December 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm , by cdewet
Don’t welcome the New Year in a crowded bar with an overpriced drink in hand—instead host a New Year’s Eve Party in the comfort of your own home! To help you throw a festive celebration that’s easy to pull off, HGTV’s Design on a Dime host Kristan Cunningham answers some of our staffers’ New Year’s Eve questions.
LHJ: What’s the best number of guests to invite for a fun but not overwhelming gathering?
KC: 20 is a manageable number to seat, feed, and have drinks on hand for (without remortgaging your home) but it’s also enough people to keep the party interesting. It’s also an easy number for the hostess to handle. You can work the room and make sure that each of your guests gets some face time without it feeling like speed dating!
LHJ: Can you get away with asking for potluck? Is it cool to assign people to bring a specific dish or type of wine?
KC: You can absolutely do potluck, and this is obviously a great way to cut down on your overall costs. But with all of the responsibilities you already have on your plate, don’t take on the headache of trying to wrangle and coordinate this aspect. Leave it to your guests!
Evite has made party planning so simple (and green, since it’s paperless!) Mention what you intend to provide on your invitation, and request that folks include what they’ll bring in their responses. This way, everyone who views the invite can see what items are taken care of. It’s a foolproof way to ensure that you don’t wind up with 10 spinach dips! And don’t be shy about making special requests from your guests if there are dishes you’d really like to have included. If Sally is famous for her crab dip, absolutely request that she whip some up for your party. Most people will be delighted that you remember their dish and will be proud to provide it!
LHJ: How do you let everyone know you would like them to really get dressed up?
KC: I think “cocktail attire” suggests something in between casual and black tie.
FOOD & DRINK
LHJ: Are there any new ideas for wine/drink charms, or just a way for labeling glasses?
KC: I love these key tags, attached to the glass stem of the glass with a simple loop of twine, and a handwritten name. Simple, timeless and SUPER cheap, since a bag of 50 goes for $6.99!
LHJ: What are some great ways to serve and present easy appetizers?
KC: Anything that you can do to keep yourself out of the kitchen is ideal. A gracious, unstressed hostess is going to mean more to your guests than the appetizers. I find that tasteful and beautiful presentation is everything. For a party I recently hosted, I ordered 8 trays of gorgeously presented food that I then transferred to my own pretty dishes and serving pieces. I set up one sweets table with bite sized items on cake stands and even on a set of vintage scales. A stack of books turned backwards gave me the extra height I needed to place a pretty flower arrangement up out of the way and I mixed in little wooden birds and accessories from around the house. It was gorgeous and gave people yet another spot to linger around.
Cheeses, meats and fruits were all on the kitchen island atop cutting boards dressed with fresh evergreens, thus creating “food hangout place number two. And the bar was outside.
By dividing everything up, I never had a bottleneck situation in any given area and there was a reason for guests to move from one area to the next, rather than claiming one spot all night. I avoid anything that needs to be served warm—or chilled for that matter—so there’s no maintenance once I dress everything. I wipe my hands clean and focus on getting myself together, putting a big smile on, and having fun!
LHJ: What’s a really good value-priced champagne?
KC: Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley just so happens to be made by the same folks who make Cristal- celebrity champagne of choice. But at around $20 a bottle, you can truly afford to live like the rich and famous!
LHJ: How do I make my bar offerings fun and festive without spending a lot?
KC: Offer a signature drink. My husband’s hot cider is always a huge hit! This way you don’t have to have tons of different options for every guest. Also, buy wine in bulk at the grocery store. Most will offer a 10% discount on 6 bottles or more, and during the holidays, it’s often a 20% savings! I also love cranberry juice with champagne and a few fresh cranberries at the bottom of the glass. They add such a festive touch.
LHJ: What are some new and exciting color schemes—aside from the traditional silver, black, and gold?
KC: I like to use those classics as a backdrop and then choose one accent color—like peacock blue, acid green or eggplant. I also like the rustic/elegant look; burlap and nubby linens in natural colors with lots of white mismatched dishware and serving pieces. Wood bowls and simple greenery keep everything very earthy, but then mix in a few pieces of silver for a little bit of sparkle.
LHJ: What can I do with my furniture to make sure I have enough space?
