You know a warm and welcoming home when you’re in it.
It could be a tiny studio apartment or a sprawling mansion. The décor could be simple or sumptuous. The hosts could be quiet and gracious or rowdy and gregarious. But you know—before you even cross the threshold—they’re happy to see you and would love for you to stay a while.
Sure, there are simple things you can do to make your place more inviting to friends and family. We’ll get to those. But it all starts with you.
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Think about the people who make you feel the most welcome. They’re all different sorts, right?
- The incredibly on-top-of-things sister who keeps her guest bathroom stocked with everything you ever could possibly need in a bathroom. (Every. Thing.)
- Your grandmother, who has your favorite candy in a dish on the side table and listens to you like you’re the smartest, most interesting person in the world.
- The super-chill mom who says “make yourself at home,” meaning, “You know where the beer is. Help yourself—and grab me one while you’re at it.”
They couldn’t be more different, but they’re all thoughtful and present in their own ways. And they’re comfortable being themselves, which makes them comforting to be around.
So how can you make your home as warm and welcoming as you are? Remember, it’s never about how fancy (or not fancy) your stuff is: It’s about the way you use it. And comfort is a lot about people understanding what to do.
Start at the door, walk through your place, and try to see it through your guests’ eyes:
- Is there a place to put coats and bags when they walk in? A framed 5×7 “Coats this way ⇒” sign is simple gesture that immediately signals to guests you’re thinking of them.
- Shoes on or off? A mat or big basket to the side of the door helps organize cast-off footwear; a basket of slippers or socks is next-level welcoming.
- Where do they sit? Be sure chairs, pillows or benches aren’t obscured or cluttered.
- Should they use a coaster? If so, don’t make guests hunt.
- Can they find a tissue? When you need one, you need one.
- Where’s the trash can? Recycling? Guests often want to help tidy up a bit as long as there are cues.
- When it comes to food and drinks, is this a “help yourself” or “wait for the host” situation? Again, a simple framed sign can clarify in a fun way.
- Are certain spaces off limits? Closing doors is usually all it takes.
Nothing says “I want you here” like anticipating and meeting a guest’s needs, and answering questions before they’re asked.
A warm and welcoming home appeals to guests’ senses of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch without overwhelming them. That means you’ll want:
- enough light to see each other—and whatever you’re drinking, eating, or doing—without squinting because it’s too dim or too bright. Bonus points for flickering candles or firelight.
- pleasant scents that aren’t so strong they make you wonder what they’re covering up. To make your home smell like homemade cookies or cake, put a capful of vanilla in an ovenproof container in the oven for an hour at 275°F.
- something to eat and drink, whether that means a home-cooked feast, cinnamon toast and coffee, or pizza and beer.
- volume control. Unless it’s a dance party, keep the music just loud enough to set a mood or the TV is quiet enough to talk about the game without yelling.
- cushy couches, soft throws, firm chairs…really, the big rule here is “nothing should be sticky.”
- Tidy up in a jif. Clear off and wipe down surfaces. Stow junk out of sight. Empty the cat litter and wastebaskets. You can leave the top of the fridge undusted unless you have super-tall friends.
- Check the thermostat. Lower the temp if it’s a crowd. But if you’re expecting your best friend who always needs a sweater, throw on a t-shirt and set it at 75°F. Keep an eye out for guests fanning themselves or warming their hands over the fondue.
- Control the beasts. If your guests are allergic to or afraid of your pets—or vice versa—coral the herd.
- Stock the bathroom. The basics are clean, dry towels (a stack of cheap washcloths is great during cold and flu season); plenty of soap; and abundant, easy-to-find-and-refill toilet paper.
- Let go of the rest. So you didn’t have time to vacuum the couch cushions, or make dessert, or redecorate your living room. Don’t bring it up. Resist the urge to apologize. You are enough.
- Turn down your phone. Yes—easier said than done. What about emergencies? (Modify your settings to always let certain people through.) Or people needing directions? (Excuse yourself and give them.) Or taking pictures? (OK, a few of those are fine.)
- Sit down and stay a while. Leave the dishes for later. Put the wine in the middle of the table. Pull up a chair with your company and get lost in their stories. True hospitality is about offering time and attention to others and making the present moment your priority. Nothing feels better—for you or whoever drops by.