The twinkle of café lights, the sound of laugher, a light breeze in the air...These are just a few hallmarks of outdoor entertaining that make us long for leisurely summer nights. But who says the outdoor fun has to stop just because temperatures have dropped and Daylight Savings Time has ended?
This year more than ever before, we're determined to carry our renewed appreciation for small outdoor gatherings at home well past the end of fall and into winter—especially as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Several top tastemakers are even making plans to host Thanksgiving outside this year.
Of course, the first step is to staying comfortable outside in the cold is to winterize outdoor living spaces with design additions like outdoor fireplaces, outdoor lighting, and even outdoor window treatments.
To ensure we keep our guests, and ourselves, comfortable in the cold, we asked three bona fide winter experts to share their tips and tricks for how to have fun—and keep cozy—when entertaining outside in cold weather.
Dress the part.
"'There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.' I used to roll my eyes every time I heard someone repeat this famous saying, but now I repeat it myself, to the annoyance of my friends back home," says Irene Edwards, of Annassurra Hotel Group, who moved to Copenhagen from California with her family in 2019.
"Almost all Scandinavians I know have a really positive winter mindset that has been a game-changer for me as a California transplant. They believe that each season has a distinct beauty, and the best way to appreciate winter is to bundle up and be outside as much as possible, enjoying a good time with friends and family," Edwards adds.
To that end, Edwards makes sure to stockpile winter layering pieces like wool hats shearling-lined outerwear for getting together with friends outside.
Soak up limited sunlight with a daytime gathering.
Planning a daytime gathering to make the most of limited winter sunlight is a savvy entertaining strategy no matter where you live, even if you have more than the seven hours of daylight Danes experience in the dead of winter.
"In Copenhagen, our winter entertaining outdoors is mostly based around daytime activities like ice skating so we can stay warm," says Edwards, who notes winter bathing—i.e., a quick plunge into the Baltic followed by a good long session in the sauna—is also a popular Danish winter activity.
Director of hospitality interiors at HKS Mary Alice Palmer also likes to plan get togethers that feature physical activity. "Planning something with an activity component is a great way to forget about being cold, even if the activity revolves around making food, like roasting s'mores," says Palmer.
Double down on candlelight.
"This is an absolute must when we have so few hours of daylight in the winter months," says Edwards, who notes she brings out everything from hurricanes to tapers to votives. "Lighting candles becomes a wonderful ritual and almost feels like a little daily indulgence or reward."
Pile on the sheepskin throws.
New York-based designer Sheila Bridges rings in the New Year at her pied-à-terre in Reykjavik, which has a balcony with a view of the city and bay.
"There's a huge New Year’s Eve celebration in Iceland near our famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, and you can see the fireworks from my windows and balcony, so it's the perfect backdrop for festive yet low-key entertaining," Bridges says. To keep guests warm, Bridges drapes colorful sheepskin throws on chairs and stools.
Edwards also relies on sheepskin throws in various shades and sizes to cozy up outdoor seating, along with "baskets of gorgeous wool blankets by Copenhagen design firm SPACE, available from one of my favorite design showrooms, &Tradition.
Embrace a winter-themed menu.
"Going all in with a themed menu for winter gatherings—think fondue, boozy hot cocoa, s'mores—is a great distraction from the cold," HKS' Palmer says. "It just keeps things fun and convivial."
Edwards notes hearty stews or home-cooked chili, both of which are easy to transport outside in insulated bottles, are her go-to dishes for winter outdoor entertaining. "It's important to serve food people can eat while wearing gloves or mittens," she says.
"As for drinks, I like to put out these cool vintage thermoses filled with hot chocolate and hot cider, with vintage enamel cups and a tray of schnapps and other spirits for spiking. And of course, Denmark's traditional gløgg (this recipe from Danish chef Claus Meyers, which goes down easily but is surprisingly strong) always makes an appearance!"
At her Reykjavik New Year's Eve fête, Bridges serves up Icelandic spirits as a toast to the winter wonderland beyond her balcony.
"I usually serve small bites and offer a few options to drink like champagne or a champagne cocktail with Björk Birch Liqueur," Bridges says. "Friends can warm up inside for a minute and head back out ready to brave the cold again after they've had a shot of Brennivin aquavit, served chilled in ceramic shot glasses."
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