Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dinner partying

I love a good dinner party. Again, its probably something I've inherited from my mom, but I have a knack for throwing them. Although, as she likes to remind me, she's better. This past weekend my mom and I threw the best one yet; an engagement party for Tom and I. No surprises here, I was part of the planning process from the beginning.
I've decided to share some tips I've accumulated about parties, and how to turn any dining event into a memorable evening.
The first thing you should do is pick a theme. It doesn't matter if it's a large theme, but I've found when I have a concrete idea it's easier to plan. Obviously, holiday parties are easy. I think every holiday should be celebrated, and I try to plan some sort of festivity to acknowledge it. This past weekend was an engagement party, but since it's fall it was more of a fall festival get-together. We decided to serve food buffet-style and the menu was a mix of our favorites: chicken cordon bleu, red potatoes, meatballs, salad and rolls. Appetizers were cheese plates (ALWAYS have cheese!); crudites; and fun stuff like mozzarella sticks, chips and guacamole for the kids.
Decorating the party scene is my favorite part. While my mom was cooking, I was setting up. Her house is pretty Halloween-ready: pumpkins, bales of hay and cornstalks sit outside, while your more typical Halloween decorations are inside. So I only had to add to what was already there. I did however set up my own little table featuring an electronic picture frame, engagement notice, love poem, scrapbook and a cool centerpiece I made while playing around with some sticks (see blog title). The centerpiece was my favorite; it didn't really photography very well as seen below, but all I did was arrange sticks in a tall square vase, added some ferns and dried hydrangeas, and it was a pretty cool looking fall focal point.
The party was fun, and everyone loved the food and the decorations. But what is it that makes a dinner party fun? You always need a few of the same things in my opinion. A party just isn't a party without candles to set the mood, delicious appetizers like a fruit and cheese plate, quiches and canapes, and alcohol, namely wine. Drinking beer is perfectly fine, but if you're playing along to the whole dinner party (read: let's pretend we're rich people dining on caviar and steak) wine is the way to go. Or even better, champagne. Yummy.
Okay, so setting the mood is so important. Dim lighting makes everything, and everyone, look better. Set the table; at our buffet party we didn't need to, but the more fancy a party is, the more elaborate the place settings. I like to make menus and frame them to let people know what we will be eating, and placecards are a fun way to let people know where you want them. The rule is to always set people boy-girl-boy-girl, and couples never together. I like chargers underneath the plates, so when your guests take their plate there's still a marker at their setting. Napkins can go anywhere, my mom likes to stick them in wineglasses in the middle of a plate, I prefer them in crazy napkin rings. I have an old set from the 80s that are silver and gold stars. Silverware and plates go where they always do, and any extras, like gravy boats or salad bowls, go in the middle.
I love fresh cut flowers, so go with the in-season blooms in a vase in the middle of the table. If you want any additional creative touches, Homegoods is a great place to get inexpensive details. And I'm ALL about the details. The details are the thing that makes you stand out. That's probably why I'm an accessories junkie, but anyway. Back to the table.
Pick tableware that you can mix and match with any season or theme. A basic white china set will work with anything. I prefer square plates, but go ahead with round too. My mom has red champagne flutes that she uses for both Valentine's day, see below, and Christmas. Most of her decorations are orange, red, green or brown, and they all seem to go together. That's probably why she likes fall parties. I however like black and white with accent of silver. For a Halloween or fall party I like purple, it's just slightly unexpected and still looks more elegant than black and orange. For Valentine's Day I'm all about pink, and believe it or not, Christmas is probably one of my least favorite holidays to decorate for. Maybe it's the red and green together that gets me. I usually go with sparkly white snow and silver and gold. And St. Pattys is always bright green.
For easy, non-costly decorating, I like to bring some of nature in. Obviously my little centerpiece was nature inspired, and I also took some leaves and scattered them about. In warmer weather use flowers and locally grown produce. A bowl of fruit can be a centerpiece. Get creative. In April when the forsythias bloom I always take the yellow branches inside and decorate with them to celebrate the arrival of spring. And nothing is prettier than cherry blossoms when they bloom too.
Overall, food, friends and laughter is really all you need for a good dinner party. If you want to make it even easier, simply serve just appetizers and alcohol and let people mingle. But just gathering your friends and family and enjoying an evening together is one of the best things in life. So go party!

Above, my centerpiece, with my other little knick knacks scattered about. I like the old lanterns, give it a cool effect.

A bar. You can turn anything into a bar. Take a basic table, just add bottles, wine glasses, a tray, mixers and an ice bucket. Voila! A bar to socialize around.

