Thursday, October 4, 2012

A successful party!

A beautiful bar set up for one of author Danielle Rollins' parties

We had a successful party last weekend (see my post on the pre-planning effort here)  – although nothing turned out as I expected, mainly because of the weather! More on that later….

Some of you commented that I was quite late planning a party that was taking place in a week.  This was a school sponsored party, so my only job was to have my house ready and think about space planning.  We had a team of parents who were working with the caterer on the food and drink, and managing the invitations and RSVPs.  It made things easy on me!
We were expecting 150+, and I have never had that many people over to the house, so I knew that where things were placed and how things flowed would be very important. 

That’s why author and entertaining specialist Danielle Rollins (whose new book on entertaining was released this week) was such a big help; she has a tremendous amount of experience entertaining in all different situations.  The intent was for the party to be mainly outside, and we walked the property and discussed where to set things up.  We spent a little bit of time talking about how things should be set up in the event of bad weather – but since the past week had been picture perfect in Atlanta, we thought that was a remote possibility.

Here are some tips from Danielle that I thought were particularly good, and apply to all different sorts of party situations:
  • Think about who you are inviting, and what will make them most comfortable.  Do the guests know each other, or are you bringing together people from different backgrounds and perspectives? What seating/food/table set up makes most sense for the intent of the event.  For the event last weekend, the common bond was our 7th grade children, but it is a large grade with many new parents, so there are people who don’t know each other. A stand up reception featuring a light cocktail supper, with a little bit of individual seating, was most appropriate for the size and intent of our function. Also try hard to minimize any situation that might cause discomfort or intimidation during a party.
  • Danielle is very big on reusing things, and likes to avoid any purchases for a party that are for just one event. ‘Use what you have, and have what you use’ is one of her mantras.  If you plan on entertaining regularly, buy things that you can use for many different kind of parties – often keying the color to work with the environment (the colors you use in your house, or the colors of nature in the yard) are most versatile.   Danielle often mixes the high and the low, and often sources party supplies from IKEA and Cost Plus World Market.
This was our centerpiece for the food table - a pretty potted hydrangea that the party planners gave me as a thank you gift.   The cut flowers I purchased have already faded, but this arrangement will last for weeks!
  • Danielle prefers to spend the budget on good food and drink, and not on flowers. She often uses things that are in her garden, or uses potted plants that can be put in a pretty planter and enjoyed for weeks or even months before and after the party.
Sometimes parties require more elaborate arrangements based on the formality of the event (this picture is from a formal event hosted by Danielle) but even a lower key event can make the bar pretty with candles in hurricane lamps, and a nice tablecloth with whatever you have at home.
  • For a large party like ours, she suggested setting up two bars to minimize wait time for drinks and to encourage party flow.  The main bar should be decorated in a special way – perhaps with a set of hurricane lamps with candles (enclosed flames are better for the bar). The secondary bar can be simpler and self-serve.  Also nice is to have a few easy but flavorful food items at the bar (like honey roasted peanuts, olives, thick cut chips) as people often like to nibble while waiting for a drink, or while mingling by the bar.
  • If the party is going to be indoors, and especially if it is not sit down, try to plan food that is not too greasy or oily and can easily be eaten with a fork or the fingers. Also, when selecting a menu, think about your guests (possible food issues) and try to have your food go well together from a flavor and type perspective.  For an event that is a light cocktail dinner, she likes for food to be passed – and the host/hostess are often wonderful food passers as it gives them a chance to interact with many of their guests in an easy manner. It is better to have fewer food choices that are very well prepared and not too fancy, versus many different options and esoteric choices.  Also, in Danielle’s experience, guests don’t tend to eat a lot of dessert if there is a meal, so keep the dessert items simple and small – and often it is best to pass dessert or bring it to the table if the guests are seated, otherwise it might not get eaten!
  • Have a bottle of ‘Wine Away’ stain remover on hand in case of spills (I already owned a small bottle, but have since ordered more on Amazon)
  • If your party will be large, it is helpful to clearly mark the powder room with a sign so that people don’t wander around opening up every door trying to find it (I did this and it worked well!).
  • If you are using caterers, make sure that everyone knows where the trash is located – what comes in must go out (and parties tend to generate a fair amount of trash). Set up trash cans near the bar and in discrete places, and have a location outside where all the trash can be placed. 

I started watching the weather a few days before the party.  A big system in the Gulf of Mexico started to form, but all predictions were for it to hit Atlanta after the party.

On Sunday morning, the satellite looked like this. Ever the optimist, I was hoping that the rain system would be very slow moving and come into the Atlanta late in the evening.

It was mostly overcast at 4 pm, with less than 2 hours until the party start, and I was feeling hopeful that the weather would hold though the party. Then I checked the radar, and saw the monstrous green blob that was about to descend on Atlanta.

So, the parent party planners and I decided to set things up inside, with the thought that we could still use the outdoor spaces for mingling if the weather held out.

