An immediate family-only celebration doesn't mean you should skip out on reenergizing your entryway, living room, bar, and powder room.

By Elyse Moody
October 21, 2020
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Truth be told, you may be second-guessing the saying "There's no place like home for the holidays." We've all spent a lot more time here than we ever thought possible. But there are simple ways to dust off the past several months and make your place sparkle and feel special again. Borrow our tips to spruce things up in preparation for a season of celebrations.

entryway with mirror and table decor
Credit: Charles Maraia

Energize the Entryway

Refresh this well-trod welcome zone to set an inviting tone. The work, however, actually begins outside. Living home editor Lorna Aragon sprays her entire front door—glass, frame, and handle—with Windex glass cleaner ($3.29, target.com). "It has the best grime-cutting properties," she says. Wipe it all with a microfiber cloth for a streak-free finish. Then sweep off your stoop, porch, or stairs. Then, streamline your stuff. In addition to the usual bags and shoes, our masks, packages, and hand sanitizer have taken up permanent residence here. Stow essentials in drawers or baskets, and stash the rest (kicks in closets; junk mail and boxes in the recycling). Make room in your coat closet if family will be visiting.

Now it's time to beautify. Bumping into walls and baseboards leaves dark marks—so erase those scuffs. A rub with a damp Mr. Clean Extra Durable Magic Eraser will get your hallway pristine again ($9 for 7, target.com). Rolling out a longer rug (with its XL footprint, an indoor-outdoor runner stops more dirt than the average doormat and won't stain—just shake it out at the end of the day; we like the wide selection at Dash & Albert (from $144, annieselke.com)) and planting some nature (for an arrangement that lasts, gather fall branches—these are Japanese maple—from the yard or florist) are the ultimate finishing touches.

living room game station on coffee table
Credit: Charles Maraia

Enliven the Living Room

Your home office is probably getting a lot of play, but turn the gathering space that time forgot into a deluxe hangout for you and your nearest and dearest. A good place to start? Wash the windows. "It's not hard, and the payoff is huge," says Lorna. "Your place will feel so much cleaner and brighter." To make the job practically effortless, try a handheld steamer. Lorna swears by the Sienna Luna Plus steam-cleaning system ($130, homedepot.com). Its squeegee attachment glides over glass, instantly dissolving fingerprints and dirt; then wipe any drips with an absorbent cloth, like a cotton dish towel. While you're at it, wave the wand attachment to refresh curtains, pillows, and upholstered furniture.

If your electronics and books look a little dingy, do a quick pass with your vacuum's soft-brush attachment. Then vacuum and mop the floors. We like Supernatural Wood + Floors concentrate (from $10, supernatural.com); its blend of palmarosa, lavender, peppermint, basil, and fir essential oils smells so fantastic, the only reason you'll light a candle is for ambience. If you have a furry housemate, go over your carpet or rugs with a rubber shower squeegee to electrostatically lift any lingering hairs, then vacuum again.

When the cleaning is done, focus on the aesthetics. Your coffee table could likely use a refresh. Out with the random work ephemera, in with the fun—think classic board games (backgammon, dominoes, and cards will entertain all ages), stacks of cool coasters, and a big bowl of pistachios for superior snacking anytime. Another trick: Pull out photo albums and yearbooks to page (and laugh) through together. Nearby, fill a big basket with throws and blankets. If yours have been draped over the back of the sofa since the last frost, toss them in the dryer on the steam setting with a few wool dryer balls; sprinkle the balls with a few drops of essential oil to infuse the whole load with a soft scent. If your dryer doesn't have this setting, use a regular cycle and toss in a damp washcloth to simulate it. Dropps XL wool dryer balls come in black, white, and gray, so you can match them to your items and avoid visible fuzz transfer ($25 for three, dropps.com).

And if you are expecting a few guests this year, arrange extra chairs in vignettes that invite conversation. Lorna places them in twos or threes, with a small stool or table in between. Birch IKEA Kyrre stools are sleek, stackable, and inexpensive—in other words, excellent perches for drinks or plates ($15 each, ikea.com).

Shop Now: West Elm Petrified-Wood Coasters, $60 for four, westelm.com. Jonathan Adler Milano Backgammon Set, $395, jonathanadler.com. Shinola Dominoes Set, $195, shinola.com. Black Creek Mercantile Round Sliding Dovetail Coffee Table, in White, from $4,800, blackcreekmt.com.

minibar drinks and snacks
Credit: Charles Maraia

Stock Up on Provisions

Unlike in a fancy hotel, there won't be a charge if you raid this minibar— and because the reserves are in your kitchen, you can replenish with ease. So, before the holidays arrive, gather shelf-stable goodies—a few crunchy, salty options and a few sweet. Our food editors' favorites include (from left): clementines, Asian rice-cracker mix, quicos (otherwise known as Spanish corn nuts), Firehook Bakery sea-salt crackers, and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Go ahead and decant snacks spa-style. Hawkins New York's sleek storage containers have tight-fitting oak lids, so they don't just look pretty—they keep everything fresh and reveal when they need to be topped off (from $20 each, hawkinsnewyork.com).

Keep your drink menu simple, too. Put out beverages that are best savored in their pure form, like our food editors' preferred whiskey, subtly floral Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($76, thewhiskyexchange.com). You won't need to manage mixers, or jump up as often for refills. A nice nonalcoholic option: flavored Q Mixers tonic water ($30, shopqmixers.com).

Shop Now: Crate & Barrel Easton Double-Walled Ice Bucket, $60, crateandbarrel.com; Crate & Barrel Easton Strainer, $15, crateandbarrel.com; Crate & Barrel Easton Cocktail Shaker, $30, crateandbarrel.com.

spa-like powder set up for guests
Credit: Charles Maraia

Polish the Powder Room

Give it the company's-coming treatment (even if they aren't). The quickest and most thorough way to get the surface spotless is with your vacuum: Do the floor, then slip on the brush attachment for counters and crevices. Add squeaky-clean shine with an eco-friendly formula: New Arm & Hammer Essentials Disinfecting Wipes ($5 for 80, armandhammercleans.com) kill germs with a citrus-based formula. Then, put out fresh hand towels. Buy multiples, advises Lorna, who says they can start to look wrinkly and tired fast. She stacks or hangs three to start, and fills a basket with extras she can sub in as needed. Then go ahead and splurge on a nice soap. Handwashing has never been in greater need of a lift. Cracking open a luxe bottle is this year's version of popping the good Champagne.

Shop Now: Serena & Lily Healdsburg Hand Towels in Pink Sand, $28 each, serenaandlily.com. Hudson Made New York Apothecary Rose Liquid Hand Soap, $28, hudsonmadeny.com. Lafco New York Porch Lemon Verbena Candle, $65, lafco.com.

Styling by Lorna Aragon.

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