Expert Tips To Get You Hosting Like A Pro

Many of life's most memorable moments are spontaneous, but the truly momentous ones are usually planned — to a T. Whether it's a birthday dinner or an industry party, coordinating said celebratory events requires laser-like focus and a stable of experts (flowers! food! venue!) to pull them off. That is, unless artist/author/chef Julia Ziegler-Haynes is running the show, in which case she plans and executes every single detail herself.
After getting frustrated with the lack of personal attention to customers she experienced while waitressing in Brooklyn, Ziegler-Haynes took matters into her own RISD-trained hands and founded The Dinner Bell, a periodical supper club and customized dinner party biz that takes her clients' most meaningful milestones to a whole new, bespoke level. Handling the menu (she never cooks the same thing twice), the decor, and all, this self-taught entertainer has mastered every kind of fete, from intimate settings to close friend/designer Rachel Comey's biannual four-course presentations. Recently, her success has led to mastering another type of hosting gig: becoming a video host for Vice's foodie destination, Munchies.
Ahead, we get the grand tour of the gorgeous, modern-rustic abode where Ziegler-Haynes whips up her dreamy concoctions and her secrets for hosting like a pro. And, while you drool over the exposed wood and vaulted ceilings of her '70s-era barn turned home, snag her cozy-meets-chic personal and home-decor style with essentials from T.J.Maxx. The only hosting skill you won't learn is how to roast the perfect turkey.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Homegrown Inspiration
Her Must-Haves: Durable gloves, rustic bucket

"I grew up in a food family. My dad was an artist, so he stayed home a lot and cooked — he was always introducing me to new flavors and ideas. I had a foundation of what a good palette is, but getting those pieces to fall into place was hard. It has a lot to do with texture, color, and getting a point across. I consider my dining experiences performance art. It's all very symbiotic."

Jacket, shirt, jeans, and booties courtesy of T.J.Maxx. For similar styles, try:
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Add flowers to the table for a pop of color.
"Everything from the flowers to the way you set the table becomes artistic when you're creating a dining experience. My boyfriend and I inherited this amazing garden from the person who previously lived in our house, so we'll pick flowers there for finishing touches — these sunflowers add a nice pop of color."

White bins courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Create a cozy ambiance with rustic accents.
"When it gets cold outside, we'll start a fire to create a warm, intimate atmosphere. I'll put on a pair of durable gloves, collect firewood, and put the extra logs on display in this bucket by the fireplace — it has an old-timey look, which goes with the vibe of our house."

Gloves and bucket courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Keep notebooks on hand for ideas and grocery lists.
"When it's nice outside, I can set up a cozy situation with pillows and blankets and work in my hammock. I always keep notebooks handy because I never know when an idea for a new recipe will pop into my head. And, being a chef has made me extremely organized. I have to do so much grocery shopping that keeping lists is crucial."

Pillows, blanket, and notebooks courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Pre-Houseguest Sprucing
Her Must-Haves: Classic button-up, cozy bedding

"When we have people over, I always give the guest room a little flair. I like to pair graphic pops of pattern and color with more subdued, neutral pieces like these sheets and towels. Small doses of punchy graphics go really well in our house."

Sheets and pillowcases courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Take time to unplug.
"We live on the North Fork of Long Island — it can be a weird mind trick living in such a relaxed, utopian place and trying to run a demanding, city-oriented business. Since my job doesn’t require me to report to an office on the daily, but still involves a lot of running around, I like to dress in a relaxed but put-together manner. This button-up is perfect for hitting the farm stands, working in my studio, or hacking away at my email correspondence. In the early evening hours, I try to carve out time to take a walk to the beach, woods, or neighboring fields — it doesn’t matter which, they are all so instrumental at putting things in perspective, helping me to decompress and reboot after a long, caffeinated day."

Towels and basket courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Display a bedside bouquet to brighten the room.
"My home used to be an animal barn in the '70s. There’s exposed wood and mismatched things. This room overlooks a rose garden where there's a smattering of incredible flora every season. I'll make little bouquets, vignettes, and dioramas and set them on the dresser or bedside table."