And here was the radar at 6 pm, party start time.  Atlanta is the green pin seen in the middle – and we were at the start of a big long entrenched rain system with 150+ people expected at my house.

And it all worked out fine!  We had an amazing group of parents, great food from a wonderful caterer, plenty to eat and drink, and a fun time was had by all.  Our house was able to handle the numbers although it was close quarters at the peak of the party – but that made for a more intimate experience, and also ensured that most of the food was eaten!

My brilliant friend Natasha suggested using a rolling rack for wet raincoats, and I happened to have one from a yard sale I had a few years ago.  When thinking about where to put it, I had the brainstorm to use our porte cochere (which is a covered side entrance for cars) as the entrance in case of rain – and it proved to be a very handy place for the wet umbrellas, the check in table for name tags, and the rain coats. We even had some passed hors d’oeuvres in here as it was the official starting point for the party, and it worked so well!  My side entrance is pretty so it was not strange to use it instead of the front entrance, particularly given the extenuating circumstances. The cool air that the rain brought made this a very pleasant place to be.

I tried to take pictures of the interior during the party, but they really did not turn out. It was very gloomy outside, and I had the lights dimmed on the inside (I will never forget the blog post by Maison 21 – back in 2007 – on the critical importance of dimmed lights when entertaining). There were so many people in just about every space (except for the dining room, since we did not put food in there and it was not a sit down type party).  We had more light in the kitchen, where the caterers needed it for their prep work – and where we had the food set up on the kitchen table, which is located right between the two bars we had set up. 

The one thing I might have changed– with the number of guests, and no possibility to go outside - it might have been better to have the caterers use the garage for their prep and staging.  It is fairly common to have the caterers use the garage when entertaining at home in Atlanta, if the weather is not too hot and the house has a set up conducive to this – it frees up the kitchen for the party. With so many kitchens now open to everything and central to the house, this makes a big difference.  But everything worked out just fine in the end.

I would say that the location of the bar(s) is one of the most important decisions that we made – we put one in the corner of the living room (with a tarp underneath to protect the floors and carpet from spills and leaks), and had the containers holding the drinks just outside the door on the bluestone, so the bartender could easily access the supplies. We had a large Frontgate metal tub on the table with the open wines, ice, and a selection of beers, softdrinks, and water, and this was replenished from the extras on the bluestone patio, just outside the open door. Normally we put the bar outside on the bluestone patio, but it simply wasn’t possible because of the horrible weather. (I wish I had taken a picture of the bar at the beginning of the party!).

The morning after the party, the metal containers that held the drinks had drained – this shows you where we put them (although more in alignment with the far door, for easy access).

This picture was also taken the day after the party, but shows where we put the second bar – along the far wall in front of the opening.  We moved the two side chairs to either side of the fireplace, and moved the sofa as far back as it could go. The bluestone top tables weigh a ton and we decided to keep them where they were! Our original plan was to have a second bar by the pool, but again the weather required us to make some last minute changes. During the party, this area was full of people, and the two locations of the bar (with the food on the kitchen table in between) created a wonderful flow throughout the house, and allowed for people to spread out.

I have had the chance to read Danielle Rollins’ new book, Soiree: Entertaining with Style and thoroughly enjoyed it!  It is a lovely book, and combines great tips on entertaining and thinking through an event, with a fascinating peek into a glamorous lifestyle, as well as glimpses of beautiful interior and garden design.   The book is written in a fun and lighthearted style, and is well organized to profile 15 parties that Danielle has held (from large to small), with the preparation, decisions, and menus outlined and discussed for each party.  Many of these parties also take place in fabulous locations including Miles Redd’s NYC brownstone, Lela Rose’s lovely NYC abode, a villa in France, and Danielle’s own beautiful home (including a party in her Indian theme theater room, which has not been published before). Woven throughout are entertaining tips and tricks which are applicable to any party, large or small.

Houses, gardens, people, lifestyles, recipes, entertaining – all in one. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is a beautiful book to have on the coffee table too!  To purchase on Amazon, click here.

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  1. It sounds like you had a great party and enjoyed it too, which is very important for the host.

    I always have the caterer use the garage during large functions (75 people or more) in my home where the food is mainly passed. My garage is detached, but it is easy to walk across the breezeway and get into the house. My kitchen is central in my house, and it is nice not to have the chaos and mess that goes with preparing food for large numbers in the middle of the party.

    I am also happy to read how you are settling into your new home and opening it for others to see and enjoy. So many people live in large gorgeous homes and never invite people in, what a shame.


  2. perfect hostess - cool under fire! So sorry to hear the weather didn't cooperate but everyone got to enjoy your beautiful new house. I'm sure you are relieved to have it all done with!

  3. I really like the coat racks in the porte cochere - informal, obvious, and something everyone had in common: dealing with the rain. Yeah: "enclosed flames are better for the bar" amusing and now that I think of it, true. By the way, my calendar is free for your next party.

