Let’s all pour one out for the time of your life when the “parties” you hosted at your apartment involved half-empty red Solo cups, folding tables, cheap vodka mixers, and that one iPod connection your buddies fought over like angry, remote tribesmen in an Indiana Jones movie. Now, we’ve got no problem with a well-earned rager, but there comes a point in your life when you’ll need to host a real party—maybe a small dinner party, a surprise birthday bash, or perhaps just an impromptu celebratory gathering of co-workers—and your secondhand stuff just won’t cut it anymore. I know what you’re thinking: Nothing takes a chunk out of a paycheck like nice furniture and good art. But the truth is, there’s a ton of great non-Ikea stuff out there—from individual craftspeople, emerging artists on online marketplaces, even some smaller chain stores—which won’t break the bank. You just need to know where to look. So follow these steps and you’ll be channeling your inner Hef all summer long.
Step 1: Flip your living room
According to Jaime Derringer, founder of the L.A.-based design blog Design Milk, every proper bachelor pad needs two pieces of furniture: a non-leather sofa, and a coffee table attractive enough to make you “think twice” about propping your feet on it. For the former, she recommends CB2’s Club Sofa (cb2.com, $1,199), which she describes as so timeless and sleek it “looks like a fitted suit.” If you have more to spend, consider the Joybird Mora (joybird.com, $1,599) and Deluna ($1,499), both with extra-deep, supercomfortable seats ideal for taller dudes. All of these couches are made from microdenier polyester and are easy to clean. Whatever you decide on, go with gray. “It’s masculine, and it goes with everything,” says Derringer.
For a coffee table, she advises West Elm’s retro Reeve (westelm.com, $499). It’s guy-friendly because of the extra detailing, such as the brass caps on the feet, that make it look not just cool but also far more expensive than it really is. Or consider the awesomely rugged-looking Timber table from Z Gallerie (zgallerie.com, $899), which is made from resin cast from reclaimed oak planks: It’s solid and sturdy and will impress not just your date but her father, too.
Step 2: Adjust your lighting
If you care about your mood at all, you’d be wise to always shun overhead lighting, advises Janel Laban, executive editor at Apartment Therapy. For the right festive glow, she says, keep the overhead lights off and turn on no more than three lamps in each room. Opt for warmer halogen or incandescent bulbs and stay away from the harsh blue tints that can come with some compact fluorescent and LED bulbs—blue light has been shown to increase heart rate. (There’s an endless supply of research noting the harmful effects of blue light on sleep, as well.) For a handsome design, use only lamps made of wood or chrome. I’d advise the three-fer Tripel ($199) or the Astronomy ($249), both available from CB2.
If you really want to up your party game, Laban says, go for candles. But instead of decking out your home to look like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey, try a few unscented, large-column candles. And as a rule, go for a candle with at least three wicks. There’s a cheap selection of them at worldmarket.com. For an extra masculine touch, set them on a chopping board.
Step 3: Deck the walls
For as little as $24 you can snatch up everything from Audubon plates to black-and-white wildlife photographs at the terrific website 20x200. If you have no idea what you like, you can never go wrong with a Warhol. Prints start at $10 at the Warhol Foundation’s online store (warholstore.com).
Because framing often adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of an artwork, Apartment Therapy’s Laban suggests measuring your print, then picking up a cheap frame from Ikea that is several inches larger. To mount the print, take both print and frame to any craft store at your local mall—Michaels, for example. Though you might assume it’ll have nothing but piles of scrapbooking supplies for your mom, most have framing departments, where staffers can custom-cut a mount that fits both frame and print for a few bucks. Budget around $25 for each print.
Step 4: Up your bar game
You don’t need to spend a fortune on wine-and whiskey-specific glasses. “The truth is, you can buy one great glass to use for everything: wine, water, or a shot of tequila,” says New York–based interior designer Trip Haenisch. The Swiss Army knife of glassware, he says, is CB2’s Marta tumbler: It’s wildly affordable ($2.50 each), resilient, and stackable, saving space when you’re home alone.
For a party trick, buy an old-fashioned Lewis bag ($15, themodernmixologist.com), a canvas pouch you fill with ice before smashing the cubes into flakes with a hammer. The fabric absorbs melting shards, leaving perfect, bone-dry crushed ice as the result. “It doesn’t just make drinks taste better,” says Tony Abou-Ganim, of the Modern Mixologist, “it’s a stress reliever, too.” Stack everything, Don Draper–style, on a bar cart like the retro wooden West Elm Parker ($349), which can also double as a bedroom nightstand once the party’s over.
Step 5: Redecorate your most important room: the loo
The bathroom is the one place you can guarantee every guest will visit. “And it’s likely the room everyone will judge you on,” says Laban. So, in addition to scrubbing it thoroughly (and often), choose a proper centerpiece that projects tidiness and warmth. I’d advise a plain white shower curtain (West Elm’s start at $39), which makes your bathroom feel more spacious. And look for towels flagged as “zero twist,” which is the lightest and softest way to process cotton fibers, available at Costco for as low as $42 for a whole set. Because if all goes well, someone besides you might be using them in the morning, too.