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Christian Harder

The arrival of the holidays usually triggers an explosion of over-the-top decorations, garish gift wrap, and antiquated recipes. We fall into that group of people who wants to avoid those clichés entirely, especially when it comes to hosting a party.

But what does an untraditional holiday gathering even look like? To show you, we borrowed a stately home in Westport, Connecticut, for a weekend to prepare a holiday gathering that delivers seasonal spirit in a tasteful way. Taking advantage of the home's charming curb appeal, rustic palette, and abundance of entertaining spaces, we created an unforgettable getaway. Recreate your own with the tips below.

The beautiful Connecticut home, situated in Westport, is currently on the market with

Give a Warm Welcome

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Christian Harder

Your guests may be weary from their travels, but the second they step foot on the property, they’ll be transported to a magical winter wonderland.

Festive touches on the exterior set the tone for your impeccably planned weekend. You won’t see any flashing Christmas lights or inflatable Santas here—instead, tasteful garlands, potted plants, and a natural wreath accent the entry and guarantee that your guests will get a jolt of that perfect woodsy smell on their way inside.

Electric candles help light the way, while metallic ornaments and ribbons in neutral hues (avoid red, green or silver) placed amid the greenery are a sleek, stylish detail.

, $195, & garland, , , from $98, , from $20


Make a Modern Menu

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Christian Harder

When setting the table for dinner, continue the nature-inspired theme with handwoven linens, wood platters, and an artful array of greenery. Organic shapes and neutral colors lend everything a warm, personal touch, while matte-gold flatware adds an appropriate dose of festivity. Instead of elaborate centerpieces, a few one-of-a-kind candlesticks make the type of subtle statement you’re after.

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Christian Harder

For the menu, think fresh and modern—you won’t see any fruit cakes or hams at this party! Platters of charcuterie, cheese, nuts, fruit, and bread sourced from local purveyors hit just the right notes for the beginning of the meal. Encourage guests to build their own plates and enjoy a glass of red by the fire. You’ll want to keep the flames alive all night, so make sure to keep extra logs at the ready.

In lieu of traditional place settings that get cast aside immediately, why not try something that guests can actually use? Bundles of bay leaf, sage, seeded eucalyptus, and white pine add a lovely accent to every plate. Place the bundles on top of handmade ceramic plates and use a gift tag as a name card to complete this wholly-personal table arrangement.

, , $32, , $85 for set, , $39 each, , $28, , $48


Get Cozy and Competitive

The gathering will achieve peak coziness in the living room. A sophisticated palette of neutral tones, natural materials, and uber-soft textiles denotes that this holiday party is anything but traditional.

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Christian Harder

The earthy decor scheme plays off the house’s beautiful stone and wood details. More foliage—occasionally decorated with charming bird ornaments and placed in chic brass vases—brings a fresh feeling to every room. Leather, velvet, and linen pillows, a selection of blankets, and a roaring fire create a setting that instantly conjures the Danish concept of hygge.

Encourage guests to gather ‘round the hearth for a bit of healthy competition. Keep cards, dice, and chess at the ready for group games and one-on-one breakout sessions. A record player can pipe out indie hits or folksy tunes all weekend long. Steaming hot mugs of spiced apple cider are the perfect complement to the conversation and camaraderie that extends into the wee hours of the night.

, $69, , $350, , $112


Gather in the Kitchen for Cookies

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Christian Harder

, $16, , $24, , , , $43, , $38

Like most homes during a party, the kitchen is the center of activity. With exposed ceiling beams and a charming stone fireplace—decorated with more garland and candles, of course—this cozy room is where the group will want to hang out all weekend long.

Always have a fresh pot of coffee ready in the Chemex so guests can help theirselves to a cup. Keep natural-fiber dishtowels around in case there’s a spill.

For a fun group activity, bring everyone together to whip up delicious homemade cookies. We used the upstate New York restaurant s recipe for cookies with coffee stout, walnuts, and chocolate for a new take on the classic chocolate chip walnut cookie. (An added : You can enjoy the rest of the can that isn’t used in the recipe.)

Make an extra batch of treats and wrap them in simple parchment paper and twine so that guests have a gift to take home with them.

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Christian Harder

Brushland’s 'Early to Rise' Cookies with Coffee stout, Walnuts & Chocolate

Ingredients

1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup powdered sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup blackstrap molasses
¼ cup Narragansett Coffee Milk Stout
4 oz unsweetened chocolate chips
4 oz walnuts, toasted and chopped
4 tbs butter
½ cup turbinado sugar

Directions

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, and powdered sugar together in a large bowl.

In a small skillet, toast chopped walnuts on medium heat, shaking and stirring constantly. In a second bowl, whisk together molasses, eggs, and beer.

Combine chocolate and butter in a small saucepan and melt, stirring constantly until texture is smooth, about 1-2 minutes, letting cool slightly. Whisk the chocolate and butter mixture into the egg mix, adding in toasted walnut. Fold in flour mixture and stir until combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for an hour (have some of the leftover stout in the meantime!). Preheat oven to 325 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Scoop out dough—we like using a small, old fashioned ice cream scoop for its roughly 2 tablespoon size. Roll each ball in granulated sugar and transfer to baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Allow cookies to cool slightly, transferring to a rack to set.


Leave a Finishing Touch

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Christian Harder

, $75, , , $27, , $139, , $88

After a memorable day filled with eating, drinking, laughing, and bonding, it’s time for guests to retire. Garland decorated with organic textured ribbon leads the way up to the bedrooms. A striking open staircase is the perfect backdrop for this hint of seasonal foliage, which brings the winter spirit to every corner of the house.

Go above and beyond as a host by leaving fur-lined slippers and leather baskets filled with cashmere blankets along the way upstairs. This extra step will leave your company feeling very well taken care of (and very luxurious, too). It’s the perfect finishing touch to a gathering that may just become a new holiday tradition.

See the rest of this Westport, Connecticut home on .

Prop styling by Sara Mae Albert

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