Seconds to Sanity series

By Holly Nagel

3 EZ Tips for an At-Home Hit

Start with a list. This can really save you from losing your mind.

When planning a soiree at home, or elsewhere, time and again I am so glad I have one because as it gets closer to event time the speed (and heat!) of everything gets turned up. Rarely would I remember what needs to be done when I’m busy putting out fires if I didn’t have my trusty list.

Start creating your list the moment you know you’re going to be planning a party!

Plan Backwards Using the 3-Bin Method

Know by what time you will need all your pieces in place. I have three figurative bins that everything falls into and I plan backwards from Event Start Time.

1) Getting There:  Invites, Parking and Entryway.

2) Breaking Bread: Tables, Food and Seating.

3) Creating Mood:  Lighting, Music and Ambiance

Getting There:  The party starts as soon guests open their Invites, the paper kind or the virtual kind. The invite would include the regular info plus info about what to bring (if anything), the attire, parking and directions, or a map, if the venue is in an out of the way spot.

The perfect Hall tree! This antique is at Dillenbeck House-combo coat rack, umbrella stand, mirror and seat.

The perfect Hall tree! This antique is at Dillenbeck House-combo coat rack, umbrella stand, mirror and seat.

The Entryway sets the tone. This is the intake area and can get congested. Where will guests coats go? Renting a coatrack can be the greatest idea since controllable lighting. How about their shoes? If it’s messy outside, will they be required to remove shoes? Do you have those thin elasticized shoe covers in case some people don’t prefer removing their shoes? Keep some nearby. Do you have a place for gifts, both for the celebrant and/or the hostess? Having a couple vases ready for those flowers guests bring is a good idea, too. Lastly, consider a mirror. Handheld or hanging, a well-placed mirror allows for guests to quickly straighten themselves out without a restroom visit, plus if it hangs, it can open a small area up by reflecting light.


Fabulous Kitchen Island from

Fabulous Kitchen Island from

Breaking Bread: The Tables or counters will hold the food and beverages, and is where the guests will typically tend to congregate unless there is a forced traffic flow. I have the teeniest house in the world with absolutely no room in the kitchen for even a dinette, yet that is where everyone tends to go during a party unless I force them into other areas. A simple way to force traffic is to have easily accessible areas for people to collect further into the room or house by creating sitting areas with a small table and a few chairs.

Don’t overlap the bar with the food as this really keeps guests in one spot. Split it up. For ease, renting just about anything is a great idea to me. Renting a table, chairs, linens, plates and cutlery is quite wonderful, especially the part where you can pile everything up and the service whisks it all away.  If budget allows, renting a bartender is helpful, and I’ll always love an entertainer for just about any event.

Delegate jobs to others in order to keep up with drinks, the music, checking the bathroom, etc. Often a neighborhood teen will be happy to watch children, or handle some of the little jobs. That leaves more time you can spend with your guests.

Chairs…For cocktails and nibbles, I’d suggest having less chairs than guests since the last thing I’d want is for guests to plant themselves into coziness. But for a sit down meal be sure each guest will have a chair.

Don’t laugh. I’ve seen not enough chairs at a sit down meal. If you do want a laugh, though, I highly suggest watching Peter Sellers in The Party. (There’s a fun scene where, as an uninvited guest, he doesn’t have a place at the dinner table, so the butler gets him a piano bench.)

Conversation Starters.  You don’t have to go so far as to plan games or anything. Just have a couple starters tucked away should you find the need to perform CPR on your event and revive the slagging convo. Open ended questions are always good: ‘What was the spiciest food you’ve ever eaten…?’ ‘What is your (least) favorite word…?’ and my personal fave, ‘What’s your most embarrassing moment…? It’s inevitable the party will take on a life of it’s own, so Dear Hostess, do not fret!

LED Flameless Candles

LED Flameless Candles

Creating Mood: Lighting and ambience can make or break an event and enough can’t be said about the quality of lighting, whether lighting is overhead, lamps, candles or a string of twinklers. We want to feel warm and welcomed not as if we’re being interrogated and questioned.

I recently began using the electronic candles and love them. They are especially desirable with small children and dogs around, both of which descend upon our home semiregularly. Gone is the fire hazard worry, as are the messy wax drips and fumes which can effect sensitive guests. Strings of LED lights are wonderful, too, as they come in all colors, lengths and styles.

Hanging lights and other lightweight festive décor can be done easily thanks to those temporary adhesive hooks! I LOVE these! They come in varying weight limits and adhere to a regular wall (not stone). When you’re done using them, they pull off with a snap and leave the paint unblemished.

Music at a low volume certainly spices the mood up, especially at the beginning of an event when guests arrive. If you’re having an ethnic meal, download some of the cultural music or get some CD’s from the library. Conversations have not yet gotten underway and no one wants to hear themselves breathing, or feel the heavy silence that can sometimes be stifling and (very hopefully)  shortlived.

Naturally, as a balloon decorator, I would have oodles of ideas for setting mood, everything from simple table toppers to sizeable décor and photo ops. However, much can be done with everything from fresh flowers and foliage, to seasonal or thematic groupings.

Guest take-homes. I noticed the trend that not all events call for guest party favors. I enjoy giving gifts and have always beens a big proponent of gifts that are useful. If I were giving small items to the guests, I always love giving away the centerpieces and making care packages of the party goodies. If you’re looking for something in keeping with your theme, a recipe and small music/tea/coffee/dessert/herb sampler of the cuisine you enjoyed is a unique give away.

Most of all, if things didn’t get done, chalk it up to experience and let it go. I hope by the time the special occasion arrives you’re able to enjoy your at-home event. Now go slap some lipstick on, you’ll be fine.