We recently moved back into our home on December 30th after a five-month renovation.  Prior to our renovations, we discovered that a pipe had burst, causing flooding above our ceiling and down several of our kitchen walls. Our mindset was not on staying in our home, as we had just put it on the market in hopes of purchasing a larger home we had our hearts set on.  However, the water damage and subsequent black mold that was forming put our dreams of selling on hold as we approached the height of the 2010 holiday season.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When our house was on the market, I would lie out on the front lawn under our beautiful tall tree, overwhelmed with sadness at the thought that it might be my last time to enjoy it. I would take my bath at night and realize that I will no longer be able to look out at the garden of serene bushes and trees that I have gotten used to while soaking and pondering life’s questions. I would miss my recessed reading light next to my bed and my built-in laundry drawer in the bathroom. Our house was modest in size, but it had all the right features. And rather than sell and lose these creature comforts I had grown to love, I realized we should renovate and stay in our home.  We didn’t add a second story or a significant amount of extra square footage, instead we decided to work within our confines and reconfigure a few areas to make it all work for our family of four for another few years.

What I learned in the process was that it really doesn’t matter if our house is the biggest on the block. What matters most is how we are going to use our home to bring family and friends together, to make it comfortable and warm and inviting for ourselves and for those we love. I am much more interested in making memories, engaging in stimulating conversation, and creating a peaceful haven in which to escape the chaotic world than I am with worrying about every room being designed to perfection. Here’s how I like to welcome guests into my home, and what I look for when visiting others.

Be a happy and relaxed host

It is virtually impossible to welcome others into your home when you are harried and overwhelmed. Prepare as much as possible beforehand—then let it go. If the food is not finished cooking or you notice a spot on the tablecloth, turn the other cheek and put a giant smile on your face. This will not only help to relax you, but it will also put your guests at ease.

Create a warm and inviting atmosphere

Creating a mood helps to set the tone in your home. It may be as simple as putting on a little background music and lighting a few scented candles. Balancing practical with elegant, comfortable furnishings often creates an inviting atmosphere.  And adding a live element, such as potted plants or fresh flowers, adds a welcoming personal touch.

Offer ample food and drink

Welcoming those we care about with a home-cooked meal or a drink to toast the future is paramount. You do not have to be a professionally trained chef or mixologist to appease your visitors. Food may be pre-prepared or ordered in and have the same effect. What makes the difference is the presentation and care taken to remove the packaging and place the food on plates and drinks in glassware. We always want to make our company feel they are worthy of the effort.

Take a genuine interest in your guests

Giving another person your undivided attention is rare in our world of endless distractions, where one person is conversing with you while texting another. To take the time to engage in conversation with our guests, ask them questions, then sincerely listen, is exceptional—and flattering.

A while back, I came across an Irish proverb in a decorating magazine that read,

“May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends.”

To me, it encapsulated the most important part of having a home—and that is a showering of people to fill it with laughter, friendship, and love.

Beverly Hills Manners’ CEO, Lisa Gaché, is one of the foremost etiquette, manners and life skills experts.  Her educational and entertainment company, founded in 2006, is recognized for its new school approach.  Lisa has appeared in the media and contributed to various outlets, including CNNNPR“The Today Show,” KTLA-TVRadio Disney, Woman’s DayUSA TodayThe Los Angeles TimesThe New York Post and The New York Daily News. Gaché has also been a guest expert on number of reality shows including VH1’s “Charm School” and Discovery Channel’s “Living with Ed.” For more on Lisa, please visit her WEBSITE or on FACEBOOK or TWITTER