Button-up, jeans, shoes, and vase courtesy of T.J.Maxx. For similar styles, try:
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Dreamy Dinner Concoction
Her Must-Haves: Cashmere sweater, bright ceramic bowls

"The bane of good cooking is fear. I feel confident I know how to fix something if it becomes too sour or salty, so I feel like I can experiment with different ingredients. I’ve never made the same thing twice. I’m a Taurus-Gemini cusp, so it’s tough for me to marry my impulsivity with my controlling nature. But, to feel like you’re at a point where you’re challenging yourself, putting a lot on your plate in a way that’s authentic, when that comes off well, it’s incredibly rewarding. Because none of yourself has been sacrificed — except your poor feet."

Bowls courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Keep multiple bowls on hand for easier prep.
"One of the best tricks I learned cooking for lots of people is that having various sizes of mixing bowls makes prep go quickly and cleanly. If you’re peeling onions, rather than having to throw away [the outer layers] each time, you can just stick them in a bowl until you’re done. Another great way to prep a room for company is to put fruits and vegetables into decorative bowls. They become sort of a centerpiece."

Cutting board courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
When money is tight, don't sweat the small stuff.
"When you're budgeting, allocate your money towards the most important, quality items, like really well-raised meat, really good olive oil, and maybe three bottles of nice wine. You don’t need to go over the top. You’d be surprised what you can get by searing a steak and throwing it over a fennel salad. And, talk to experts about how to do what you want to do, like your butcher."
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Keep layers cozy and lightweight.
"I think cashmere is the closest to leisurewear you can get and still be stylish. It’s a sneaky way of wearing your pajamas during the day because it’s so comfortable, and I put comfort over most anything. And, it’s breathable, so if you’re cooking, you’re not sweating up a storm. In the fall, with an old house like ours, there are lots of drafts, so having something warm but still thin is really nice. Luckily, I can do what I do in sweatpants most of the day until 5 p.m."

Sweater, pants, and socks courtesy of T.J.Maxx. For similar styles, try:
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Hosting sans stress means letting go.
"A 'set it and forget it' style of hosting and prepping in advance is a really great idea — a big turnoff to guests is seeing a frazzled hostess. It's important to keep your cool. They’re there to see you more than they’re there to eat the perfect meal. That’s my sagest advice."

Plates courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Homespun Cocktail Hour
Her Must-Haves: Modern glassware, fun frock

"Around the time I was learning how to cook, my boyfriend was majorly digging into cocktail culture — together we’re a great team. On most weekends, we have friends out to visit, and as soon as someone comes in the door, we greet them with a delicious cocktail. It's part of the effort to get someone comfortable leading into a meal. These tumblers and decanter are a new design cleverly disguised with a vintage appeal. A trick we use often is to prechill the glasses beforehand for a perfect, frosty first sip."

Glassware and ice bucket courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Entertaining ensembles should be easy and elegant.
"When weekends roll around and I’m in full-on hospitality mode, I tend to go overboard with the menu planning. A meal that is intended to be simple and no-fuss inevitably turns out to be an elaborate feast no matter what. I guess I'm hardwired to host! Since it’s become my job, I’ve gotten much better with time management, so shortly before guests arrive, I like to throw on something comfortable and cute, like this dress — it makes hostess duties look effortless."

Dress and area rug courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
When it comes to pets, opt for accessories that blend in.
"I adopted my dog Toulouse when I was still in college, when she was just eight weeks old. So, she was raised around people from the get-go, which makes her VERY social. She has a really hilarious personality and pretty much thinks she’s closer to the human species than the canine one. This means she typically claims the nicest, coziest seat in the house regardless of whether it’s already occupied. This dog bed suits her high demands of comfort and mine for style, and best of all, it’s all her own."

Booties, dog bed, and dog toys courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Set the mood with old records.
“Since my boyfriend is a musician, we have a pretty eclectic record collection that we like to play. We’ll spend hours at estate sales sifting through hundreds of records — we’ve found some real gems like obscure Brazilian samba and upbeat '80s boogie funk."

Stool courtesy of T.J.Maxx.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
It's not about creating the perfect meal, it's about bringing people together.
"My favorite thing about what I do is the feeling of community. At the start of the meal, everyone has their guard up, but by the end of it, they have their arms around each other and are exchanging emails. That feeling never happens at a restaurant. It's really special, and to be the puppet master behind that is dangerously addictive. That's the lamp oil that's kept the business going."