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Flowers and Decor
Charles Case has owned The Flower Basket of Westport for 30 years (he did the flowers for Martha’s budding catering business back in the day), so he knows that when it comes to holiday decorating, less is definitely more. “But it has to be the right less,” he says. “Often people will overdo it on the exterior and go crazy with lights. They can detract from the house, which may be an architectural gem on its own. Flood the outside gently, then spotlight the door with a dead-on wreath that really works.”
Once inside, Case recommends you appeal to all the senses. Fragrance is important, he says, “whether it’s something baking in the oven or pots of interesting herbs simmering on the stove.” When choosing flowers, he suggests you get out the china, silver and serving dishes you’ll be using, and try to pick flowers that will complement or “really punch them up.”
Because so many of us have already “decked the halls” at this time of year, decorating for a holiday party is often an afterthought (a few well-placed poinsettias and we’re done). Not a good idea, says Karin Lidbeck-Brent of Bethlehem, a photo stylist who makes homes look beautiful in magazines.
“For starters, it’s better to edit your decorations and not use everything you have,” she says. “Choose a color like silver or red or a pattern like plaid, and stay focused. Use only what works with that theme. Simple is beautiful, and you can create more by working with less.”
It’s true that you don’t want your home to look the way it always does, so add a few special touches for the party. Boughs of greenery work wonders. “The container is everything. Be creative. Think about large vases, galvanized or antique buckets, even garden urns brought inside,” says Lidbeck-Brent. “Fill them with tall cut boughs of greenery, cuttings of holly. And large boughs of blue spruce are striking when grouped together.”
A few more of her tried-and-true floral ideas: Hang plain green wreaths, beautifully unadorned, by simple ribbons; group a mass of one kind of flower for maximum impact (add a few sprigs of greenery to a big bunch of red tulips and it shouts holiday); trim the blooms off several poinsettia plants and place them in a festive bowl filled with water (your guests will look at the arrangement as if they’ve never seen poinsettias before).
Mood and Music
There’s nothing like live music to make a good party even better. So why not consider booking a band for your party—depending on your musical tastes, the size of your home and your pocketbook (there’s that “B” word again). If you’ve heard the musicians you’re considering, great. If not, try to catch a gig before booking; demo tapes don’t always mirror reality, especially if volume is a concern. A deejay is another way to go and a fun option, especially if he or she has the right personality. Sirius radio is a much less expensive choice since you’re paying for it anyway. Finally, if you want total control over your playlist, get out your iPod.
Plans have been made, food and flowers are ordered, invitations are out and the RSVPs have started rolling in, so you may think you have a little breathing room. But unless you have a staff that handles all the details of your life, there is still a lot to consider—from housecleaning (before and after) to parking to the capacity of your powder room.
If you have someone who comes in to clean, skip to the next paragraph. If not, consider the fact that most housecleaning businesses are more than happy to come in both before and after your party—even if you don’t have a contract with them.
If there isn’t room enough on and around your property to park all the cars you anticipate, offer guests a few options. It can be frustrating for guests in full party mode to see the lights on in the house, hear the music—and have to circle the block again and again, widening the loop until they find a spot. Invite them to park on the grass if you really don’t mind (it may be covered with snow anyway) or hire a few reliable teens to provide valet parking.
If you’re expecting a very large turnout, ask yourself if the powder room can accommodate everyone. If not, do you mind guests traipsing upstairs to use a second or third bathroom? If you don’t mind, but your septic system does, it may make sense to rent a portable toilet for the evening. A standard model costs $150 for a night, according to Anthony DiMartino at A Royal Flush in Bridgeport. The VIP model features a flushing toilet with sink and costs $300. But a portable toilet being just that, DiMartino allows that some people just don’t like to use them. In that case, for $950 you can get a trailer that houses a toilet; it’s heated, has vanity mirrors, running water—and room to turn around.
Finally, remember that the most gracious (and responsible) host monitors his or her guests’ alcohol consumption, and keeps overimbibers from getting back behind the wheel late at night or early in the morning. Ask any designated drivers if they wouldn’t mind another passenger or two; recruit your valet-parking staff to provide rides home; or give your local taxi or car service a heads-up, and call them yourself if necessary. You want your party to be memorable—for all the right reasons.