I miss entertaining. For years, I had all kinds of events at my home, from small dinners with friends to our daughter’s wedding and reception. I had to take a bit of a break when I opened Nell Hill’s Briarcliff a few years ago because I just didn’t have the time to plan parties on top of getting the new location established. Now, with the store thriving, I’m ready to party!
I had the perfect excuse this spring when I heard the good news that my cousin Cathy’s daughter was going to have a little girl. Oh, baby, I could hardly contain my excitement to throw Kate a shower.
This summer, take time to celebrate a special event in the life of someone you love. Here are five tips for throwing a shower – or party of any type – that is easy, fun and memorable.
1. Pick a theme that’s simple to execute.
Parties are so much easier to plan when you have a theme to work with, because a theme is the game plan that inspires the details, like who will be on your guest list, what the invitations will look like, the party schedule, the food and drinks, and, of course, the decorations.
Since Kate was having a girl, we decided to make the shower a girls-only event where women of all ages who loved Kate could have fun together as they welcomed this newest member of the gang. For our theme, we picked the colors of Kate’s nursery – pale gray, lavender, apple green and blue – not only because they provided a beautiful palette for our decorations, but also for a practical reason: We planned to give Kate the party décor to decorate her nursery, so we wanted everything to match.
For example, we made a custom table topper out of some sensational decorator fabric we have by the yard at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff and through Nell Hill’s Online that beautifully blends these hues. We placed the finished square of fabric, turned on the diagonal, at the center of the dining room table to ground our centerpiece. You can see it in the snapshot above, under the white temple jars. After the shower, Kate could use the table topper in lots of ways in her nursery, or use it as a play blanket for the baby. I like that every time she sees it, it will remind her of this amazing band of women who love her.
2. Make food and beverage service easy but elegant.
When it comes to serving food at parties, my credo is “presentation over preparation.” After years of hosting events, I’ve learned that if the food and beverages are presented in a beautiful way, you can serve even the simplest of fare and everyone will be delighted.
Since the shower was held on a week night after work, we wanted to start the evening with a social hour, when guests could enjoy a glass of wine while they visited with one another. I set up a small bar in my foyer by placing a table in front of the stairs, which served perfectly as a storage spot for the extra glasses and wine. To make the beverage service more efficient, we kept it simple with just one kind of red wine and one kind of white, and bottles of water.
Instead of serving a buffet dinner, as I usually do for larger parties, I decided to try something new. I closed off my kitchen and made it a work area. We plated each guest’s dinner in the kitchen, then delivered them to everyone as they milled around the house and garden. Following my credo – presentation over preparation — I served simple chicken salad sandwiches but placed them on elegant white china banded in gold, bundling the silverware in a linen napkin tied up with a green ribbon.
Dessert was even prettier and easier. We arranged goodies from the bakery on elegant tiered servers strategically placed throughout the house and courtyard. The presentation was adorable, yet literally took seconds.
Since we kept the food and drinks simple, the event was seamless and fun, and I actually felt like a guest at the party, not a slave to the kitchen.
3. Focus on just a few high-impact decorations.
Like most of you, when I decorate for a special event, I don’t have lots of time. So I focus my energy on creating a few killer displays in highly visible spots, then adding little touches throughout my home.
For Kate’s party, I decided to make my front entry very special so the guests, who had traveled so far to join us, would feel welcomed with open arms. I started by lining my front walkway with lanterns filled with twinkling candles. I do this often because I think it makes guests feel fabulous when they ascend a walkway lit up brilliantly in their honor. They know without a doubt that this is going to be some party! If you don’t want to hassle with keeping lanterns lit, try using battery operated candles – they look real but don’t blow out in a gust of wind. (Stock up now at Nell Hill’s Online.)
I also really like to do my door up to make a big first impression. My goal was to make the door treatment dramatic, yet fun and whimsical. We started our treatment by securing some fallen branches to the light fixtures on either side of my door, positioning the branches so the twigs extended high above the door, filling the open space. Then we festooned the branches with a wonderful assortment of paper lanterns and tissue paper flowers, all in Kate’s nursery colors.
Paper lanterns are making a big come back, and I am thrilled. When you hang a cluster of them together, different sizes suspended at different heights, the effect is breathtaking. I found that the more you hang, the cuter the grouping gets, so go big to achieve maximum wow factor. I finished off this fun and fab treatment by hanging a mirror from my door knocker, writing on it “It’s a Girl!”
