By Megan Murray
There's nothing we love more than welcoming members and guests into our Houses across the holidays and watching them eat, drink and be merry. Whether it's being snuggled up in front of the fire at Soho House New York or walking down to the lake at Babington House, we aim to make our spaces the most special places to be this season.
So, when you're hosting your friends and family, how can you make your home feel just as inviting? A good place to start is always offering more than your guests expect, in a way that feels comfortable and casual.
Greet them with a freshly baked cake, deck out the guest room with small luxuries, have a spare pair of wellies on hand for a last-minute walk, surprise them with a Champagne toast - it's these little moments that make the best memories.
Here, we share all of our best-kept secrets on hosting our favourite people, perfect for trying out this winter.
Build excitement with an itinerary
Show your guests how much you're looking forward to having them by sending over a suggested itinerary a few days before they arrive. Whether you're hosting for a day or the whole weekend, letting them know what to expect and pack for will build excitement, especially after seeing how much thought you've put into your time together.
Make their arrival as smooth as possible
'Think about what guests need as they come through the door and equip your entrance hall accordingly,' says Candy Murray, Soho Home's Interior Style Manager. 'If you can fit a bench in the space, it's great for taking shoes off and storing them underneath. It looks stylish, too; layer up with a woven basket on one end for hats and gloves, and some cushions and blankets for cosiness.
'In the spirit of Babington House, I like to position a few extra pairs of wellies for a winter walk, and some slippers for everyone to put on when they come back. These touches will make your guests feel taken care of, and show that you have planned ahead. In terms of decor, a side table with winter flowers and a scented candle is a must as it sets the tone for the whole home. For winter, I like Soho Home's Pine fragrance with rosemary, clove and cedarwood.'
Be mindful of social seating
'While aesthetic is important, ultimately your guests will remember how being in your home made them feel, as opposed to just how it looked. This is the basis for how our Houses are designed; comfort comes first. So, if your living room needs to cater for more people, plan where everyone will sit beforehand to ensure that each person has a comfortable seat,' explains Jessica Sims-Wilson, Soho Home's Lead Interior Designer.
'When working with our design service clients, I always recommend arranging seating in a square or circle, never a straight line. Ideally, I would position a sofa opposite a pair of accent chairs with a coffee table in the middle, so that everyone can see each other. Pull in a pouffe, or even a dining chair with a plumped up cushion and a throw layered across the back, if you need extra seating.'
Add personal touches to guest bedrooms
There are lots of ways to make your guest bedroom feel like a home away from home.
Thierry Lepinoy, Soho House's Bedrooms Director, has spent years perfecting the comforting touches that welcome members staying overnight in the Houses. Some of his key tips include preparing the room with soft lighting, calming music and a hand-written note.
Surprise them with baked treats
There's nothing more inviting than something delicious baking in the oven, which is why we keep a tin of cookies in every bedroom and offer complimentary afternoon tea every day at select Houses around the world.
Try something similar and surprise your guests with scones, cakes or - to suit the season - mince pies. You may also find that if you're hosting for the whole weekend, guests might go looking for a snack between meals.
Think ahead and ensure that everyone feels comfortable to help themselves to some feasting boards kept in the fridge or a plate of savoury muffins or fruit loaf kept under a cloche on the side.
Perfect your signature holiday recipe
Sitting around the table together over the holidays is a special moment, made even more so by serving food you know everyone will love. In our opinion, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Practice a classic festive recipe until you know it backwards and get it right.
We love a traditional roast turkey with festive sprouts, roast potatoes and an apple caramel cake for pudding. Our favourite recipe comes straight from Babington House's General Manager and chef, Neil Smith, who uses ingredients from the Walled Garden to make his. Try it for yourself with his recipe.
Create ambience at the dinner table
This time of year calls for a well-dressed table, but Soho Home's Art Director, Harriet Howarth, stresses that meal times needn't be fussy - focus on good conversation and food, and the rest will come.
'If you have a marble or patterned dining table, keep tableware and linens simple and let the furniture speak for itself. But, if you're working with wood, have fun mixing prints and complementing colours to bring character,' says Howarth.
'Make the space feel ambient and social with dinner candles at varying heights down the middle to draw the eye and create atmosphere. Dot beautiful serveware around so that people can get stuck in - this is more important than a centrepiece.'
Don’t forget to toast
In the chaos of hosting, it's understandable that this special moment is often overlooked. But taking the time to thank everyone for coming will be a moment you'll remember later on.
Place a weighty champagne coupe at every table setting and don't reveal what it's for until the end of the meal, surprising each guest with a glass of something fizzy. Enjoy the opportunity to celebrate being together during the holidays and it will be a lovely memory for all of you.