So you’ve selected the date, invited the guests, and now it’s time to start planning the details of your event. Whether it’s a lavish affair for a dozen or cocktail hour for a handful of friends, we’ve rounded up our favorite sure-fire tips from some seasoned planners to get those creative juices flowing and to help throw a party your guests will be sure to remember.

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1. Find an inspiration point and build on it: Inspiration can come from anywhere—be it a particular color, your favorite flower, a gorgeous container you want front and center, an applause-worthy recipe, or the changing of the season. Whatever you decide, use it as a jumping-off point and plan the rest of the details from there. | Photo by Julia Lynn

personal
2. Make it personal: Use dishes that belonged to your great-grandmother, pull out monogramed linens with your family’s initials, or bake your mother-in-law’s secret cheese straw recipe. Invite guests to share in your memories, and by sharing your special things you make others feel special too. | Photo by Julia Lynn

 

MixAndMatch

3. Mix and match high and low to create interest: When searching your house for the right number of chairs, plates, and vases, who says everything has to be the same?No one wants to be ‘bride in a bag,’ where everything matches perfectly,” says Charleston event designer Calder Clark. “It’s the same with tabletop. Things should be kissing cousins, as opposed to obsessively coordinated, because then it looks collected over time.” | Photo by Julia Lynn

Simple-Arrangements
4. Set the tone with flowers: However, if you don’t have a background in floral design, 30 minutes before the party may not be the best time to try your hand at crafting an elaborate living work of art. No matter; even a simple grouping of a few buds from the garden can be just as impactful. | Photo by Julia Lynn
Drink

5. Serve up a signature beverage: Whether a cocktail or a favorite lemonade, a specialty drink is a conversation starter and a quick way to create a mood. Bonus points if you concoct one that plays into the party’s overall theme or has a special story, such as Liza Pulitzer’s grapefruit creation: “My dad had orange groves, and we always had fresh citrus around,” says Pulitzer. “Then my mom sold the fruit and juice at a stand, and that’s where the Lilly shift was born—to hide the juice stains. I love to squeeze fresh grapefruit juice for cocktails.” | Photo by Jessica Lorren

Color
6. Get out of the dining room: Leontine Linens founder Jane Scott Hodges often opts for hosting guests in her parrot green–painted parlor and creates vibrant, saturated tablescapes to match. “It makes guests instantly feel like the party is going to be cozy and fun,” she says. | Photo by Kerri McCaffety
Food

7. Keep the hors d’oeuvres simple: If you’ve racked your brain for a delicious meal to serve (whether you’re whipping it up in the kitchen or picking up take-out), give yourself permission to go easy on the appetizers. Atlanta author and blogger Jennifer Boles reminds us that sometimes even the most stylish entertainers such as Albert Hadley took a low-key approach: “Friends who were fortunate to be invited for drinks at [Albert’s] apartment say he would have a tray in the kitchen, you’d fix your own cocktail, and he might put out a bowl of chips or Triscuits. That’s basic, but everyone would have a wonderful time in a beautiful setting, with interesting people and great conversation.” | Photo by Jessica Lorren

 

Imperfections

8. Find beauty in imperfection: Planning a top-notch party can be stressful, so it’s good to remember that not everything has to look like a photo shoot waiting to happen. The point is to enjoy yourself, spend time with friends, and indulge in delicious food. As the ever-wise Calder Clark says, “Every dish doesn’t have to be homemade, nor every silver fork polished to a gleam. It’s okay to be real. I create an atmosphere that says, ‘You’re special and I love you, but feel free to put your feet up.’” And that sounds pretty close to perfect to us. | Photo by Jessica Lorren