Home Expert Deborah Needleman's Quick Fixes For 7 Holiday Conundrums

The former 'Domino' editor and author of the new book 'The Perfectly Imperfect Home' gives us her expert secrets for a stylish and stress-free holiday

If you’re like us, these last few days before the holidays are crazy with lengthy to-do lists and constant worry that things will go wrong. Stop panicking! We asked one of our favorite home experts, Deborah Needleman, author of The Perfectly Imperfect Home , to help ease seven key concerns about holiday entertaining, like what’s that smell? And do I really need hand soap? Read on and relax!

Conundrum #1: How do I display all my holiday cards?
I put mine in a shallow basket on the table in the front hall. I also like them nestled around objects on the mantle, but then I find I edit out the less beautiful ones, which is not very Christmas spirit-y! Hanging them along a string is nice too.

Conundrum #2: How can I keep my home smelling good?
I am obsessed with scent in the home. It does so much to elevate your mood. I think the first thing is to be a little snobby and only buy scent from fragrance companies, not from designers and others dabbling in scent and just licensing their names. I love candles, and even potpourri, if it’s good, and I have a lot of contraptions that you plug in or light a candle under to release scent.

In the winter, it’s nice to have warmer, muskier scents like sandalwood and cardamom and juniper and fig, rather than the cleaner, more white-flowery scents of summer like rose, lily of the valley, citrus flowers. But a mix is nice.

Some of my favorite purveyors are Frederic Malle, Jo Malone, Miller Harris, Diptyque and Santa Maria Novella.

Conundrum #3: Can I ask my guests to take off their shoes before coming in?
I don’t do shoes off at entry, because I believe the guest’s comfort is paramount. If someone wants to take off their shoes, that’s fine, and many do, and they just line up under a bench we have in front hall. The children always take off their shoes and I love how they look lined up, although they’re usually just scattered.

Conundrum #4: Do I need to put out guest towels?
I do think it’s nice to have hand towels, cotton or linen, instead of your regular towels when you have guests. These can be stacked near the sink or hung from your towel bar. Since people are often afraid to be the first to use a pristine towel, you can be the one to use it first to encourage guests.

Conundrum #5: Are guest soaps a must?
I think when you have guests, whether they're overnight ones or otherwise, it’s really nice to break out a new soap. (You can use the old one in your shower.) It’s kind of gross to be using somebody’s old soap.

Pump soaps are another way to solve that problem and don’t have to be switched out. I’m coming around to those because I love the Molton Brown ones so much.

Conundrum #6: What’s an easy way to make my dining room table look festive?
Right now I’m loving the look of lots of tiny vases with flowers in them dotted about, mixed in with loads of candlesticks. The thing about tiny flower arrangements is they are inexpensive and easy to do: Little bud vases with just one or more of the same kind of flower in them; different vases can have different kinds of flowers. (You can buy inexpensive bud vases, but you can also just use glasses you have.) Look around your house and see what little objects you have that all share a color or a palette. Try grouping them together and seeing which ones are nice together.

Conundrum #7: How can I ensure my holiday cocktail party is successful?
The essentials are dim lighting and ample drinks! Turn off that overhead light. Or, if you have a dimmer, put it on. Use lots of low lamplight (sub out your 75 watt bulbs for 25’s!) and scatter plenty of votives. Now you have atmosphere!

Even if there is a bar set up, I like to make sure there are trays of drinks right near the entrance, ideally being served by a waiter or by you. Children can be enlisted to take drink orders if that doesn’t offend you. They do like to be useful. A signature drink helps take the pressure off of making a decision, and feels festive. Now, if you have good food, that’s just extra credit!

Deborah Needleman is the author of The Perfectly Imperfect Home. She is the founding editor of the shelter magazine Domino. She is currently editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal's fashion magazine WSJ.

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