As delightful as the dive into autumn may be, the transition reminds us that we are merely steps away from winter, the holidays, spirited joy, and inescapable stressors.
While seasoned entertainers will host ravishing parties with an effortless finesse, the average and aspiring hostess-with-the-mostess will hesitantly take the wheel, and simultaneously brace for impact. From invitations and food to table settings and clean-up, your head may be aching before you make a single move.
If anyone knows how to throw a sophisticated soiree, it’s , of Rafanelli Events, who's best known as the event planner for the Obama White House and the weddings of Chelsea Clinton, Matt Damon, Allison Williams and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. The man could plan virtually anything. Here, he shares his secrets to throwing a party as magical (fingers crossed) as the season.
1) DECIDING ON THE AESTHETIC
"The biggest thing to consider when you are planning a party is discovering the story you want to tell. You are asking your guests to give their time and it’s just as important to take your time when deciding on the perfect theme. Draw inspiration from everything around you, from window displays at the department stores to your favorite holiday memory."
"When considering your decor, draw attention to the features that make your home unique. Intertwine fresh greenery with white ribbon around a staircase banister to reflect a tree covered in frost, or lights around your fireplace mantle replicating the glow of luminarias. Whether you are planning an intimate gathering among friends or an elaborate holiday celebration, every detail in the décor helps you captivate your guests and create an experience that echoes the essence of the holidays."
2) THE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFOREHAND
"Create a strong foundation when planning your event by answering the five Ws. Who’s coming? What is the occasion? When will the party happen? Where will it be held? And why are we all coming together?"
"Planning a gathering of close family and friends? A formal sit-down dinner is a wonderful way to have an intimate evening with your guests. Make it even more personal by serving the meal on your grandmother’s china, or recreate a special recipe that’s been in your family for generations."
"Interested in an elaborate celebration for a larger group? You may find it easier to do buffet-style to take the pressure of serving off of you. Something to consider when hosting 10 or more people is hiring a caterer or ordering food from your favorite restaurant. You’ll have more time to be present at the party and appreciate time with your guests."
3) GETTING THE INVITE RIGHT
"I love the authenticity of an old-fashioned invitation, and certain celebrations can only be expressed with a beautiful printed invitation arriving in your guests’ homes. For the right event, however, digital invitations get the word out quickly and you can easily follow up with your guests a few times before the celebration."
"Let the theme of your party inspire the design of the invitation. Create an elegant style using easy-to-read fonts for key information such as when and where the party will take place, what the attire is, and a theme if it affects how your guests will dress. I always stress the importance of spelling out every detail for your guests. I also like to use both print and script fronts in my invitations to construct an eye-catching first impression."
4) DECORATING LIKE A PRO
"Don’t be afraid to use plenty of layers! The tabletop should be about discovery for your guests, so using multiple design elements in your setting is unexpected and adventurous. Pairing tall candlesticks with low florals adds depth while mixing textures like glass vases and brass flatware adds complexity and warmth to the table."
"For small gatherings, personalize the table setting by resurfacing the china you received as a wedding gift or create an eclectic combination of dinner plates and bowls to add character. Use plenty of greens and florals to fill empty space in the center of the table."
"The more guests, the merrier, but you may not have the tableware to accommodate. Renting your china, crystal or silver provides a fabulous alternative giving you the freedom to select from a variety of options for your color scheme."
5) SAVING TIME & BEING EFFICIENT
"Plan every detail and do a walkthrough of the event. Whether I’m planning a party for 15 people or an event for thousands, I always have my team run through the “day-of” plan until we can recite it in our sleep. I would encourage any party host to do the same. This helps with pre-party jitters and allows you to relax and be present with your guests throughout the night."
"The luxury of hosting a party at home is having the freedom to set your table in advance. Lay the tablecloth, set the plates and align the silverware the day before so you can focus on the florals and perfecting the décor on the day of your event. If you are preparing the food for a small group of people, serve hors d’oeuvres that you simply assemble rather than cook and make your desserts ahead of time. This way, you can focus on preparing your marvelous holiday dinner."
"Bite-sized hors d’oeuvres that can easily be eaten while your guests stand and mingle are essential for any large party. Rather than topping your crostini with bruschetta that can easily topple onto your guest or your floor, top it with something easy to pick up such as smoked salmon and fresh mozzarella. Finally, reward yourself for all the time spent planning and hosting by hiring a cleaning service for the following day."
6) WHERE TO SPLURGE & WHERE TO SAVE
"Identify décor elements that will complement your theme. I like to incorporate fresh flowers and greenery in every design, but you can save money by mixing real and artificial flowers to add texture and fill out a display."
"For small parties, there’s a beauty and personalization in using your own china. Since you’re saving on rentals, I recommend serving a full-course meal and investing in personalized gifts for your guests."
"For a larger event, hiring a catering company and cleaner can be the key to your sanity and allow you to take pleasure in the beautiful night you’ve planned. Creating decorative DIY flower vases for the table and around your home is a great way to save on décor. With food prep and cleaning taken care of, this becomes a fun project leading up to the event."
7) THE BEST PARTY FAVORS & PARTING GIFTS
"Every event is a chance to leave a lasting impression on your guests and a parting gift is the perfect finishing touch to their experience. For a small group of friends, a customized bottle of merlot and a wine stopper in the design of a snowflake will make them think of the incredible evening they had the next time they curl up by the fire on a cold winter’s night. For a larger party, simple gifts such as delicate ornaments are a wonderful way to leave everyone with a sentimental token to remember the evening."
Bryan's best piece of advice for throwing a holiday party?
Always tell a story. "At the end of the day, guests will admire the décor, but they'll remember the experience."