Setting the lights
The right lighting makes your home (and your guests) look their best. Our experts agreed that overhead lighting has no place in a party; place lamps on multiple levels throughout your rooms, dim the lights and add candles wherever you can.
"Avoid candles by the bar and the buffet though," cautions Rollins. "You don't want your guests going up in flames."
She also suggests skipping scented candles because they compete with the scent of the food.
And while lighting should be low in conversation areas, keep bathrooms and food areas better lit.
Setting the table
Food can make or break a party, but Rollins insists, "It's not about what you're serving, it's how it's displayed."
For buffets, she suggests using smaller dishes and refilling them frequently.
Push the dining table against the wall to create more space for mingling around the food, Turner recommends.
And a signature cocktail adds a festive touch, and can streamline bar mess and bar costs.
For dinner parties, Mindy Weiss, a Los Angeles-based party planner, suggests setting the table the evening before the party.
It's the small touches that really bring your party to the next level. Turner recommends wowing guests with a spa-like bathroom: "Remove all your junk and replace it with a sprig of pine, a candle, new hand soap and lotion."
Provide a stack of rolled hand towels so guests don't have to share the same (increasingly damp) towel, Turner suggests.
If children are invited, Weiss suggests having spaces and activities available to them -- a table with wreath-making kits -- so parents can relax.
As for where to hang coats, Rollins recommends a rolling garment rack in a bedroom. "It's so much nicer than just throwing them on the bed," she says.
She also recommends being prepared for winter weather: "Keep salt and shovels on hand," she cautions. "And make sure driveways and entryways are well lit."
Above all, make guests feel welcome. Get the cleaning and chores out of the way before they get there, and "open your door to welcome your guests looking like you didn't lift a finger all day," Weiss says. "If you time things right, then you should be able to offer your guests a cocktail and conversation."