KC: An upholstered ottoman in place of a coffee table is one of the best investments you can make for the holidays, as well as year round. A tray placed in the middle provides a landing spot for drinks, and since there are no arms, every square inch is usable as seating. I love this guy from Raymour & Flanigan because the top is flat enough to balance that tray, but it’s super comfy and inviting. If you have a dining set, bring the chairs into the living area to function as easily movable conversation seating. Push the table against the wall and cover it with a floor length tablecloth to provide space for a buffet. I love to include bar stools as a seating option as well—since the seat height is conducive to a conversation between sitting and standing guests.
LHJ: What are some affordable details that I can add to the party to make it seem really fresh and hip?
KC: Since it’s a party, you have an excuse to be a little over the top in your decorating approach. Tasteful drama is so easy to achieve if you stick to big statements. Clever lighting is one approach. Try placing sculptural branches in the corners of a couple of rooms, which can be arranged in pots or cylinders, or even leaning against the wall. On the floor below them use an inexpensive, adjustable canned light fixture (Lampsplus is a great resource) to up-light it and create beautiful shadows on the wall. For more impact, use a colored bulb but limit it to one color to avoid a circus look.
Think about placing lamps in places that you normally wouldn’t, like the kitchen counter, on the dining table/buffet. If you can avoid using any overhead light at all, you’ll have a look that’s moody and flattering (no down lighting means no shadows on faces or bags under eyes!) Flashing ice cubes are also a festive touch in your guests drinks. Set them on the slow blinkers and the effect will be like twinkling lights throughout the space. I’ve also used them in a pool (if you’re lucky enough to be throwing this party in a warmer climate) tied with different lengths of fishing line and weighted to the bottom with small rocks. The effect was glorious and had so much depth. I also love placing inexpensive rope lighting under sofas or low sitting furniture to create a soft glow on the floor.
Another big way to make a statement is with an unexpected treatment overhead. Feathers, silk birds or butterflies, even clear icicle ornaments, can have an amazing impact when suspended in large numbers from a ceiling. Again, employing fishing line, tie different length strands to lots of whatever item you choose and attach them to the ceiling with poster tack or flat white thumbtacks.
Don’t underestimate the power of candlelight! If you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta do lots of it. Head down to your local dollar store and look for prayer candles. They’re white wax in glass cylinders that run around 8″ high and 2″ in diameter. That generous height and glass protection mean that you can light a hundred of ‘em at 5:00pm and then not have to think about it again because they will burn until after midnight. They’re often adorned with paper labels, but peel off in a jiff for a classic high end look. So go ahead, buy a gagillion. At 99 cents a pop, you can afford to go big!
LHJ: Are there sophisticated options for noisemakers? I’m so tired of those cheesy things they sell in at the party stores.
KC: For all of your BlackBerry and iPhone toting guests, “Noisemaker!” is a free app that you can download, while the “New Years Noise” app costs just 99 cents. The latter allows you to choose the shape and even material of your noisemaker, as well as the sound. So you may have a few cowbells, several horns, and a couple of whistles—with everyone mixing it up you’ll have a great blend of noise to ring in the new year. Both are activated by shaking the phone itself, so there’s still an exciting physical engagement, and the best part is that there’s no waste to throw away.
If you’re looking for something a little more visual, how about old ball jars with pennies, glass marbles, or even little brass Christmas bells inside to shake around. You can cover the whole shebang in inexpensive burlap tied with twine (to go with the elegant rustic theme) or velvet fabric in your theme color. A yard or two of either choice should be more than enough to cover tons of little jars!
LHJ: TV off, TV on? What’s your position on having everyone at the party stand around watching the ball go down in Times Square? Dick Clark yes? Dick Clark no?
KC: Keep the TV volume off and the music cranked up, but absolutely have the visual in the background. Everyone tends to do the countdown when they see the numbers get close, and this ensures that everyone is on the same timed schedule. Missing the official countdown is a definite bummer!
LHJ: When the energy starts to fade and it’s a long time till midnight, what can you do to keep energy up and guests from departing?
KC: It’s all about having the right music, but you don’t have to be a good DJ or have an impressive music library. Rely on Pandora to create an entire non-stop play list around one song that you feel represents the vibe you’d like to create for the evening. When you start to see a lull in mood, crank that music up and do what all good hostesses do—be the first one to dance! Grab a willing friend and set the standard for letting loose—your company will be sure to follow suit.
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