Pulling Off a Really Big Event ... At Home !

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Nothing presses the spaces that we create into service more than a big gathering. Most of us will at some point or another find ourselves inspired to host a big event. Large or extra-large, within our private circle or encompassing the greater community, chances are there will come a time that we pull out all the stops and welcome a much larger group than would typically fit at our dining room tables. My design maxim has always been to 'Create Noble Spaces,' and event hosting sees those spaces rise to their ultimate joyful potential, allowing us to come together and foster meaningful connections. My husband David and I have had the pleasure of hosting more than a few super-sized events in our time.  Here are some of the steps we take to pull one off!

First thing’s first: take a creative but realistic look at the space you have to comfortably host an event. Make sure you take into account the area necessary for tables, seating, heaters or umbrellas, and a stage and dance floor if you are considering hosting live music. If you have ever attended a great event, you know how important music is in setting the tone.  Are you able to put the necessary time into the curation of a playlist and the coordination of sound equipment, or will you have a DJ or a live band? Will you be handling the food yourself? Will it be ordered in, or can you consider a caterer? Also consider whether your restrooms are up to the challenge;  if they aren’t, portable toilets might need be part of your plan. Parking is a lead contender in determining the number you can accommodate. Can guests safely park themselves, or will a valet service be necessary? Many of these decisions might be resolved by the boundaries of your budget, and if they aren’t, try to prioritize by thinking about what has made the biggest impact on you at the events you’ve attended in the past and go from there.  

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare: for an event of more than fifty people, I like to begin my planning at least four months in advance. Time is key in allowing us to feel calm and ready, and some aspects of the party will need more time than others. If you will be drawing on power for lights, music, or food service, make sure that you test the capacity beforehand. There are a lot of great ways to end a party, but losing power halfway through when there are 150 people feting it up in your backyard is not one of them!  It might be necessary in some cases to actually have an electrician out to make sure you have adequate amperage and outlets to support your plan. Time allows us to do the obvious, like repaint a room or add accessories, but make sure that the exterior of your home is on the purview of your party planning as well.  Have the windows cleaned, walk the grounds to make sure that all of the outdoor lights are operational, and make sure that vines haven’t grown over the house numbers.

When the basic decisions have been made and you have a clear idea of how many people you can accommodate, it’s time to think about invitations. I think it’s important to find or create an invitation that reflects the spirit of the event. Beautifully handcrafted invitations are always a treasure to receive, and nowadays, Etsy is an amazing resource for them. However, the advent of the paperless invitation is a revelation, and there are many excellent options: GreenVelope, Punchbowl, Minted, Evite, and Paperless Post all have excellent offerings.  Through these sites, you can create and customize a realistic and stunning invitation, compile your guest list, and track the RSVPs. There are a host of time-saving organizational features available through all of these with which a standard paper invite cannot compete, and which make the electronic invite one of my favorite party planning innovations. 

I like to plan the menu -everything from the libations to the dessert- as well as the timing of each presentation in detailto ensure each offering is not only delicious, but reflects the essence of the event and keeps the energy flowing. Simply grilled organic meats, seafood, and vegetables with beautifully arranged crudité, cheese and fruit are always a hit, and can be straightforward, cost-effective choices. I love to serve one-bite desserts that can be displayed en mass (doubling as decoration!) and easily enjoyed while mingling. When it comes to beverages, I like to make sure that the “potions” are as refreshing and interesting for those who imbibe as well at those who don’t.  I also try to offer plenty of delicious vegan and gluten free selections for those with dietary restrictions, and I make sure to note this in some way so guests are aware that they can partake without concern. I insisted on doing all the cooking for the first big events we hosted (my collection of pots big enough to bathe small children in is a testament to these days), but I’ve learned over the years that it’s almost impossible to be a great host and handle the fare. This truth was made crystal clear to me at an event we attended to benefit the Westport Historical Society at Martha Stewart’s fabled Turkey Hill property. Martha, the caterer extraordinaire, was calmly present as she graciously visited with every one of her guests, while the caterers she hired did an amazing job feeding the crowd. Point taken! The added benefit of hiring a caterer is that they can be a mainline to many other rental services you might require, such as tables, linens, dishes and cutlery, lights, heaters, florists, even valet and portable toilet rentals. I've been lucky to work with a few caterers who were happy to handle the coordination of these services for me at no added cost.

Next on my list is one of my favorite topics no matter the context - floral arrangements! If you use a florist, provide them a sample of the invitation so they can get the flavor of the event and possibly coordinate the tones of the florals to the invitation. It’s also a good idea to provide them with images of particular arrangements that appeal to you and discuss the floral material they recommend so there are no unpleasant surprises the day of the event. If you share my penchant for floral arranging, you might want to do the florals yourself. I have compiled a collection of floral containers that I haul into service for big and small events. They are of all different shapes and sizes but all the same color and texture– ivory matte bisque. None of them were expensive, but they look great arrayed on various tables with almost any type of arrangement displayed in them.  I like to visit the wholesale floral markets a few weeks beforehand to match the seasons’ offerings with the “story” of my event. Great resources in our area are Mayesh wholesale supplier in Van Nuys and Far East Wholesale Flowers in Agoura Hills.

In September we had the pleasure of hosting over 150 guests at our home in the Santa Monica Mountains for our second annual Garden Gala and Concert to benefit Mona Foundation (www.monafoundation.org), a non-profit organization that supports grassroots educational initiatives all over the world.  It was a moving experience. Not only did we spend a joyful social afternoon and raise significant funds for Mona Foundation, our circle of friends grew around something larger than ourselves. It was an unforgettable event, but because of the detailed planning that went into it, it was unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Peace, Happy Holidays, and here’s to creating your own Noble Spaces!