Social season

Whether your home is a tiny apartment or a suburban sprawl, the view from your front door is likely to include friends and family straggling up the walk sometime over the next few months. Whether it's Aunt Margie and her Chihuahua come to make a claim on your guest room or a crowd for cocktails, you just want what any host wants: to make people welcome and comfortable. That, and to send them away still talking about your hosting prowess and flawless sense of style.

We're here to help. We've pulled together our current favorite ideas for entertaining. Add one to your repertoire and send 'em home happy — and a little jealous.

Wine charms Most are too fussy by a mile. But let's face it, fewer glasses per guest is a good thing. So cut the cute and go industrial chic. Hit the office supply store for round paper tags, which can be customized with a rubber stamp and easily labeled with guests' names or initials. The finishing touch? Attach them to glasses with ball chain from the hardware store. Or score numbered brass key tags and tie them on with jute twine or classic waxed string. Ours are flea market finds, but sells similar tags.

Chalk cloth We came across this entertaining idea in a craft book, "Sewing With Oilcloth" by Kelly McCants (Wiley Publishing, $18.99): Use chalk cloth, available at fabric stores and, to simply cut out a table runner that you can write on. Use it to label foods on a buffet table, or hand the chalk to kids who can doodle during long dinners. Alternate idea: roll out craft paper on the table, and use black marker to label foods, or colored washable versions for kids.

Low/high food The trend to comfort food can make hosting easier. Focus your efforts on grocery shopping for artisan ingredients to elevate favorite, easy dishes. We like an amped-up grilled cheese (try a good Gruyere on artisan bread layered with a few slices of crisp apple) snipped down to cocktail party size using kitchen shears. "Bite by Bite" (Clarkson Potter, $35) by Peter Callahan, caterer to the likes of Kate Spade, is full of more ideas for low/high party food.

Candles Tuck small, white ones everywhere; on bookshelves, the table, in windowsills, along the staircase. (Use flameless lights in danger zones.) Gather all your candlesticks and mass them on the table or use a couple of dramatic candelabras on the table for a dinner party. If it's scent you're after, keep the candle far away from food and choose a high-end candle. Place a glam one (the one shown is from a new collection by Restoration Hardware) in the foyer to give your house a signature scent or in the guest room for visitors.

Carafes: A glass carafe (ours is a rustic-yet-glam version by Georg Jensen) elevates whatever you're serving, but is especially nice for keeping a drink of water handy for overnight guests. Serve milk or orange juice in them at a brunch, or keep iced coffee handy.

Greens: Lavish a little love on your home's entry point, since guests see this spot first. One key element: something green, to add life. If there's no room for an oversize plant (we like the look of fiddle-leaf ficus or even a clipped boxwood) go minimal yet bold, with a single, sculptural monstera leaf in a simple glass vase.

Hangers: Uniform hangers might just be the next best thing to a uniformed doorman. Buy a pack, and instead of throwing your guests' wraps into a pile on the bed, clear out the hall closet and use it to hold guest coats and handbags. (Keep your own jackets on a bed somewhere during the party, if need be.) No more pawing through other people's things when visitors are trying to make an exit. While you're at it, throw some decent hangers in the guest room for overnighters too.

Disposables: If you're thinking of using plastic flatware, spring for the upgrade to bamboo. Do it because it's greener. Or just do it because it looks and feels nicer. If you're aiming for a pared-down look, bamboo utensils work especially well.

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