Entertaining with Elizabeth Mayhew

Top Tips for Hosting a Stylish, Welcoming Affair

September 30, 2019

Interior designer and lifestyle guru Elizabeth Mayhew is known for her epic party-throwing skills, whether it’s an intimate fete or a full-on blowout. “Entertaining is like theater,” she says, “it’s a play you’re putting on for your friends. As in a live performance, things don’t always go as planned, but no one remembers that—they only remember the good stuff.”

A devotee of Scandinavian furniture, Mayhew chose pieces for the house that span numerous eras, from a Gustavian settee to a Saarinen table. Series of felt-on-felt compositions by William J. O’Brien and oil painitng by Ewa Juszkiewicz. Tableskirt in Le Castellet 175983; for settee upholstery, get the look with James Stripe 71350; both Schumacher, fschumacher.com. Floors covered in wall-to-wall sisal; get the look with Scottsdale 33186, Patterson Flynn Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com. Francesco Lagnese


Organize Your Grocery List by Aisle Before Shopping

All the dairy together, all the produce together, and so on. It will work wonders for your efficiency.

Take Out the Platters, Serving Pieces and Tableware in Advance

“It’s overwhelming to cook and set the table and get everything else ready all on the day of the party,” Mayhew says—so don’t.

Think Through All the Stages of the Party

Where will coats go? Do you have the supplies you’ll need for cleanup? And don’t forget the bathroom. “The three places in your home that people will almost certainly be in are the living room, the dining room and the bathroom,” Mayhew says. “Stock hand towels in the bathroom, and put the light at a nice level.”

Jamali Garden 10-Hour White Votive In Clear Glass, Set of 25


Pay Attention to Lighting

“It’s so important,” Mayhew says. “I’m surprised by how many people overlook it.” Adjust down any lights on dimmers, and don’t be shy with the candles. Mayhew illuminates metal-and-glass lanterns with big pillar candles and buys votives in bulk.


Tweak Your Space to Fit the Event

Mayhew never committed to a formal dining table—she loves how she can morph her dining room’s configuration to suit her needs. Instead, she relies on a stash of inexpensive folding tables that lend themselves to infinite configurations.

Invest in Some Ballroom Chairs

“They stack, so you can pull them out when you need extra chairs and then store them again easily,” Mayhew says. “They’re incredibly versatile.”


Consider Doing a Buffet

“With so many different food preferences these days,” Mayhew explains, “people often like to put together their own plate.” Choose things that can be eaten on a plate on someone’s lap with just a fork, no knife required—chopped salad instead of a leafy one, for instance, or a chicken curry instead of whole breasts. Including a hearty vegetable dish ensures that vegetarians will be well fed, too.

Assign Seating for Sit-Down Dinner

“A friend of mine says, ‘Six seats itself—after that, forget it, you need to do place settings,’” Mayhew says. Save beautifully calligraphed place cards as treasured mementos of your events.

Predetermine Your Drop-Dead Timing

“Even if you’re still waiting for someone who’s running late to arrive, there comes a time when you have to serve the food,” Mayhew says. “Have it in your head what the absolute latest is that you’ll start serving.”

Embrace Room Temperature

It’s impossible to cook everything at once—and it’s also not necessary. “Many things are actually more delicious at room temperature,” Mayhew says. “I don’t stress about everything being piping hot.”


Set up a Self-Serve Drinks Table

“I put it at the far end of the room, which gets people moving through the space,” Mayhew says.

Pay Attention to Furniture Placement

A misplaced sofa or chair can stymie the flow of a room. Throwing a party is one sure way to find out whether or not your current floor plan works.

Elizabeth Mayhew whipping up a cake in her Millbrook, New York, kitchen. Francesco Lagnese


Send Guests Home With a Treat

Mayhew, an avid baker, often gives her guests muffins to enjoy as a post-party breakfast.