For author and lifestyle blogger Lauren Thomas, entertaining runs in the family. In her maternal grandmother’s warm, cozy kitchen, she learned to slice, spice, and bake. At her paternal grandmother’s boisterous, elegant gatherings, she learned how to party. “I remember how good people felt when they were at her house,” she says. “That’s where I learned what makes a good hostess.”
Though her love affair with entertaining started at a young age, Lauren has put her own spin on those early influences. As she’s hosted friends and family in dorm rooms, apartments, and now in the Jupiter home she shares with her architect husband, Christian, and their two teenage children, Ella and Brayden, Lauren has realized that making people feel welcomed and well-fed is one of her biggest gifts and greatest joys—and that a fantastic dinner party is about way more than the menu.
“Entertaining is less about the decor and the food than it is about the atmosphere,” she says. “When people come into my home, I want them to immediately feel relaxed and welcomed, which has so much to do with the lighting, music, and energy.”
Lauren appreciates the chance to slow down and savor the moment—and the meal—with her guests, a philosophy that runs through her book, The Modern Hippie Table, which came out last fall. The featured recipes are approachable yet delicious and cover everything from salads to desserts. Lauren also shares tips for setting the mood and prepping in advance, so readers can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying themselves.
The term “modern hippie” speaks to an era when people tended to be more present at the table and less distracted by tech devices. “As soon as guests come into my home, I want them to feel transported to a place where they don’t have to think about anything but enjoying themselves,” Lauren says. For her, that means thinking ahead about not just the food, but also the music, table design, and lighting (a dimmable light over the dining table is a must, she notes). Lauren involves her kids as well, with Brayden helping her in the kitchen and Ella sparking conversations after greeting guests.
By the time guests arrive, the Thomases already have soft music playing (often a mix curated by Ella and Brayden), the bar set up, and something in the oven, scenting the space. “Make people feel like you were expecting them,” says Lauren. “If you’re stressed or absent from the room doing various tasks, people are going to sense that energy.” Kick off your shoes—literally and figuratively—and they will do the same. And don’t worry about things being too perfect; being present is far more important.
That “perfectly imperfect” energy is reflected in Christian’s design of their 1958 mid-century modern home as well. “I design from a place of memory,” he says, “and I see homes as places that store memories for future generations.”
During an initial renovation that respected their home’s history, Christian finished the walls in a waxed lime plaster, a material that is meant to age with time. Their oak dining table has retained the dings and marks from homework assignments and dinner parties past. Their funky dining room lighting fixture (designed by Ingo Maurer) also embodies the evolution of their family. Over the years, quotes, memories, and childhood doodles alike have made their way onto the chandelier’s rice paper pages.
Though Lauren prefers small gatherings to big parties, Thanksgiving is an exception, in large part because of the intergenerational guest list. “It’s the one holiday a year when our whole family gets together,” says Lauren, who celebrates with nearly two dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins. “It’s my favorite holiday because I’m in the kitchen with my mom.”
Some traditions are set in stone: Lauren’s mom always stuffs the turkey, and her uncle always carves it. Her family has been making the same stuffing since she was a little girl, and a group still gets together the day before to help break the bread for the recipe. “When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of being in my nana’s kitchen with my mom and brother, breaking bread for stuffing,” she says.
Much like Lauren does now, her maternal grandmother knew her recipes by heart and cooked intuitively, gauging how much of each spice to put in by smell. Though she is now gone, they keep her picture in the kitchen as they cook. “We still ask, ‘Nana, what do you think?’”
But some things do change: to accommodate family members with food sensitivities, they now make the stuffing gluten-free—and have found that the whole family likes the new version even better. Side dishes change year to year, but they always stay simple to let the rich flavors of the stuffing shine.
Though she shares the cooking with her mom, Lauren is in charge of the table decor, and she prefers to keep the design elegant and a little asymmetrical, with an element of nature. Think: in-season fruits and veggies arranged with flowers and candles. She likes to tuck fresh herbs or flowers into cloth napkins at every seat, even at the kids’ table.
When dinner is served, Lauren is often the one to get the conversation flowing with what her friends and family call “Lauren questions.” She may ask people to name the achievement they’re most proud of from the past year, reveal a secret talent, or share their favorite thing about each person at the table.
Though Lauren is an expert host, she asserts that you don’t have to be born into a family of ace entertainers to become one yourself. “The most important skill for hosting is to be aware of the energy that you bring to the room and realize what other people need,” she says. “And that’s a skill you can grow.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about the company. The best moment, Lauren says, “is well into the meal, or even after, when the candles have burned low, the wine and food are scarce, and the sound of laughter erupts from those still sitting around the table.”