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4 ways to make your holiday party sparkle

Nicola Marc and her five-year-old Clara get the party started.

Alexi Hobbs/The Globe and Mail

When the Montreal-based stylist and interior decorator Nicola Marc throws a holiday party with her husband, Matthew, and their five-year-old daughter, Clara, it is typically an all-inclusive affair, where grown-ups and kids alike are invited to join in on the celebratory drinks (Churchill martinis and cava for the adults, fruit juice and sparkling water for the children), mouth-watering appetizers (mini Yorkshire puddings stuffed with organic roast beef and horseradish, anyone?) and impromptu dancing (Ella Fitzgerald's rendition of Jingle Bells is a proven crowd-pleaser).

But festive cocktails, food and music aside, it is Marc's knack for creating gorgeous Christmas tableaus that has made their holiday soirees truly memorable. This season, Marc Gold Interiors, the design firm that Marc owns with her friend and fellow stylist Beth Gold, will capitalize on that talent by offering a half- or full-day decorating service to anyone with a room in need of a Yuletide makeover.

Whether Marc is decking out a client's home or planning the decor for one of her own get-togethers, she follows a few rules of thumb to keep guests of every age entertained and satisfied.

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Set the scene

When decorating to suit a crowd of various ages, Marc aims for decorative touches that are as playful as they are sophisticated.

To give a space a little sparkle, white fairy lights might be strung around small Christmas trees standing in metal pails spray-painted to match the party's palette.

For hits of seasonal flora, she often turns to potted white amaryllis and paperwhites, spreading them around the room and concealing the store-bought containers with wrapping paper tied with ribbon.

Above a dining table they might suspend a grouping of paper lanterns – which can also be spray painted to match the party's colour scheme – along with tissue-paper flowers hung from ribbon at various heights.

On the table itself, simple white plates arranged down the centre can hold a cluster of candles and small glass jars filled with paperwhites or amaryllis blooms. And at the ends of the table, stacks of white paper plates and napkins, along with sets of bamboo cutlery, are de rigueur, so everyone can help themselves once the food is laid out.

Don't let the menu devour you

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Although Marc loves to bake and cook, she knows that, as a busy working mom, preparing everything from scratch isn't feasible. "When planning a menu, I take advantage of Montreal's great food shops and markets," she says. So family favourites that she might prepare herself – things like mini quiches made in muffin tins or Scotch pancakes with smoked salmon – would be offered alongside artisanal cheeses and breads from Jean Talon Market and gourmet pizzas from Atwater Market, which she cuts into bite-sized pieces and serve on pewter trays lined with parchment paper.

This carefully considered presentation can carry over to the sweet course, too. "As a stylist, I have a lot of glassware, which I love to use for desserts,"

she says. For a holiday shindig, she might use her Moroccan tea glasses to hold individual portions of chocolate mousse or lemon cheesecake, the latter being an easy-tomake recipe from her Scottish grandmother (Marc was born in Britain but moved to Montreal in 2000) that doesn't have a crust but is topped with crumbled digestive biscuits for added crunch.

Of course, good food requires equally good libations and so a fully stocked bar with a hired bartender and servers ensures that everyone stays hydrated and allows Marc to spend less time passing around drinks and more time mingling with her guests.

Make room for revelry and rest , too

When entertaining at home, Marc encourages people to dance as the night draws on by cranking up the volume of her husband's eclectic playlist. "Matthew and Clara love to dance, so I send them out on the floor first. I'm sure that it encourages guests of all ages to join in."

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For smaller partiers (or older ones, for that matter) who are beginning to wind down, Marc recommends setting up a separate entertainment area, complete with comfy floor cushions, where classics such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and Frosty the Snowman can be screened.

End on a sweet note

Because this is the season of giving, guests of all ages – when they're finally ready to call it a night – will appreciate little vellum bags containing Scottish shortbread (Marc bakes her own with her daughter) and a handwritten label saying "Thank you."

As Marc puts it, it's a simple way to express gratitude for "spending time with good company

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