Inside, I called on the power of the paper lanterns and tissue flowers once again to make this knockout and super easy centerpiece for my dining room table. The lanterns are hung at different heights from bamboo poles inserted into two matching white temple jars.
After the party, we carefully took down the branches and lanterns to use again when decorating Kate’s nursery. We plan to spray paint the sticks apple green then hang them from the nursery’s ceiling. From the branches, we will hang the paper lanterns, clustered together, at different heights.
In addition to doing a few “pow” decorations, I usually sprinkle in a few smaller ones throughout the house, perhaps adding fresh flowers to bud vases or lighting candles. Since I already had this server in place on my back patio from my Spring Open House, I took just a few minutes to reinvent it for the party. Small touches like this help create party magic.
4. Make sure guests are comfortable.
No one likes to stand for hours at parties, especially expectant moms, so try to provide ample, comfortable seating for your guests. If you’ve found that your guests like to congregate in one area, (usually the kitchen), find ways to encourage them to spread out throughout your home, where lots of seating is usually available. All it takes is setting up food and drink stations in other rooms, and making your seating areas look inviting. Since the baby shower was held on a beautiful May evening, I knew my guests would enjoy being outside in my courtyard, so I plumped up the pillows of my patio furniture to tempt them. Nearby stood a buffet filled with wine and cookies to entice them to stay a while.
5. If you can, plan something fun and unexpected to delight your guests.
Since I live in Atchison, and most of the shower guests lived in Kansas City, about an hour away, Kate’s mother in law did something very fun and unexpected, which set the tone for the evening: She rented charter buses to transport the guests in style to my home. Everyone met at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff in Kansas City and hopped on a bus. By the time they all arrived at my door, they were already having a blast, which made my job as hostess even easier.
Next Week … Since we’re talking about parties, next week I’ll share three fabulous summer party themes, complete with lots of yummy photos, to inspire you to entertain this season.
P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!
Lisa Fernandez saysJune 25, 2012 at 10:33 am
How lovely! Mary is Kate your daughter? I’m assuming it is. How wonderful! I love those decoration colors. Peaceful yet eye popping. So beautiful. And very nice of her mother in law to do that. Excellent.
Let us know when the baby comes.
God bless, Lisa
Connie saysJune 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm
OH OH OH….what a fabulous baby mobile idea, colorful paper ponpoms.
Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors saysJune 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm
Oh… Gee that baby shower looked so fun and just the yummiest feast for the senses. Your front door ……. Aren’t branches fabulous treasures of nature ..!!! Another WELL DONE !!!
Betty Woods saysJune 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm
l love the color scheme and the lanterns on branches. So clever. It looks like it was a lovely baby shower. I am sure it was. Missy Kate is a lucky little lady.
While visiting your Atchison store in early June, I purchased the
3 tiered pewter finish piece that you show here in the birdbath.
I love it. I use it now for fresh fruit -beautiful.
Your store as usual was beautiful and very pleasing to the eye.
Betty Cunningham saysJune 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm
Love the decorations and I too love the paper lanterns , I use them when I stage homes , it’s always a fun surprise and it fills a space
nicely. I really enjoy and look forward to your emails as I always
pick up a new tip of some kind/Thanks for being so gracious and sharing your creative ideas!!!
Lynn Storms saysJune 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm
I, too, love to entertain, and love to go the extra mile and think outside the box when decorating for a party! It’s just my favorite thing to make my guests feel they are special and know that they always look forward to coming to my home for a party! I love to do everything myself, which I’m hoping I can let go of as I get a little older!! I share your excitement when an opportunity presents itself. I give my girlfriends a gourmet Christmas dinner party each year and we all look forward to this…my last group party was a wine and cheese party which was SO much fun…preparing and attending! Thanks for the spark to fuel my next party!!!
Evelyn saysJune 26, 2012 at 1:23 am
What a wonderful sounding party. I love that you were able to keep it simple enough to enjoy it yourself. Clearly you have that magic touch where even the simple looks fabulous and like you spent so much time preparing. I also think it’s a wonderful idea to use the party decor to help decorate the nursery… Brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing your tips & tricks for a sensational shower.
Lesley saysJune 26, 2012 at 11:23 am
I just want to be you!!!!
Susan Sage saysJune 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm
Dear Mary Carol,
You are amazing! My elderly mother completely perks up when I mention your lovely ideas and inspirations!