Thursday, March 11, 2010

Apartment Hospitality

by Crista

In a perfect world, we would all live on a quiet, tree-lined street in houses surrounded by quaint picket fences and flower beds. We would have delightfully situated homes with large backyards for summer BBQ’s and beautifully decorated living and dining rooms for entertaining guests. Each of our homes would have at least one guest bedroom and bathroom, which would always be at the ready to welcome someone in for a stay, decorated – of course – like a room in a stylish bed and breakfast. We would have full-sized kitchens with scads of storage space for all of our seasonal, informal, and formal china, flatware, and stemware. Our refrigerators would be full to bursting with fresh fruits and veggies, choice cuts of meat, and gourmet cheeses. Our pantry would be overflowing with our home-baked breads, stockpiles of crackers and snacks for parties, and our many delicious (and home-baked) desserts. We would have an arsenal of recipes waiting in the wings with which to encourage, comfort, and – let’s be honest – impress our guests at a moment’s notice. Our dinner table would be surrounded every Sunday afternoon with friends and visitors from church, our children would be perfectly behaved and healthy as little horses, and our homes would quite-literally sing with hospitable merriment and joy.

It’s a lovely picture, isn’t it?

(insert sound effect: vinyl record scratching and screeching to a halt)

But it’s just that…a picture. It’s right out of a movie or a book or a magazine and, for most of us, it’s almost complete fiction. Most of us do not live in homes like the one described above. Many of us, in fact, live in less glorious spaces, like 2-bedroom apartments in the middle of the busy section of a city. I am one of these and, while I dream of a home like the one above gracing my husband’s and my future, it’s not our present reality. My husband and I live in an upstairs, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment, crammed to the gills with furniture, computers, and every other piece of flotsam brought together at our marriage 18 months ago. We’re sharing our tight quarters with our cat, our two bikes, and our many kitchen tools. Our dining room barely fits a group of 4 sitting around the table, although we have entertained as many as 6 guests at a time. (This was accomplished by moving our loveseat into our “dining room” and our dining table to the living room where we enjoyed a New Year’s Eve dinner and game night.) Suffice it to say that ours is not a home well suited for entertaining large parties or inviting guests to stay the night…much to my chagrin.

I LOVE entertaining. A beautifully set dinner table is one of my greatest thrills. In fact, when I used to set the dinner table as a little girl, my mom constantly had to remind me that the china was for special occasions and the wine glasses were not water goblets. I’m sure you can imagine my sheer delight at being invited to set the table for such occasions as Christmas or Easter dinner. But I digress…

Let’s be honest: whether it’s a two-bedroom apartment or a one-room loft, some of us live in spaces that are not well designed for hosting parties. It can be quite discouraging, then, to read in 1 Peter 4:9, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint,” because we may feel that we are prohibited from being hospitable because of our circumstances. Friends, let me offer you hope! As we have already said many times in this blog, hospitality comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors! There is no one way to host, just as there is no single way to sing a song, paint a picture, or bake a cake. We have options, my friends! We just need to get creative and think outside the apartment…err…box.

I’ve lived in apartments for many years now and am pleased to offer you the following ideas for being hospitable in your own meager circumstances. Before you read on, however, keep two things in mind:

1) Some of the following ideas of how to practice hospitality in an apartment space are from my days as a roommate during college. A good rule of thumb for this post is: Use what you can . . . ignore what you can't or don't like!

2) Keep your expectations of yourself and your space realistic. We can get so wrapped up in what we think is "proper" hosting that we miss opportunities to bless others with our simple gifts, and to receive the blessing of hosting. As Peter said, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). Maybe your special gift is a small apartment and humble meal ingredients. Small and humble as they may be, there is no reason you can't use what you have to bless someone's socks off!

That said here are some ideas from my own experiences as an apartment dweller:

#1: Host a small party in your home

Our apartment is small, to be sure, but we certainly have enough room to host 2-4 people comfortably. Your situation may not allow you to invite so many into your home, but I encourage you to invite as many as you can. A small party is much easier to accommodate in small kitchen and living spaces. A good meal and a clean space are all that are really required to make someone feel at home, cared for, and encouraged. Your meal doesn’t have to be elaborate, either. A hearty soup with warm bread is always a winner! Find recipes for one-pot meals so you have fewer dishes taking up space in your kitchen during the cooking process. I’ve found that most people are very gracious…they’re not going to look down their noses at you for offering a simple meal, especially when that meal is offered in genuine love and fellowship.

