If you’re looking to throw a stylish, memorable, and fun holiday soirée, you might want to take a page from the playbook of professional designer and hostess extraordinaire Carey Karlan.
Karlan, the principal of Last Detail Interior Design of Darien, CT, has been throwing lavishly themed holiday dinner parties in her home for more than 25 years. Along the way, she has perfected some terrific tips and tricks designed, she says, “to help her achieve an exciting, celebratory, and unpredictable atmosphere that includes a lot of guest participation.”
So just how does she do that? We asked Karlan for her most fabulous and easiest-to-implement holiday entertaining and decorating hacks.
Set the mood and amp up the anticipation with a clever invitation.
“It gets people talking and the party started before it has even begun,” says Karlan.
Nautical Christmas theme
A professionally designed event, says Karlan, generally takes a stronger and more singular point of view — rather than just offering a smattering of this and that — through establishing and carrying through a memorable theme.
Does a party have to have a theme to be fabulous? Absolutely not, says Karlan. But in the case of an annual get-together, a different theme every year helps to keep things fresh “and gives each one a special little twist.”
Her past themes have include Mad Men (complete with fake cigarettes); Literary Christmas (bring a favorite book for exchange), Holidays in Paris, and Really Red Christmas. Pop culture, travel, aesthetics, or even the hostess’s planned attire might spark a theme idea; the possibilities are endless.
Christmas in Shangri-La theme
Really spectacular holiday soirees, say Karlan, tend to have more continuity between all the various elements, from invitation, cocktails, menu choices, decor, music, etc. Edit the table or room to a few strong elements that are thematic and bold, she suggests, temporarily rotating out those visual décor elements that don’t work with the selected theme.
Consider every visual element — from linens, centerpieces, tablescapes, and suggested attire to place cards, favors, and miscellaneous knickknacks an opportunity to reinforce the theme. Consider making a place card — like an ornament with a photo of each guest — the favor.
Or for a Shangri-la theme, Karlan gifted her female guests with the gold and cream scarves that were draped over the back of their chairs.
Repurpose and relocate décor items and accessories you already own to extend the theme in the party room(s). Karlan has turned her wooden tea caddy into a treasure chest, moved old globes into her dining room, and draped an eye patch over a classic bust on a buffet for a Holiday at Sea theme.
Consider renting matching chairs or special linens for a cohesive look. A common amateur mistake, says Karlan? “Making do with items you have on hand rather than investing as necessary in coordinating items through purchase or rental.
Go beyond the same old red and green, suggests Karlan. “Generally, any color combination is possible these days and available in the general market.” Look to garden centers, window displays, and outdoor home decorations for inspiration; silver and gold are always festive.
Remember that the party starts at the front door so pay special attention to it and the surrounding entryway. For a nautical themed party, Karlan affixed her Nantucket basket handbag to her front door with greenery and ornaments.
And the two bronze Boxer dogs that live on either side of her front door are always attired to coordinate with the theme, even if they’re just wearing ski hats.
Live music — whether a piano player, a guitarist, a classical quartet or jazz trio — says Karlan, always dramatically elevates the event. Check out area conservatories or music schools to support local — and more affordable — talent.
Don’t plan to take care of every single aspect of a party yourself. In fact, says Karlan, the most unique and wonderful ones have each guest participate in some way according to their interests or talents. Hers are responsible for bringing theme-related appetizers, organizing word games, leading carol sing-a-longs, etc.