lemon. People tend to associate these scents with “clean” - that’s the power of Pinesol’s marketing baby - so they’re a pretty safe scent to use. An added plus is that they’re also some of the more economical essential oils compared to scents like lavender or ylang ylang.

I would recommend you stay away from any artificial scents. Although most air fresheners work well at clearing the air, they smell artificial - and chemical. And one of the worst scents you could do would be to put out an artificial scent that is based on food. Things like brown sugar or birthday cake should not be present, especially if you’re cooking food and it mixes with it.

Whether you burn a natural candle, light some incense (this Japanese incense is our favorite - we won’t burn anything else)

If nothing else, then the scent of the food that is cooking is usually fine as the major fragrance in the home. We love the way our home smells when there is a delicious stew or soup being made for dinner, and it really gets our guests excited for the dinner by giving them a little tease or preview.

If you’re hosting a holiday party, then certain scents are appropriate that might not work other times of the year. We like to have a pot of spiced cider or mulled wine simmering on the stove during a party, so the scent of cloves and cinnamon will fill our home during an event. It works - we ensure that nobody is scent-averse, and it fits with the time of year.

AMBIANCE WRAP-UP

I hope that this helps you to set the mood for your next party. Honestly, these things are very subtle - your guests probably won’t comment on how fabulous your lighting is, unless they’re our friends who are very detail oriented! - but they have a very powerful effect on how your guests feel at your party.

To summarize:

LIGHTING

  1. Never use the overhead light (unless it’s specialized)

  2. Use warm bulbs (in the 3000K spectrum)

  3. To use multiple sources, 3 in each room if you can

MUSIC

  1. Play music to set the mood. Slow and chill for a relaxed atmosphere, light and energetic for a more upbeat atmosphere

FRAGRANCES

  1. Avoid artificial fragrances

  2. Avoid overly strong fragrances - citrus is a good, safe, neutral scent

  3. If nothing else, let dinner be your scent of choice

OTHER POSTS IN THE ENTERTAINING BASICS SERIES

Entertaining Basics: Ditch the Paper and Plastic

Entertaining Basics: Glassware

Entertaining Basics: The Bathroom (And Other Unspoken Amenities For Your Guests)