    1. Sometimes the most important aspects of party planning are doing things that just make logical sense! The coat rack and the space for the umbrellas was one of the things that made a rainy day party work. It inspired people to think about how spaces can be used for different functions (I heard many comments to that effect). Someone pointed out that it would be a great space for a toddler party, but I don't have toddlers any more. It was also a good place for the wives to wait while the husbands pulled the cars up - very chivalrous and practical in the rain.

      Maybe I will do an ICAA event at the house one of these days. Members only, of course! We can have Stan as the featured speaker.

  4. Sounds like it went well even with the poor weather. I am sure it was still amazing inside. Some great tips too. I strongly agree with the "own what you use and use what you own" philosophy. It is such a waste if cabinets are full of "stuff" that never gets used. So now I am sure you are ready for your next event!- Tonya

  5. Holly I know that it was a very special gathering and the guest must have loved seeing your home and grounds!
    Bravo for being able to turn on a dime and have everything needed to pull the party inside!

    Oh and I am having an amazing Giveaway of Plush Velvet Pumpkins from Love Feast!
    Art by Karena

  6. You are the consummate hostess! It looked beautiful and Im sorry you even had to worry/deal with the storm, but good for you for pulling it off! I know your guests enjoyed themselves at your spectacular home.

  7. holly, sounds like you all had a wonderful time despite the weather. I enjoyed reading all about your party. Entertaining always overwhelms me and I try to remember that a wonderfully calm hostess who can enjoy herself is the best gift to give my guests. Easier said than done - I'm such a worrywart.

    I followed your link to the M21 piece on lighting and also enjoyed that advice.

    ok, now you have a large party under your belt - no excuse not to do it regularly, eh?


  8. Oh, Holly! This is an amazing post! There is nothing like planning a huge party and then having to worry about the weather is crazy! I know it was a huge success and it sounds like you did an amazing job with re-directing where everything should be! It always amazes me just how much I enjoy these events even when they are hard to pull off! People truly just remember how you made them feel…not the way the party looked! You did an amazing job! Your house is truly one of my all time favorites and if you are ever on a Home Tour, I for one plan on being there! So glad you posted about this!!

  9. I almost bought that potted blue hydrangea at Boxwood for a cocktail party on our bluestone terrace the weekend before last! Sounds like a great party!

  10. What a fabulous arty! Your house is perfect rain or shine. Everytime I plan a party would it be in my Showroom, or at home, i have had a deal with a downpour! the most important is the good food, drinks and great conversation.

  11. It sounds like a great time was had by all. We hosted a bridesmaid's luncheon this past weekend, outside and fortunately the rain held off. A sitdown luncheon for 26 is tough indoors. So glad yours went well and your home is perfectly set up for entertaining indoors or out...just gorgeous!!

  12. Hi Holly it sounds like despite the weather not cooperating..all went well, you sound like you had it planned out to perfection and most importantly that you had a chance to enjoy yourself! So much goes into a party...I resort to a notebook and write every single detail down, even things that seem obvious and sure enough there are always things the day of that I forgot to consider:) The snippets of your home are beautiful and I am sure everyone very much enjoyed being there and having you as a their gracious hostess!!

    PS Agree about the garage..its a sensible place for setup/prep and not having to see any mess if as is done more and more, the kitchen becomes part of the "party route" many do tend to enjoy hanging out in the kitchen...and nothing could stress me out more than if guests were there and it was a mess!

  13. A good hostess always puts a lot of preperation into a party. Thinking of all "could happen" scenario's. Sounds like fun was had by all! Your house is gorgeous!


  14. You are just a wonderful hostess, Holly! Everything turned out perfect because you planned so well.
    I will have to put Danielle's book on my list. I love her home, so I know that her book will be fabulous!
    Happy Thursday,

  15. incredible tips, and what a great way to christen your house in a big way!

    this was even more helpful and interesting since you had to compensate for dreary weather--bravo!


  16. Great tips.. OMG..thank you so much for sharing. I love that you were able to come up with plan B. One thing I've got to share, regardless of the size of space, the invitees usually don't notice unless they are standing on each other's toes. I'm sure it was fabulous. xo marlis

  17. holly, do you tell the paint colors for the outside of your home.? brick color and trim.? e. byram

  18. I love your tips! I am actually working on a tablescape for a event this week and these are some great ideas to consider! Thanks for sharing.

    Love, Jamie Herzlinger

  19. Glad to hear your party went off without a hitch and that the weather really helped the situation. Looks like a great book to add to my library via Christmas list for this year. Great parties are great teaching moments and it looks like you taught us some great things today...nice!

  20. Holly,
    Rolling with what nature and life throw your way can test the best hostess...but you handled it with aplomb!

    Thank you for sharing Danielle's book...I think I need to add this to my entertaining library!!
    xoxo Elizabeth



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