Applegate Tran on How to Host a Happy Holiday Gathering

Entertaining friends and family during the holidays should be a joyful experience, but as we all know it can get very stressful very quickly. We turned to San Francisco–based designers and frequent hosts Vernon Applegate and Gioi Tran to guide us through the ins and outs of how to make holiday gatherings happy for everyone — including the ones hosting.


California is known for its indoor-outdoor lifestyle and this is particularly wonderful when entertaining; how do you keep guests warm on terraces and in gardens?

Vernon: A fire pit is always a great idea because it gives off some heat, but I probably would lay beautiful alpaca throws on chairs and sofas. Standing heaters can be really bulky and block views.


What is your favorite cocktail to serve during the holidays?

Vernon: I’m not an eggnog kind of guy so we usually serve something like a Paloma or greyhound, which is grapefruit with either vodka or tequila for the holidays. And I would dress it up with either dried cranberries or dried blood oranges to give it more of a Christmas feel.

Gioi: Yes, I agree. I love a greyhound or anything with mezcal.


Here’s a controversial topic: guests’ shoes on or off in the house?

Vernon: It’s really up to the host, but I would make sure that my guests know before they come if it is a shoes-off location. I would also make sure that I had some really stylish slippers or moccasins that people could slip on. That would be fun. They should fit the theme of the party, so for a holiday party I would make sure they are festive. It also opens people up for wearing really fun socks. Then it would be a conversation starter instead of “oh my god, you’ve ruined my outfit.”

Gioi: I would order colorful slip-ons made in Morocco in various sizes and colors so each guest could take them home as a gift.


Any tips on getting the holiday tablescape right?

Vernon: Over-the-top centerpieces are beautiful, but sometimes impractical. However, you can leave them as people sit down so it looks festive, but just before you plate the meal they might go onto a buffet or a table nearby.

Gioi: You can never go wrong with lots of candles and fresh flowers.


What is the best way for people to enjoy their own party instead of spending the whole time in the kitchen?

Gioi: There is nothing pretentious about hiring a chef to make your guests feel special for the holidays or simply ordering dinner to be delivered. It is about the presentation and celebrating friendships.

Vernon: It depends on your budget and what you want to spend. But I think preparing as much as you can ahead of time, thinking about the menu and saying, OK, how can I have something that’s elegant and special? But also something where I’m not tied down preparing it all while my guests are here. So yes, go ahead and order from a restaurant, then just heat it up and present it on beautiful dinnerware in a beautiful setting. It doesn’t matter if you have a five-course meal by a Michelin-star chef as long as it is something that makes your guests feel special.

portrait of Vernon Applegate and Gioi Tran
Vernon Applegate and Gioi Tran (Photo by Christopher Stark)