Hosting a holiday party doesn’t have to make you a Scrooge!
Use these professional event planning tips for an elegant affair.

Friends decided it is your turn to be the ‘hostess with the mostess’ this holiday season? Never to fear, two of Denver’s event planning extraordinaires are here and they have a Saint Nick-sized satchel full of tips you will need in order to transform your home into a winter wonderland – with panache.

With a little thought, your holiday revelry (whether you are hosting four or 400) can be a hit without turning you into a Scrooge.

“To me, you can’t go overboard,” Kathleen Wulfert said, co-owner of Denver’s Themers event planning and prop rentals. “Just don’t over think it; don’t worry about it; enjoy your party; everyone just have a good time.”

The SET UP – The Calm Before the Holiday Frenzy

Birch branches make for a modern alternative centerpiece to the traditional garlands and holly.

Prepping the home to accommodate guests is as important as the party details themselves.

First of all, have a clean space to work with. Do not fret over the entire home, just make sure one bathroom and entertaining areas (especially the kitchen) are spiffy as food will most likely be the path to your guests’ hungry hearts.

“People always congregate in the kitchen,” Wulfert said.

And, do not neglect your outdoor living space either, which does not seem to get much love in the winter months. Pull your exterior seating out of hibernation, light a fire pit or rent exterior high-top heaters to keep guests as toasty outside as in.

At this point you must make a decision: open house or dinner party? Wulfert said the choice depends upon the number of guests. Hosting 25 or less? Go for a quaint dinner setting. Have more than 25 partygoers? Opt for a buffet-style open house.

But, more so than an arbitrary number to guide you, choose the style of soirée that suits the personalities of your friends best. Cocktail hours and potluck-style dinners are also festive alternatives.

Try setting up stations around the kitchen or home like these to keep traffic flowing whatever style you choose:

  • Pasta Bar
  • Carving Station
  • Beverage Bar
  • Mashed Potato Martini Bar (all the rage this season)
  • Chocolate Fountain/Dessert Bar

Candles, even unscented and flameless, add intimacy to a space.
Turn off overhead lighting for ambiance.

Now, take an assessment of what you need. Do you have enough cocktail glasses? Serving dishes? Forks? If not, Wulfert said, opt for a temporary option.

“Unless you throw the party often, or you’re going to use these things time and time again – rent it,” she said. “Even for my own personal parties, I rent it because I want to change my colors all the time and it’s so inexpensive … I don’t want to own napkins in every color.”

Attempt to incorporate the seating you already own. Throw a blanket over the back of your sofa befitting your theme or change out bar chair cushions. If you have a loft-like open space, push the furniture to the edges of the room and place high-top tables in the center for mingling.

The SIGHTS – Bedazzle the Halls

Before anything can be bought, a decorative theme must be settled upon, no matter what holiday your fete is for.

“I believe that the greatest theme on the planet is elegance,” Stacy Pisani, owner of Alexan Events in Denver, said.

However, if traditional is not your taste, do not be afraid of thinking outside the holiday gift box. According to Wulfert, “You name it, we’ve done it,” as far as holiday themes are concerned.

Add Hawaiian-esque florals to a front-door wreath for a tropical greeting.

An unpredictable theme can be a welcome surprise for guests who probably have had a calendar chock-full of run-of-the-mill holiday parties. Make yours stand out! Here are a few spins on the traditional holidays:

  • Hollywood
  • Tropical
  • Neon
  • Parisian
  • Vintage

When guests arrive at your home, the first décor greeting them is of the exterior. No need to mimic the Griswold’s 250,000 Italian imported twinkle lights in order to make an impression though; a homemade wreath hung on the front door will do the trick.

Hang a scrap fabric or paper snowflake garland on a wall, suspend vintage flea market ornaments from light fixtures and use birch branches with twinkle lights or Manzanita trees in festive vases for centerpieces.

Lighting plays a crucial part in the ambiance of a holiday gathering. Wulfert suggests renting gel lights or low LEDs to foster an intimate mood.

If you are on a budget, go for a bounty of candles, install dimmer switches (about $10) or, as Pisani suggested, buy a $5 yard light to brighten up a corner. Hanging twinkle lights adds a little romance. Bottom line, get rid of overhead lighting.

How your home smells might be the first thing guests notice. Boil orange rinds and cinnamon sticks or toss them in the fire.

The SMELLS – Smells Like Holiday Spirit

If you are cooking quite a spread the day of your party, you may not need to worry about fragrance as baked goods leave a heavenly aroma in the home by themselves, but if catering a soiree, room scent is something to merrily mull over.

Candles are an obvious choice. Have candles a plenty, even if unscented or flameless for the ambiance of warm light they emit. With scented, be sure to select one or two that harmonize and disperse them strategically within other candles to prevent overwhelming your guests olfactories, Pisani said.

Boiling up your own brew for smelling (not drinking) of orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, cloves and anything else you can dream up on the stovetop brings the outdoors in. Your guests will give you props for your homemade perfume. Pisani recommends throwing a cinnamon stick into the fireplace for a more intoxicating, long-lasting scent.

The SOUNDS – Do You Hear What I Hear?

No one wants to hear Michael Bolton’s This Is the Time (circa ‘96) on replay for four hours, so be nice (not naughty) and put some effort into your party tunes.

For the budget-friendly party-thrower, create your own iPod playlist mixing holiday music with contemporary hits, Wulfert recommended. Add in albums like Holidays Rule, this year’s must have collection including artists like fun., The Civil Wars and The Shins. Pandora also has a slew of holiday stations like my personal favorite, Indie Holiday.

If you want to go all out, hire a soloist for a little in-home entertainment.

The TASTES – No Fruitcakes, Reindeer Stew or Mincemeat Cookies Here

Holiday bash munchies do not have to be simply grub, they can make a merrymaking statement in and of themselves.

Although most fruitcakes barely get a nibble, they still resurface as gifts and dessert at holiday gatherings. Say no this season!

From garnishes like lemons and limes cut into interesting shapes, liquors placed atop a colored tray or unskinned blood oranges filling a glass vase, soirée food can be festive, yet elegant.

Pisani recommends coordinating all serving pieces. Acrylic, Pisani said, is the best holiday option because it is clean, chic and allows the cuisine to speak for itself. For buffets, use alternating heights of serving wares like three-tiered presentation platters to draw the eye up.

And, do not forget a signature drink that speaks to your personality and your theme (just be sure it is not only a pretty sight, but tastes good, too!)

Whatever holiday soirée you conjure up, remember to enjoy your guests – after all, they are there to share in the holiday spirit with you, not to critique your centerpieces.

 

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