A Party Planner Shares the Secret to Throwing the Perfect First Birthday Bash

a baby in a highchair with a small cake on the tray
Kelli Murray

When your baby's first birthday is on the horizon, it's normal to feel an equal amount of excitement and pragmatism about the occasion. It's the first one, so you feel like it should be an all-out party. But you also can't help but feel like it's probably best to save it all for when your baby can actually remember everything. We get it, and that's why we asked Stefanie Makol, the founder and owner of online party supply store Witty Bash, for her two cents.

"Taking the time to plan a meaningful celebration for your child's first birthday is so special," she says. "They will most likely not remember it, but that's fine because you and your close friends and family will. Having good pictures to look at once your child is old enough to appreciate them will be a fun moment also!"

When Makol launched Witty Bash in 2016, she wanted to curate an inclusive shop of high-quality items that would allow her customers to entertain with ease. The modern assortment—which includes everything from large decorations and favors to baking accessories and tableware—covers most occasions, but since Makol recently helped Kelli Murray of Rylee & Cru to celebrate her baby's first birthday, she knows that it can be a particularly tough event to plan. The first thing to do, she says, is to just go for it. It's only going to happen once, after all. Her second recommendation is to create a theme.

Lastly, Makol notes that it's best to have a plan. "Think through the details and remember, less is more," she continues. "Also, don't forget to have fun. Something will always happen unexpectedly, and you have to laugh it off. Whether it be that a perfect balloon pops or your beverage dispenser leaks, you can improvise and guests will never know."

We asked Makol to describe her decorating tips and organizational plans to make a first birthday party match your excitement because you should lead with that emotion over all the others.

Five Themes That Work for a First Birthday Party

First Birthday Party dessert spread
Kelli Murray

First Fiesta: "You can bring in a taco truck, or create your own taco bar," Makol says. "Make the party colorful and fun with festive decorations, like lanterns and a piñata, and add musical instruments to play with, too."

Wild One: "This idea can be interpreted in many different ways," she continues. "It can have a bohemian feel with teepees, feathers, and dainty decorations. Or, on the flip side, it can have more of an adventurous, jungle spin. You can do a trail mix bar, s'mores, and an animal-themed cake."

First Fla-mingle: "This is a great outdoor theme," Makol adds. "You can have tropical pool floats, fruity drinks, palm fronds, and pink feathered décor."

You Are My Sunshine: "This is such a sweet theme," she says. "Get yellow tableware and plates to make things bright and cheerful. You can do a photo backdrop with blue streamers hanging from white 'clouds' (also known as white balloon clusters). Sprinkle in sunflower arrangements, and everything will tie together."

Backyard Barnyard Party: "Think hay bales, pumpkins, and a chili bar," she notes. "It's a great theme for fall."

first birthday party cake and donuts
Kelli Murray
Witty Bash Petite Cactus Piñata First Birthday Party Tips
Witty Bash Petite Cactus Piñata $12
Witty Bash Fiesta Banner First Birthday Party Tips
Witty Bash Fiesta Banner $10
Spritz Light Gold Foil Balloon Number 1First Birthday Party Tips
Spritz Light Gold Foil Balloon Number 1 $6

Five Decorating Tips Parents should Keep in Mind

First Birthday Party cake
Kelli Murray

Decorate one area really well. "I always recommend decorating the dessert table because this is naturally the center of attention," she says. "Find ways to bring your party theme to life here. For example, hang a garland. If you can't find a pre-made garland, make one! You can cut out letters and string them together or purchase mylar letter balloons, which are easy to use. You just manually inflate each balloon letter with a straw, string them together and hang them up. If you want to take it a step further, you can spray paint each letter to match your color palate perfectly."

Have a guest book. "When guests arrive, have them sign a nursery book for your child's first birthday," Makol adds. "What better way to remember the day."

Think about texture and color. "Texture helps bring your event to life," she says. "For example, if you're throwing a wild one party, then macramé is the perfect way to add texture. You can hang macramé as a backdrop, add in table runners etc. If you're throwing a nautical party, adding in rope elements and other various nautical details will work wonders. And as for color, you'll want there to be contrast in your decorations. I always think about finding the opposite of a specific color on the color wheel to get the most contrast."

Consider balloon installs. "This is a big-impact décor piece that is fairly easy to execute," Makol notes. "Inflate a bunch of balloons in different sizes with an electric air pump. Get glue dots (or a cold glue gun) and stick the balloons together to form a few bunches. Adhere them to a wall or string them together to hang from an entryway or ceiling. I always like to add in additional flair to match the party theme, too. You can sprinkle in greenery, feathers, or flowers to fill in the holes of your balloon creation."

Create custom signs. "One of the best ways to personalize your party is to make custom signs," she says. "Handwrite on a chalkboard, wood, or acrylic piece. Or print out a fun font from your computer and frame it."

first birthday cake and dessert table
Kelli Murray
Witty Bash Mint Plates with Stripes
Witty Bash Mint Plates With Stripes $6
Spritz Pom Pom Garland First Birthday Party Tips
Spritz Pom Pom Garland $6
Witty Bash Pink Wooden Cutlery First Birthday Party Tips
Witty Bash Pink Wooden Cutlery $12

Tips for Organized Party Planning

a mom and baby at a birthday party
Kelli Murray

Start setting up a day or two in advance. "Usually people think they can do everything the morning of, but it always ends up taking longer," she says. "The day of your party, you'll want to have tables set up and serving trays out so that all you have to do is put out the food, drinks, and desserts."

Hire a photographer or designate a family member to take pictures. "You'll be busy hosting and enjoying the day, and you will not have time to think about pictures—which are important," Makol notes.

If possible, hire an extra hand. "Make sure it's someone who can manage the decorations and finishing touches for you," she adds. "Have them stick around and replenish food and drinks, as well as clean up throughout the duration of the party."

When in doubt, test it out. "If you're doing something for the first time, test it out the day before the party. For instance, if you're showing a movie, test out the screen and equipment, and also check to be sure streetlights aren't interfering with your experience. If you're creating a balloon backdrop, blow everything up the day before and make sure you have enough supplies."

Have a separate small cake or cupcake on hand. "'Smash cakes' are all the rage for when it's time to sing 'Happy Birthday' to your baby, but a tip of advice: The smaller the cake or cupcake, the less of a mess you'll be picking up," Makol says. 

first birthday party dessert spread
Kelli Murray
Witty Bash Party Horns
Witty Bash Party Horns $10
Witty Bash Fruit Glasses
Witty Bash Fruit Glasses $12
Spritz Black Wood Sign First Birthday Party Tips
Spritz Black Wood Sign $5
birthday balloons above a baby sitting on the floor
Kelli Murray

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