Tuesday, April 21, 2015


With any good party, comes a good hangover. Well, if there's any merit to my party philosophy, this one was one for the books. You see, it's been a whole 38 days since I hosted this shindig for my husband's 40th birthday and I'm just now feeling like the haze has lifted enough to break it down for you all. The truth is, I've been anxious to tell you all about it because it was one of those rare, near perfect occasions where most everything fell into place exactly as I had envisioned and a good time was had by all. The hangover I speak of arrived promptly the next morning,  manifesting with equal parts exhaustion and apprehension that I properly share the details here, lest you miss out on the truly magical vibe of the night. 

Pool Party, Cocktail Party

I had planned this one out for quite some time in my little head, refining and calibrating all of the little details I would spend hours and days creating to bring the pomp and circumstance of East Coast prep, privilege and tradition to life here in our casual West Coast home. I did a lot of my own research as I worked feverishly to build out, source and buy all of the little effects that would eventually set the tone for the evening. In the end, it came together with a truly handmade, vintage spin that I was quite proud of on a swelteringly hot California evening in March. 

I'm a big believer in setting the tone for guests before they ever walk through the door to a party. Invitations go a long way. But for this event, we asked guests to dress in their finest prep attire, keeping it flexible to include anything golf, yacht, tennis or equestrian club related. While I worked out the background details for the party, our partygoers worked on their fashion, in essence becoming part of the decorative backdrop itself when we all came together. I always say build up and anticipation go a long way to creating a successful party and as it turns out, planning out what we were all going to wear worked to stretch out our timeline beyond just a 5 hour event.

 I'm a big do-it-yourself-er when it comes to hosting a party. Looking back at our most recent events, I can easily make out a formula to my "brand" of event - 60-75% handmade, 25-40% store-bought or hired in. It's true that I like to control the outcome as much as possible to gel with the vision percolating away in my little brain, but I'd also argue that a lot of the work I take on is driven by my own budget. It's hard for me to rationalize the spend when I think I might be able to create or do something myself that even comes close to what I'm envisioning. Cut to hours and hours of singular focus and many, many trips to Home Depot, my retailer of choice when it comes to creating a party backdrop. But, if I'm being completely honest, I enjoy every darn minute of it - don't let the bags under my eyes tell you otherwise. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Spring Rolls

Cheese Platter

Ceviche Shooter

For my husband's bash, I lined our entire kitchen in smooth, tongue and groove cedar planks to create a neutral, masculine base on which I built a multi-tiered food buffet, comprised of single-serving hors d'oevres on silver spoons and platters. With most of the staging already complete well in advance, I was free to spend two full days on food prep and flowers. Though loaded with plenty of variety, the prepared food was relatively simple by design, allowing me to make most of it well ahead of our start time and keep me free from standing in the kitchen all night. For all the work, I was free to enjoy this party you guys with the guest of honor and that meant so much.

Tray Passed Appetizers

Dessert Bar, Donut Bar

I served almost 100 party guests, utilizing several stations to maintain both flow and impact. I staged the dessert bar in the entry-way, because let's face it- first and foremost, everyone always wants to see what's for dessert. As guests continued on into the house, they were greeted by a cheese presentation before they reached the primary food display using all three counters of our U-shaped kitchen. 

Several beverage stations beckoned beyond the patio, maintaining motion while keeping liquids outdoors where they could be easily mopped up if needed (this was a party after all!). My mom and I made custom linens for all of the pub tables throughout the party, embellishing them with preppy decorative ribbon borders. The best part, no returns.  For a fraction of the cost (albeit some sweat equity), these are ours to keep for the next party. 

Scotch and Beer Tasting
 My husband makes a damn good cocktail- of any sort. But I wanted to make sure he had the night off. So I stocked several bars with just about anything a guest would want and instructions on how to build out several custom-cocktails I created befitting our theme, cocktails with names like "The Haa-vad" and "The Handsome Dan" (recipes to come in a future post!). There were craft beers and plenty of scotch for tastings as well. 

The outdoor bars were staged with old photos found online and on eBay. Many of these photos pre-dated 1950, lending a bit of a vintage patina to our modern day interpretation. I pulled frames from other parts of the house to display artwork and photos, creating a men's club feel to the covered poolside bar. Authentic Ivy League Pennants and painted wood rowing paddles also helped to create that feel. There was lots of wood and leather and of course old silver trophies, pulled from my flea and thrift store jaunts throughout the party, which played well into our theme.

Our crescendo moment came with the cake presentation. It's an important moment of any birthday celebration, but I wanted a cake to mark 40 good years to be something extra special. Cue a presentation complete with fireworks and pretty girls (all our sisters!). It was a VIP moment for sure and these are the sparkly photos I look back on and get a little thrill remembering how much fun that night was.

VIP Sparklers

 We are party-people people and you know what, we like to dance. I was pretty tickled to find some old photos from a famous weekend-long dance party that actually took place at Princeton in 1960.  I blew up some grainy photos and mounted them on insulation board sourced from, you guessed it- Home Depot. These were light in weight enough to hang from fishing line along our windows around the dance floor. And yes, we were crazy enough to ditch all of our furniture and store it for nearly two weeks to allow ample set up time ahead of the event.

My home office was outfitted with a photo booth and props that were well utilized throughout the night. Guests were able print off a copy of their photo strip and take home a souvenir from the night.
Pool Bar

Fire Pit, String Lights, Cocktail Party

I put a lot of myself into this one, as sort of a love letter to my husband. Our guest of honor is still reminiscing nightly about his big birthday bash, so I count that as the biggest measure of success. I have to say we had one hell of a night and honestly we have the best friends and family - always willing to show up and make even our smallest parties a proper celebration.   I hold this one close to my heart as one of my favorites yet. 

There is still so much more to share! Look to some future posts focusing on recipes and some other fun effects that gave this one a little extra... well, something. 
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