Part of a series: Living the Good Life with Chris Olsen
The best parties are the ones that seem spontaneous, right? Fun is had when party-goers get to enjoy what seems to have been just laid out, casual and not stodgy. Well, all that informality takes work. It’s not just chemistry, but also a bit of an alchemist at work. I’ll show you some photos of my annual Halloween party from last year, which will accompany my ideas for you to throw your own event that will get remembered. I’m about to give you some counter-intuitive advice: If you want your party to be talked about long after you throw it, you need to plan, plan, and then plan some more.
Hire a DJ. Try not to use your best friend, who ‘knows’ music, but will, at some point, want to wander off and meet the other guests. And, even better, hire a DJ who also does lighting. Because everything’s now digitalized, that part may be easier than you think. The tunes can almost spin themselves while the DJ also has time to create new effects with the lighting. Divide your lighting up into quadrants/areas, and pay attention to it all, from the front curb to the back wall. Take advantage of any surface. The DJ gave me all LED lights, so the house seemed to glow from the street and courtyard. Lighting is the first step in creating ambiance and mood, so don’t skimp.
No, these ghosts didn’t entail me assembling them while I hung over the balcony railing and teetered from a ladder along the corner wall. They’re projected, easy to do along with ambient light. And don’t forget colored light filters. You can create and deepen the mood with colored lights. In the old days, that meant tossing a scarf over a lampshade, but the world of lighting options is so much better now.
Livestream the action. That way, your guests out back will be able to keep up with what’s going on in the front of the house. And the DJ can take care of this detail.
Plan traffic flow and bring in small tables to provide your guests every option for a surface to hold plate, glass and elbow. Use tall round draped tables because they make efficient use of space and decorating them is easy. Plus, you can encourage your guests to stand, which means more room. But that brings up the next topic: Figure out seating. You’ll need to augment it because the best parties last for a while and some guests will want to sit to enjoy it at some point. Think about the directions your guests will take as they traverse your house and place seating along these routes, but at the edge.
Set up the table in an adjoining room, not in the line of traffic. Hire a caterer. Even if you’re the best cook and party planner, who wants to be in charge of steaming dumplings and warming sauces when you can be chatting up your guests? And don’t worry about a formal tablecloth for the table. Use your seasonal décor already in place and add a bit of fabric as a sort of table runner. And create a signature drink/cocktail. Your guests will be sure to remember that part. Last year’s drink at the party was the Vampire Martini. Which might mean you will need a bartender. Usually a caterer will also be able to provide one. You don’t want to get stuck behind the bar all night, do you?
For a theme party, hire actors for assigned roles to, well, act the part. My executioner was adept at standing motionless, so that the occasional guest got quite a fright from a sudden, dramatic move.
Making a list of intended guests is the easy part; it‘s the rest of the details that you‘ll need to contemplate. Think about what it is that thrills you at parties and recreate it. Leave nothing to chance. Ask friends for recommendations for staff to hire and create lists devoted to each area, such as food, music, lighting and effects, drinks, supplies, seating. And perform several walk throughs before the big day. Check each room and look at it as if you were the guest. All that carefree fun takes a bit of planning and work. But it will all be worthwhile when the photos and praise begin to flow the day after.
Chris H. Olsen