Atmosphere is tantamount to the guestlist for a successful holiday party. How to place tables, chairs and the well-appointed bar to prompt the best conversations—and new connections—between cocktail sips? No one understands how to arrange it all better than interior designer Bunny Williams. Deemed the “doyenne of cozy chic” by the New York Times (having earned her stripes at legendary design firm Parish-Hadley) she’s made entertainment-ready interiors her raison d’être for more than 40 years.

The key to any party, Williams argues, is “a warm, inviting atmosphere where guests can make themselves at home.” Beyond that—it’s all in the setup. First, gather small surfaces (as many as possible) and arrange them a little whimsically, wherever a drink might rest. “Small tables are a must. If each person has one near them to rest their drink on, they’ll feel more comfortable and can keep track of where they put their glass.” To flout convention and prevent spills, Williams suggests elegant flat-bottomed glasses for water and wine. (Cocktails, too.) “A spiralized pattern or a thin gold rim keeps simple shapes interesting.” 

Bunny Williams holiday picks

The next order of business is lighting: suffused, twinkly, scattered, joy inducing. “To me, the thing that sets holiday decorations apart is a bit of sparkle,” Williams says. One can almost picture her winking to camera as she adds a pair of hurricane lamps—the glass domes encircling flickering candles—to a side table, ready to mingle with resting drinks. “When you walk into a room at night and candles are lit, you get an instant atmosphere. It changes the mood of your room.”

A bah-humbug mood can drastically shift by lending attention to our overlooked fifth sense: smell. Williams swears by paperwhite narcissus—always in bloom around the holiday season—to put in any cachepots for a whiff of seasonal cheer. Alternatively, seek out cyclamen.  “In the winter, I love a big bowl of apples or pomegranates.”

One of Williams’ favorite entertaining tips came not from a mentor, but a friend hosting an event.  “I learned about these wonderful rechargeable table lamps from a dear friend and client. I use the small ones on the dining table and the ones with shades on the side table and mantel. They give a special glow. Good lighting sets the atmosphere—but it must be soft.” (Our recommendation to recreate that dreaminess: the Pina Pro cordless rechargable from Chairish seller Zafferano.)

To learn more about Bunny’s take on entertaining and the design world in general, be sure to listen to The Chairish Podcast.

Bunny Williams holiday picks

For a holiday to remember, shop a selection of our favorite drinks pieces here.

Cocktail Class

The Milk Punch, by Bunny Williams


  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream or heavy cream
  • 4 cups brandy
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • Whole nutmeg

Combine sugar and ¾ cup of water in a saucepan and stir to dissolve. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until mixture is boiling. Let simmer until clear (about eight minutes). Pour into a jar, and let cool, then refrigerate.

For the punch, whisk the milk and ice cream together in a punch bowl until blended. Stir in the spirits and simple syrup to taste. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. To serve, pour into highball glasses and grate the nutmeg on top.

On the Rocks glasses

Excerpted from Magazinish. Don’t forget to (virtually) flip through the pages of the latest issue of Magazinish if you don’t have the print version.

Photo of Bunny Williams by Sari Goodfriend


File Under

November 30, 2021

Chairish is the design lover's indispensable online source for chic and unique decor, art, furniture and home decorating inspiration. Shop our expert curation of exclusive and diverse inventory with 1,000+ new arrivals daily. Happy hunting!