#2: Host a picnic

When the weather is warm and inviting, invite your guests to join you at the courtyard picnic table at your apartment complex or in a nearby park. This can be an especially effective way of getting to know your neighbors! It’s common space, so your guests are less likely to feel like they are “invading” a stranger’s home. Also, it can be a great way to incorporate activities like tossing a Frisbee, playing Bocce Ball, or staging a quick softball or volleyball game. I’ve even seen some people bring their croquette sets to the park! For those “Fancy Nancies” among us, your picnic doesn’t have to be blankets on the ground using paper plates. It can be very rewarding to carefully pack some of your fine dining items out to the picnic table and set up a beautiful display right there in the sunshine! I encourage you to look for opportunities to host this way as the weather in your area allows.

#3: Offer to take a meal to share in someone else’s home

My husband and I have often gone to dinner at someone else’s home and brought the meal with us! This is especially nice for new moms or anyone who is not in a position to leave their home. It’s an even more special gift when you offer to clean up the dishes before you leave! I don’t know about you all, but I really detest dishes. I’m blessed by my husband’s willingness to help on that front. I love to create beautiful and delicious meals, but I hate the clean-up. It can be a real treat for someone like me to have my kitchen cleaned up for me as a gift of service from a friend!

#4: Get on your church’s hospitality chain

One lady from our church emails or calls us when someone in the church is in need of meals. I may not be able to host large parties, but I can certainly cook up an extra meal or two, bake some bread, and whip up some cookies in my small kitchen and then bless another family with the fruits of my labor. Another idea is to make a double meal. This can also save money! For example, if I’m making a pot of Spicy Black Bean Soup for my husband and I for dinner, I can easily make a double batch for someone in need of a meal. By making a double batch, I’m using the ingredients I already needed to buy for my own batch, which saves money during those lean times when purchasing the ingredients to a different meal may be too much of a stretch for our budget.

#5: Offer to take someone out for dinner, dessert, or coffee

Maybe you live in a dorm room and literally have no space for hosting. Well, then, go out! It can be a real treat to enjoy a meal with a friend and have it covered. It’s an especially fun treat when you surprise them! For example, when going out to coffee, order your drink and then turn to your guest and ask, “For you?”

#6: Write a friendly note or two

My above ideas mostly center on meals and food because, well, I love food. However, food is not the only way to be hospitable. Sometimes a well-timed card or letter is just what a friend, neighbor, or stranger needs to be encouraged. Stores like the Dollar Tree have adorable note cards for very low prices. It doesn’t take a lot of words or even elegant prose to make someone feel cared about and thought-of. E-cards are another way to go. There are many websites that allow you to send a free e-card. These can be funny, congratulatory, or sympathetic and they come in many styles and colors.

#7: Pick up the phone and call someone

Sometimes it just takes a “Hey…how are you doing?” phone call to make someone’s day. Let’s not forget, in this internet age, the delight we can bring to another person’s day with a little conversation.

* * *

If you have ideas for how to be a hostess in meager circumstances, be they spacial or financial, please offer them here in a comment below or email them to me! We’d love to hear what you have to share and we know others will appreciate your ideas, too!

Thank you for taking the time to read my ideas. It’s been a joy to share them with you! My husband and I are in the process of purchasing our first home and I’m really looking forward to the space we will now have for hosting. It will be a long time, however, before we’ll have that dream picture I painted above, but I’m looking forward to working with my new surroundings to continue to bless others.

My next goal: host strangers and visitors!

Happy Hosting!



  1. Thanks for this post, Crista! I love the tips that you've offered here -- esp. the coffee treat. That's a great and easy way to practice hospitality in today's day and age. I think a lot of how we practice hospitality has to do with the culture we live in - and that culture is different all over the U.S. (and the world!)

    In the Northwest, coffee is a staple! So it's easy to find a way to bless a person that way.

    Good things to consider, in light of a person's space and ability.

    Appreciate your time!

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  3. Very positive post!

    I've lived in a one bedroom for the past three years, with my husband and my now six-month-old. We both have the gift of hospitality, so we refused to let our teeny apartment hold us back: we hosted a weekly Bible study (with dinner) the whole time we lived there, and had people over constantly. We discovered we could fit sixteen very close friends for dinner on our knees without anyone having to sit on the floor. We managed ten for proper at-table dinner parties, using the coffee table as a bench. We even had over-night house guests regularly, always warning them in advance of course about how "cozy" the place was.

    I think sometimes, as Americans, it's easy to forget how materially blessed we are... and so we come to expect things to be a certain way. But to the vast majority of the world, a couple with a baby having a one bedroom apartment is normal, or even luxurious. True "hospitality" is so much more than simply "entertaining"... and fortunately it can be accomplished in a much smaller square footage than Martha Stewart typically requires.

    So thanks for the encouragement to us all to think outside the "box"... apartment that is!

  4. Wow! I admire you, elrj! I can learn a lot from you :)