There are three phases of party planning: excitement, anxiety, and acceptance. The idea always comes from a wholesome place—who doesn’t love spending time with friends and family? But eventually the work of putting the party together becomes a reality, which ushers in stress. Take a deep breath and let this be your party planning guide.
Lists are always a good way to get organized. But even after writing everything down, there may still be a risk of forgetting something intangible but equally important, like the playlist of music for the night. Don’t let nerves and moving parts distract you from putting on the best party possible.
MyDomaine enlisted the expertise of Cortney Novogratz of Bravo’s 9 By Design and HGTV’s Home by Novogratz; Jenna Kincaid, Associate Art Director of Lulu & Georgia; and designer, artist, and author Justina Blakeney to reveal their party planning checklists. Altogether, they provided many excellent tips to make your party the envy of the block.
Arrange a tablescape. "Tablescapes are another way to get creative when you're entertaining. I like to start with a bright colored textile as a tablecloth and then layer in some botanicals in different vases that are different shapes and heights, candles, and something fun and unexpected like crystals, pom poms, or tassels at each place setting." — Justina Blakeney
Get the vibes right. "A well-curated playlist is essential. Play what you love, but also consider the vibe you're going for. If you want it to be upbeat and lively, don't put on Norah Jones.
If you want something more relaxing and low-key, Cardi B should probably not be making an appearance." — Jenna Kincaid
Pay attention to lighting. Lulu & Georgia’s Jenna Kincaid warns, "Harsh lighting is bad for everyone. Avoid using LED bulbs, put your lights on a dimmer, and have plenty of candlelight in every room." Justina Blakeney adds: "Mood lighting is key! Some twinkling lights or candles always make things feel a little more romantic and special."
Go eclectic. "Things don't always need to match, I have a collection of odd plates, but they all blend nicely together. Vintage ones with a story of their own. Each guest is different, so plates can be too. We host a lot of people, so I always find enough dishes and even odd chairs as well. I like to use cloth napkins for dinner; they don't need to match but should have a commonality, maybe similar colors or all vintage. We mix and match because there is no such thing as a perfect table, but a happy fun table full of characters and conversations is the best table." — Cortney Novogratz
Consider an open bar. "I love to have an open bar if I'm not getting a bartender.
I keep it easy with everything available. We will put cut limes, mixers, etc., all out on a big bar cart or table. Be sure and pre-open several bottles of wine. Take the extra steps ahead of time to make sure your guest are comfortable. Allow for options possibly two choices of red and white, goes a long way." — Cortney Novogratz
Consider a theme. "Birthday parties when you were a kid were fun, right? It's partially because, well, childhood, but also the big commitment to a theme. It's also why adults love ugly sweater parties so much.
Consider a theme that fits with the season like a girls' festive holiday tea or a black tie gambling night (we like to play with chocolate coins instead of cash)." — Jenna Kincaid
Creative extra seats. "When I'm entertaining, I try to think of fun ways to provide additional seating for our guests. I love creating cozy lounge seating with some soft rugs and lots of floor pillows." — Justina Blakeney
Go for small plates. "Finger foods are a hostess's best friend because all the prep is done up front, there are fewer dishes to wash, and they are easy to grab and go to wherever the conversation is moving you." — Justina Blakeney
Don’t forget the bubbly. "Something with bubbles—whether it's rosé, kombucha, or sparkling water.
I think something effervescent is basically a party in a glass." — Justina Blakeney
Flowers are a must. "Fresh-cut flowers and a scented candle in the bathroom are the kinds of details that make guests feel like they are somewhere fun and fancy." — Justina Blakeney
Don't spread yourself too thin. "If you're cooking, make it easy on yourself. No matter your culinary competence, if you're making a takes-all-day duck confit, it is probably best that you don't also commit to a soufflé." — Jenna Kincaid
Have essentials on hand for last-minute entertaining. "Just in case someone happens to stop by unexpectedly, it's best to be prepared.
A bottle of champagne and bag of potato chips on reserve always feels festive and unexpected." — Jenna Kincaid
Don’t stress! "Everyone seems to make the holidays a time of year to be utterly panicked. Relax, have fun, and enjoy your blessings." — Jenna Kincaid