With the holidays in full swing, we know many of you have entertaining on the mind! From throwing big dinner parties to hosting intimate gatherings with close friends and family, the festive season means a month full of celebrations. So, we called on our go-to entertaining expert, Cassandra of coco+kelley to dish up some holiday inspiration for your next get-together. From her top 5 entertaining tips to what faux pas to avoid as a hostess, Cassandra has you covered!

When creating a concept for a tabletop, where’s the very first place you start? 
My inspirations change for every tabletop I do – but the theme usually revolves around color. Color is what pulls the table together, so you’ve got to have a palette! 

And nobody pulls together a palette quite like you! What was your inspiration for this holiday tabletop? 
I wanted to create a winter palette that wasn’t too obvious. We have these stunning burgundy chairs in the office, and I decided they should set the tone for the table. After hunting for some inspiration, I recalled the china from Bernardaud that has been a long-time favorite of mine and features an icy aqua blue, which I love. I wanted the overall feel to be frosty – but not cold, very luxe, and a bit celestial.

You are an entertaining connoisseur! Can you share your top 5 tips for entertaining success? 
Well, thank you!
   I’d say that first key to success is to be overly preparedeven for an extra guest or two! I always err on the side of having too much than too little when it comes to everything from place settings to food and drink, to conversation topics!
   Bring out the good stuffevery party should feel like it’s special, even the most relaxed. If you must do paper plates and dishes, make it fun or personalized somehow!
   Do not underestimate the importance of a well-planned menuI even go to the point of coordinating dishes with the theme sometimes! For example, at this very white table, I might start by serving some cauliflower soup. Delicious AND thoughtful planning!
   Parties are ultimately about creating a welcoming and warm atmosphereso do that in every way possible. Dim the lights and bring out candles. Introduce guests who may not know each other and give them something they have in common to kick off conversation.
   Always find ways to inject personal details into a partyno matter how big or small. I also like leaving guests with something they can take home with them as a thank you. 

We’re committing those to memory! How about biggest entertaining faux pax and how to avoid it? 
I’d say there are several. If you’re throwing a dinner party, its so important (especially these days) to ask about any dietary restrictions and plan for those guests accordingly. You don’t want someone going hungry because they can’t enjoy the meal you’ve planned! For larger parties, the biggest faux pax I’ve seen is the host taking on too much themselves – don’t be afraid to ask for help or hire it! Your guests are there to see you – you shouldn’t be hiding in the kitchen or behind the bar the whole time! Lastly – my personal pet peeve – asking people to take shoes off at the door. Especially in the winter or at more formal occasions. I didn’t put on a dress only to have to take my heels off and run around barefoot! 

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received about entertaining? 
Make your guests feel like family. To me that means balancing formality with familiarity. You have to play the host, and you want every party to feel special, but you also want people to feel completely at home! 

Favorite memory from a dinner party? 
Ah, there are so many! I have memories of huge dinners with my Italian family in Toronto, full of food and yelling – and I cherish that! But my most favorite might be a tie between my 30th birthday and coco+kelley’s 5-year anniversary party last year. The key factor, of course, being amazing food and friends celebrating together. That’s all you can really ask for. 

Looking back, 2013 has been a success year for you- from moving into a new creative space to collaborations with the likes of Intermix and Kate Spade. What’s on the horizon for 2014?!
It has been quite the whirlwind year! I’m very excited about the additional office space we’re about to move into above our current space because we’ll have the ability to host events. I want to turn the tabletops you see on coco+kelley into true dinner parties and start doing more entertaining features on the blog! And, I have a few more very exciting collaborations up my sleeve that involve my passion for styling and entertaining… but they’re under wraps for now! 

Last but no least, what are you wishing for this holiday season? 
Honestly – I have so much. I’m really wishing for a successful 2014 for my family – my father just opened a new restaurant this year and I’ve been working hard to help him launch it. My fingers are crossed for that business to grow for him in the coming year!

With you behind it, we have no doubt that it’ll be a smashing success!