10 Cheap Items for Dinner Parties Designers Never Scrimp On

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With big entertaining holidays like Thanksgiving  just around the corner, a little hosting inspiration never hurts. After all, being an excellent host isn’t about spending the most money; there are so many creative ways to make guests feel extra welcome without breaking the bank. 

We spoke with 13 interior designers around the country to find out the affordable items they like to purchase to take their gatherings to the next level. While unsurprisingly, various types of candles proved to be the most common purchase (more on that below!), we gathered many other insights that were a bit more unexpected. Keep reading below to learn all about designers’ favorite $5 buys that they swear by when hosting. 

Let it be known that there wasn’t just one type of candle that designers swear by; they’re all about working several different types into their homes. Liz MacPhail of Liz MacPhail Interiors has found a number of ways to make use of unscented, white tea candles. “I use them in little bowls, float them in water, or just set them on the table nestled into the floral and greenery arrangement,” she says. 

Rebecca Plumb of Studio Plumb turns to IKEA for her unscented tealights. “I have a drawer in my dining room full of them along with an assortment of votive holders in a few shapes,” she says. “No matter the occasion they always make the room feel more special and they feel more safe to scatter around the house. They’re unobtrusive on the dining table and are perfect on a mantel and in the powder bathroom.”

Don’t forget about classic taper candles, either, though. Ashley Hunte of Saint James Atelier likes hers with a bit of a twist (literally!). “I prefer neutral colors because the simple yet unique details add a layer of texture to the table setting,” she says of these twisted taper candles. “These candles are versatile, allowing me to easily swap out plates, napkins, candle holders, decor, and more. They always provide just the right touch of subtlety and unexpected elegance to the occasion.” 

Heather Knight-Willcock, founder of Heather KW Styles, doesn’t just make sure to have plenty of ice cubes on hand when hosting — she goes the extra mile to prioritize aesthetics, too. “I love to keep on hand pre-made, fancy ice shapes made from silicone molds,” Knight-Willcock says . She sources her molds from Amazon and appreciates both their low price point and the fact that they’re easily reusable.

Why settle for plain toothpicks when you can offer guests some cute ones? “I make bites prepared with toothpicks so it’s easier and less messy to eat. For example, baby tomato, mozzarella, and olive,” says Julieta Alvarez of Julieta Alvarez Interiors. Alvarez purchases her decorative toothpicks on Amazon. 

There’s nothing like a nice place card to welcome guests to the table. Chrissie Haim of Chrissie Home and Design likes to keep her own place cards on hand, which she’ll either fold to display standing or set in a place card holder. “I handwrite the guests’ names in calligraphy, and I sometimes include a personal note inside,” she shares. “I have different paper cards for different holidays and occasions to keep it fresh and purposeful.” 

Multiple designers like to weave ribbon into their tablescapes. “I keep a stash of various colors and widths of ribbon in my craft closet,” explains Lauren Lowe of Lauren Elaine Interiors. “I use a lot of ribbon during the holiday season for the many hostess gifts I give, but I also will use it to tie a little bow around dinner napkins or even around a vase or planter when I am entertaining,” she shares. 

Brianna Untener of Brianna Scott Interiors is also a fan of ribbon for multiple reasons, noting, “it’s perfect to use for napkin holders, drink markers, with a flower arrangement, or any other creative place you can think of.” 

Designers can’t get enough of the affordable fresh floral bouquets available at Trader Joe’s. “They have stunning fresh flowers at the sweetest price point,” says Taylor Fusco of Tay Fusco Design. She likes to pair a $5.99 bunch of hydrangeas with some novelty florals, like Veronicas, which are just $3.99. 

Knight-Willcock also likes to source flowers for all throughout the house at Trader Joe’s. “I divide these simple arrangements into smaller vessels and vases to make the investment spread even further,” she explains. “Even using only a stem or two is a low cost way of adding visual interest and fresh scents to small spaces like bathroom counters and bar tops.” 

If you search at thrift stores and estate sales, you’ll be able to score beautiful linen napkins that don’t break the bank. “Embellishing your table settings with embroidered linen napkins during the entertaining season brings a touch of sophistication and personal flair to your dining experience,” says Payal Bansal of Payal Bansal Interior Design. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different designs on your tabletop, either. 

8. Paper Cocktail Napkins

Of course, paper cocktail napkins are another designer favorite. “This is a favorite item to pick up when perusing boutiques while traveling,” says Elaine Burns of Pistachio Designs, who likes styles with witty sayings. “You can never have too many.”

Hosts love their candles, but good matchbooks are another must. “I always keep fun matchbooks on hand for entertaining,” says Shannon Murray Petruzello of Shannon Murray Interiors. She particularly enjoys styles with cheeky, conversation-provoking quotes. “They are a great accessory to have sitting out.” Burns makes a point to showcase her matchbook collection in a dish when hosting, too. “It’s an easy decorative item, useful for lighting candles throughout an event, is a great conversation starter, and (usually) totally free!” 

These paper goods can do much more than simply house cupcakes, explains Patricia Justice of Patricia Justice Designs. “They can make a great goodie holder for nuts, chocolates, whatever,” says the designer, who likes to pick hers up at dollar stores. 



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