How to plan for unexpected company

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Tudors Down · the design column ·

I've been in far too many situations where a friend/relative/long lost roommate decides to call and unexpectedly pop over for a quick visit. This is fine when my house is clean and put together, but of course, it never works out like that. After hanging up the phone, I looked around and often see dishes in the sink, toys scattered around and maybe a smear of yogurt on our table left over from my daughter's afternoon snack. Still, I can manage to pull together my house in about ten minutes, leaving my company feeling welcome and at ease, and anything but a nuisance. Here are my go-to tricks for a seemingly put together home:

• Focus on the kitchen, especially if visible from other rooms. The kitchen is the heart of the home, and when it is a mess, the rest of the house can feel that way. Wash dirty dishes or put them in the dishwasher to get them out of eyesight. Wipe down counters and set out a clean tea towel.

• Prop up pillows on couches and chairs to make your living room look neater.

• Shove (and sometimes I do mean "shove") toys in bins, or closets. We have a lot of compartments, trunks, and bins in our home for toys, so picking up is a breeze when they all have their designated place.

• If setting out snacks, regardless of what you're serving, pay attention to what you use to serve. Food just feels fancier when placed on nicer serving pieces. Don't have nice platters? Try a mix of dishes in the same color family or style for a purposeful eclectic look.

• If you have kids and can enlist their help, do so. My two-year-old daughter gets a kick out of using our Swiffer, so I let her. She may not do a perfect job or get the corners where the real dirt is hiding, but she does get most of the spots guest will see.

• Focus on scent. Lighting a candle, using a room spray, or a fresh plug-in, instantly changes the mood of a room. Scent plays a big part in our perception of a situation and a pleasant scent in your home means a more pleasant arrival for any guest.

Entertaining isn't always easy or planned, so being able to roll with the punches is sometimes the only way to roll. Your guests are coming to see you, not your home. Don't let dishes in the sink ruin your ability to have a good time.


In October 2011, Sarah Meeks and her husband purchased their first house, a fixer-upper, which is located two doors down (hence, Tudors Down) from Sarah's childhood home. Besides blogging about home renovations and design, Meeks sells vintage home goods. For more design ideas, to purchase items from her Etsy shop and to watch her home transform from drab to fab, visit