Our friends Kristen and Stew hosted a murder mystery party for Halloween and not only did we have an absolute blast, but the details they poured into the party really made the night shine. From Kristen’s beautiful table spread to themed rooms to match the games, it was probably one of the best parties I’ve been to. Kristen is a decorator, so it’s no surprise that the details were so well thought out and executed. However, you don’t need to be a pro, nor do you need to make your bank account cry in order to make your shindig one to remember.
As we approach the holidays, prime time party season is also upon us, including Friendsgiving, Secret Santas, and more. For some, it’s their first time hosting the holidays themselves, which is an event all of its own. But, don’t stress— I asked Kristen, the party master, to give her best party planning tips, so the rest of us mere mortals can get on her level and hit this holiday season out of the park.
What are the top 5 things to consider when planning a dinner party?
(1) Concept: What is the experience you’re trying to create and how can you pull that concept through all aspects of the party? Think cohesive story, rather than kitschy theme— it can be a fine line between the two, but kitschy can be avoided with subtle nods to an idea vs. being literal. For example, if it’s a circus party, you don’t need creepy clowns everywhere. Instead, focus on bold pops of color, fun patterns, and contrasting textures.
(2) Seating: I am not a fan of assigned seating. No one likes sitting opposite their friends at a party, stuck between two complete strangers. That said, I do believe in thoughtful seating. My rule of thumb: place everyone next to one “bestie” and try to spread these duos around, so you don’t end up with two cliques at the end of the table and a dead-zone in the middle.
(3) Flowers: Gah, I love flowers. I really think they can make or break a party. Always prioritize fresh flowers and always fork over a little extra money to wow guests. If you’re in SF, check out Urban Flowers in the Castro. It’s silly affordable and the flowers are fresh and beautiful.
(4) Pièce de résistance: Don’t try to blow everyone’s mind with everything you do. Pick one thing that’s super cool and make it a focal point. Everything else should enhance that one thing, not detract or overwhelm it.
(5) Lighting: When it comes to setting the mood, never underestimate the power of lighting. It’s an inexpensive way to create a specific environment. For the murder mystery party, I dimmed all the lights and lit candles everywhere. This transformed the party into an intimate space, while embracing the spookiness of the theme and Halloween.
(Bonus) Don’t sweat the food. Just like at a wedding, no one remembers anything other than how much fun they had. Make sure there is plenty of booze and if you must obsess over food, just do one thing really well. (Sorry, Laura—I know food would probs be your #1!)
What is the number one thing that has tripped you up in the past?
My biggest party planning baggabu is that I always do everything last minute and inevitably forget something really awesome I wanted to do, or run out of time to pull things off. Regardless of a party’s size, always write a check list at least one week in advance and give yourself plenty of time to fully realize your vision.
What is the key factor to determine whether your dinner party was a success or not?
If your party was a hit, people won’t be able to not talk about it afterwards. What matters more than a success though, is that you enjoyed yourself the whole way through from setup to party’s close. Stress is contagious, so don’t start your party off on a bad foot with spreading a negative vibe and your party will be a guaranteed success.
What’s the top factor/detail that some people overlook, but you think could make or break a party?
Start things off with a bang! Set the tone when people walk through the door. Have drinks prepared to hand people when they arrive or have the right music playlist going. If people are feeling a party’s energy up front, then they won’t notice any little mishaps along the way.
What has been your favorite dinner party you’ve thrown and why?
The murder mystery was probably my favorite because I’m obsessed with Halloween and didn’t have to create it with any one person in mind. I love any excuse to craft, create, and make spaces an experience, so the fact that I could construct an entire evening from the dinner to the live-action game was beyond awesome. That said, I’m in the midst of planning a Boho themed baby shower, which is super fun to bring to life. Basically, give me something to craft and I’ll find a way to obsess over it.
Personal Plug: While I’m an interior Designer by day, I also love to help plan small intimate parties for others. If you’d like more party planning tips or would like to talk interiors check out HayFordDesign and feel free to reach out!
Be sure to check back for Part 2 of Kristen’s tips!