Appetizers before the buffet gets set up. Cheese is key for a dinner party. Nearly everyone loves it. Go with a few different varieties, with nuts, fruit and crackers for serving. I like a more flavorful one, a middle of the road basic one, and a slightly more plain one, served with grapes apples and berries, plus different types of crackers. Sometimes an olive tapenade or onion compote spices up the ordinary cheese plate. And don't forget to invest in some cheese knives! (Smaller and wider than regular cumbersome knives)

A dessert buffet is always a crowd pleaser. Here we have a vanilla trifle, cupcakes, a bundt cake, marshmallow sticks, pumpkin dip and Halloween candy. Yum!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Favorites pieces in interior design

I love interior design. There's nothing like transforming a basic room into something that makes people say wow. I try to make every room I design the way I feel it's supposed to be. Some homes evoke country. Others are more modern. I'd say my style is upscale and elegant, yet homey and contemporary. There are certain pieces I have to have, and my living space shows this. I always come back to the same things. Here are some of my favorites:

Animal Print
Animal print is fun, funky and unexpected. It livens up any room, and I love it. Every room in my house has something animal print in it. I'm partial to zebra and leopard, but others, like snakeskin, are really cool too.

Old Trunks
An old trunk is a treasure. Of course, this one is Louis Vuitton so who wouldn't treasure it? I love the weathered straps, velvet insides, thick leather and musty smell of an old trunk. They make excellent coffee tables, storage, footboards, and anything else you can think of. They bring character to a room, and they're complex, yet elegant.

Tufted Headboard
Or tufted anything, really. Chairs, couches, etc. They evoke an elegance and expensiveness that can't be beat. I love this headboard, it can make a plain bed seem like one fit for a princess. And they're usually upholstered in a micro-suede which is so plush.

Ruffled Pillows
One of my cheaper loves. I'll take anything with embroidery, 3D flowers, appliques or sequins. They give a room a punch of detail, and come in any size, color or design. Homegoods is fantastic for cheap but adorable throw pillows.

Chaise Lounge
The ultimate luxury chair. There are many different kind of chaise lounges, but they all have a long deat, perfect for, what else, lounging. My mom has a bright red antique one I'm dying to get my hands on so I can upholster it and find a place in my life for it. The one pictured is pretty basic, nothing too frilly or over-the-top, but some can be extremely gaudy, or extremely expensive. Check out home stores for this beauty,

I absolutely love chandeliers. They hang up above our heads, beauty above eye-level. I've seen cheap decals you can stick on walls to get a similar effect but I prefer the real thing. I found the ones in my house online at a great craft website and also at a home store. I prefer ones with crystals and that are slightly rustic-looking.

The damask pattern is a feast for the eyes. It's intricate, and if done right, really elegant. Damask wallpaper is very popular right now, but the key is to use it sparingly. In this picture it's on only one wall. It's a classic look that's been around forever, but still seems current. I like silver, gold, and black and white designs best.

Banquettes are essentially bench seating at tables. I love this. I prefer booths, nooks and banquettes to chairs. They're cozier, and are just different than a plain table and chairs. A similar look can be achieved with a hard back sofa and a table. Adding some chairs to the other side breaks up the look, like in the photo above.

I love kitchen islands. They're free-standing and fill up a room effortlessly. They come in many shapes and sizes and serve different purposes. I love free-standing tables in general and believe they can be used in rooms other than just the kitchen.

Photo Montages
Collages of photos on walls are easy to do and fun to design. However, you can't overdo it or it looks liek a cluttery mess. I prefer to stay within the same genre of photos, (my favorites are old black and white family images) and similar frames. Cluster them about, but make a slight shape and stick with it. The collection able is a good example.

Window Seats
These are similar to banquettes, only they're in windows. Some are built in, which are my favorite kind, but if your house doesn't have one you can make your own. Simply place a bench in front of a window and frame it with two bookshelves. Don't forget to throw some pillows on there!

Old Bottles
Old bottles are, in my opinion, impossibly cool. I love anything vintage and antique, and these are completely old school. My grandmother used to collect them and stack them on shelves; you can put them anywhere and use them for anything. They also go with nearly every time of home decor. They make great vases, of course, but can also hold anything. Yards sales are a must for any bottle collector.

Parisian objects
Paris is beauty at its best. The Eiffel Tower is a gorgeous piece of archetecture and lately I've been really getting into using french flair in my decorating. These items are cute; I like anything with the tower on it, or french words saying something with meaning. Pink, pearls, and Chanel are also very Parisian, and a few of my favorite things!


Overall, I'm a slave to neutrals. I'm not opposed to color, but I find neutrals make it easy to mix and match furniture, and change things up more often. I'm a fan of change. I'm constantly editing my design so it's important everything goes together. I usually go for black and white, grey or silver, tan, brown. I enjoy a pop of color here and there though, so I usually pick an unusual color to tie everything together. My bedroom is tan silver and brown, with some unexpected purple. However, that may change because I'm really feeling gray and white lately, with a dash of pink!