Whether this year’s countdown feels celebratory, contemplative or cathartic (or some mix of all of the above, because 2020 felt both endless and finite), people will be ringing in the new year in various creative and socially distanced methods.
A quiet evening at home can be a chance to carve out your own little fortress of solitude, however, with your nearest and dearest close at hand. Although many of us can’t celebrate at restaurants or bars this year, here are some elements that savvy restaurant designers use to make your evening out a special experience that you can transfer to your own living room for a cozy New Year’s Eve.
1. Cast a spotlight on what matters
Although the soft glow of candlelight is always flattering (and a variety of LED options are available for the accident-prone among us), restaurant designers know to balance out lighting in a way that combines practicality and aesthetics. You may not need to read a menu at home, but squinting at the television is definitely too much effort for a low-key new year’s.
Skip the overhead lights and play with a variety of small table lamps instead (warm white or yellow tinted bulbs are much cozier than blue-based brilliant white options). Worst come to worst, those holiday lights that you haven’t gotten around to taking down can be pressed into service — stick to white or silver for a unified look, and skip the blinking ones unless you want to feel like you’re living in a disco ball.
2. Be careful where you sit
Savvy restaurant designers spend an inordinate amount of time considering seating options — one designer once told me that they personally tested every chair in a 100 seat restaurant for comfort, height and other factors. Don’t just focus on the padding (although that’s certainly a plus), and pay attention to the arm rests, textures and height. Is a love seat, ottoman or even a pile of cushions and throws on the floor the best option for you? Take this opportunity to move around some of your seating to see if there’s a more comfortable arrangement, since many people configure their living space once when they move or get new furniture and consider it to be set in stone.
3. Keep everything in sight
Pull in some small tables for food and drink (more on that in a bit) and see how the heights compare to your eye level when seated: are they within easy reach? Remember to keep sight lines clear to the television and your fellow celebrants (I’ve been to many a wedding where massive centrepieces prevented conversation across a table, for example). On a similar note, take a look at your glassware and remove the overly tall, fragile or eminently tip prone stemware from consideration — nothing spoils a cozy night quicker than breaking out the vacuum to deal with shattered glass.
4. Plate for ease of use
New Year’s Eve is the land of opportunity when it comes to appetizers. A variety of small, distinct bites helps combat palate fatigue and lets us try out new recipes (or previously prepared options, because 2020 has been busy enough) and different pairings. Keep things manageable by limiting the number of plates used to serve or eat — one large platter that is easy to transport between kitchen and dining area, and a couple of small plates per person should be plenty (restaurants have professional dishwashers, after all). Consider your table size before pulling out plates and servingware to avoid overloading and spilling, or perhaps consider having one family member serve up warm foods straight from the oven. Remember to keep the path from the kitchen clear and designate a dish pit for dirty dishes to make cleanup easier later.
5. Sound barrier
Restaurant designers learn early that hard surfaces are the enemy of cozy dining. Bouncing and amplifying sound, hard tile, bare walls or high ceilings can create echo chambers that make a space feel larger but also less intimate. Although sound absorbing elements are typically built into the design (or expensively retrofitted later on once critics start complaining about the cacophonous dining room), you can create sound barriers in your own space by piling on soft surfaces, hanging curtains or decorative textiles on windows or walls, or using room dividers to customize a sitting area.
Note: Because restaurants are hurting this year, consider ordering in some of your celebratory nosh (directly from the restaurant if possible, rather than using a third party app) or donating to a local restaurant workers relief fund if you can.