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Here’s How to Create the Season’s Most Stylish Dinner Party (and Brunch, and More!)

There’s more to the season than the bold-face main events. Not to take away from the traditions and ceremonies that mean the most to you and your family, but wouldn’t you agree that the last-minute get-togethers and low-key shared meals that end up happening before and after are every bit as meaningful and special?

And aren’t the outfits just as good, too?

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Agazit Afeworki, SPACE sales associate from our Seattle flagship, styled by Nordstrom stylist Keara Matthiesen in a Comme des Garçons tee and Molly Goddard Grace skirt (Nordstrom exclusive) with Ashley Williams earrings. She holds wonderfully giftable zipper pouches from Undercover. Some items available in-store only; please call 1.888.282.6060 in the U.S. or 1.877.794.5304 in Canada for assistance. 

All images by Jessa Carter

We’re in favor of celebrating togetherness as often as possible, and we’re also in favor of looking at decor and party vibes in the same way we look at fashion: as a mix of classic motifs, artfully unearthed components and new, inventive spins on everything else. 

To wit: the buffalo plaid appetizer plates, classic plaid napkins and felt coasters pictured throughout this feature. In the three set-ups presented here, I paired those cool, modern basics from our home department with three really different sets of family dinnerware and linens—all things I’ve received from my grandmothers and aunts—to show how flexible your holiday cheer can be.

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Festive, more-is-more handbags are always a good idea; this Rockstud from Valentino  will always get invited back.

It’s always been my way to take a certain power clash approach to colors and patterns, but even if that doesn’t work for you the bottom line is still the same: With a few key elements on hand—and a few key ideas in mind—you can pull together inspiring dinner parties, brunches and impromptu hangouts that are as spirited and chic as they are Instagrammable and impressive.

And in terms of your personal party style, we like what Olivia Kim said in a recent interview with Vogue.com: “I’m less interested in day pieces [being reserved] for 9-to-5, or evening being defined as after 8:00 p.m. Wear a cocktail dress over a tee shirt and jeans to work, and then gussy up those jeans for a night out.”

We mix heirloom pieces with new silhouettes; we rock tulle at brunch and sequined sweatshirts by candlelight.

Let’s do this. 

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DINNER: Pink, Plaid and Gifted

Our first table is set for a quiet gift-exchange dinner for four; a bright, vintage pastel floral tablecloth sets off our traditional elements, and when our friends arrive they’ll find their name tucked into a present—ridiculously cute zipper pouches from Undercover doing double-duty as seating cards.

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Editor Laura Cassidy wears an Alexander McQueen sweatshirt, a Tricot Comme des Garçons skirt and jewelry from
Simone Rocha and Charlotte Chesnais. Agazit’s look is detailed above; shown here also with rings by Lara Melchior and Anna Sheffield.

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Because guests will eventually want to eat what’s on the table and not just look at it, I will tell you the secret to kale salad. (Shown here with roasted squash and pomegranate seeds.) You ready? Time. Especially in the winter months when kale is hearty (another word for that is “tough”), it needs time to break down a bit so that eating it is a pleasure, not a chore. I dress mine with the juice and zest of an organic lemon, a generous helping of sesame or walnut oil, and some sea salt. Then I get in there with my hands and massage it—it’s really not enough to just toss it around. Work the citrus, oil and salt in with your bare hands; cover it with a tea towel or cling-wrap; and tuck it into the refrigerator and forget about it for at least 24 hours. If I have the wherewithal to dress my kale two full days ahead of time, I’m even more confident about it. And the leftovers—when there are leftovers—are even better a day or two later.
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And no matter how the rest of your menu comes together, consider this: par-baked sourdough finished off in the oven. Your home will smell like you baked all day, and nothing beats warm, crusty bread. Instead of butter, try some spreadable vegan nut cheese; all the good grocery stores are stocked with great options these days and even if you don’t have any vegan friends in the mix, the flavors really … well, they bring something extra to the table.

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A really beautiful cutting board makes a difference, too; I love the ones from Thirstystone. And don’t miss the opportunity to string some garland around. The felted balls—from our Nordstrom at Home collection—and the chandelier in the image below are a perfect example of pairing high and low, hard and soft, texture and shine.

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BRUNCH: Bring the Outdoors In

Everybody’s favorite meal, right? And there’s something so special about starting the day off with food and friends at home. I imagined this late-morning meal as a mix of natural elements and earthy flavors—my family’s ceramic plates and vintage embroidery with our plaid accents, a mostly bare table, and one of Thirstystones raw wood serving trays.

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Open-faced sandwich squares are a nice alternative to the standard meat, cheese and cracker assortment. For the ones shown above, I finished olive-oil-brushed, par-baked flatbreads in the oven and then used pesto, hummus, vegan nut cheese and goat cheese as bases for different combinations of marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled garlic, micro greens, capers and housemade lox.

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Side note: Lox is super easy to make, and really gratifying to share; it’s become a winter tradition at our house. All you need are two salmon fillets of equal size, a weight, a bunch of salt and sugar—and some time. Of course, you can get way more complex. My favorite instructions are from the beloved New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, but you’ll find no shortage of recipes in cookbooks and online.

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Agazit wears a bracelet and earrings from Charlotte Chesnais and Marques’Almeida’s denim minidress (Nordstrom Exclusive)
from Winter Whites, our special holiday shop at SPACE

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Another homey component: mini soup servings. It feels both fancy and comforting to welcome guests by taking their coats and then handing them a small, warm mug of something aromatic and filling. And as much as I enjoy making soups and stews, I can’t always make every course from scratch. You have to know your limits—and you have to know the very best grocery store and take-out options.

WINE AND SNACKS: The New Crystal Ball

For easy-going or fancy evening gatherings, you might consider mulled wine—the winter cousin of summer’s sangria. Like all my favorite recipes, those for the best mulled wine won’t really be specific instructions but, instead, a list of guidelines and possibilities.

I put this batch together with a really mild and inexpensive Merlot, a half cup of manuka honey, a cup of apple cider, the juice and zest of three organic tangerines, and a handful each of cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves. If you leave that on a stovetop set to low to warm all day, the magic will just happen. Like lox, mulled wine can be tweaked and adjusted in all kinds of ways; you might check out Ina Garten’s preparation, or Bon Appetit‘s. Food.com has an even simpler one.

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Rings from SPACE (left): the gift that keeps on giving. 

To ensure that even this simple offering could flex its way into cocktail party mode—if that’s the direction things ended up going—I paired our plaid elements with my grandmother’s cut crystal and glass bowls—and I moved the party over to the couch and coffee table.

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This Stella McCartney phone case: it’s for you. 

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Agazit wears a Marques’Almeida denim jacket and a Mociun ring;
plaid kitchen towels and bracelets from SPACE brands ACNE Studios and Tom Wood are “under the tree.”

And speaking—one last time—of moving effortlessly from simple gatherings to more elegant shindigs: We indulged ourselves in a final example involving embellished denim from Tu es mon TRÉSOR rocked up with a Christopher Kane cutout shift dress with some velvet platform sandals by Miu Miu and a standout clutch from Gucci.

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And with that, my holiday wish to you: May your placemats be velvet and your flatware be compostable bamboo. May your shoes be trainers and your mini made of satin brocade. Whatever the details, however you mix and match it, make it your own. Make it one to remember.

 DISCOVER: more party looks from emerging designers | all designer collections

EXPLORE: stylish home and entertaining pieces | designer gifts | our Winter Whites shop at SPACE

—Laura Cassidy