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How to Plan the Party of Your Dreams

What’s my biggest secret to entertaining? After entertaining for many years, I have to admit I have a lot of tips and secrets on how to plan a party.

But this one is the most important.

It’s all about having a theme.

This has been the summer of entertaining. We have hosted a lot of dinner parties and every one of them had a theme. 

Entertaining this summer has been fun and very little stress. We hosted three different outdoor dinner parties and the experience has been incredible. Every day this week I am going to share exactly how I plan my parties and the resources I use to make them happen. And how I manage to stay calm throughout!

First, I created an outdoor dining room for a dinner party we hosted for twelve close friends. We were celebrating three guests who were celebrating their birthdays!

Next, I hosted a dinner party on the beach for our family and my son’s fiance. 

My beach theme was so much fun. And the location? It was priceless.

And then this past weekend we hosted an engagement party for our oldest son and his fiance. It was absolutely magical evening for sixty-five friends and family.

The Engagement Party

I am so excited to share how the engagement party went from concept to reality. I hope some of my entertaining tips will assist you when you plan a party.

Finding the Vision and Theme

The first thing I do when planning a party is to define the vision of my party. I love this creative stage and it usually involves a lot of thought, creative thinking and looking on Pinterest. When we offered to host an engagement party for our oldest son Andrew and his fiance Charlotte, I knew I wanted to create some sort of outdoor party with a summer theme and fun lighting. I wanted to use a lot of white and summer florals and oddly enough, the theme “California Hamptons” was a theme that my son Michael came up with.

Two summers ago our family (and our son’s girlfriends) vacationed at a gorgeous home in the Hamptons thanks to my oldest brother and his family. It was the vacation of a lifetime and we loved everything about Bridgeport. So the California Hamptons theme was a combination of our life here in California and our fabulous Hamptons vacation.

Once the guests of honor approved my vision, the planning began. I had built an outdoor dining room for the party I did in collaboration with HomeGoods, and I wanted to do something similar. But I knew I needed to create a much larger room since the guest list had about 65 people on it.

I decided on a color palette that was white, gray and medium blue.

Making Decisions

I am a big flea market shopper and wanted to use as many of my own things as possible. So I went through all of my linens, dishes, silver, glassware, vases and cloth napkins and discovered I had enough of everything, with one exception, that fit in the color palette. If you are wondering how I managed to have enough vintage china for a party this size, you might want to read my blog post about my “dish collecting”. Of course, the only way I could use all of my own items was if I mixed different patterns on the tables. I love creating tables like this so that was a no-brainer.

By the way, the only thing I didn’t have was enough tablecloths in this color palette.

Since I had never planned an engagement party before I went to Pinterest to look for ideas. This is where I started to panic. I found so many incredible ideas and photos with themes and creativity that I had no idea what to do. I wanted a lot of the creative ideas to be a surprise, so I reached out to my niece and my youngest son’s girlfriend and they helped me narrow down some of the ideas.

The ideas I found on Pinterest were to have photos printed like polaroids, custom decorated cookies, and frosted drink cups. These cookies in the photo were the Save the Date gifts for the guests as they departed. I used a fabulous cookie baker and decorator at Designer Cookies to make these cookies. Aren’t they amazing?

I also added my own ideas of custom chalkboards and pillows, special cocktails, chalkboard place cards, flower frogs, and mason jar vases. At that point, the planning was almost finalized.

Creating a Schedule

I knew I was going to be out of town a few weeks before the party so I created a huge to-do list for the party. I get asked all the time how I can seem so relaxed when I am planning a big event and I think what helps me the most is to write everything down. If I don’t have a good list then I am totally stressed. But once everything is written down and I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything, I am totally relaxed.

I listed out all of the elements of the party such as food, set up, invitations, guest list, shopping list, florals, and theming, and then created a two-week schedule that identified every task and which day it had to be done. I had nothing listed to do on the day of the party because I knew I would have a few things to do that might carry over from previous days. Once again, I was right.

Sending out the Invitations

I love printed invitations and sadly, we didn’t have enough time to print and mail invitations. In today’s day and age, email addresses are a lot more accessible than mailing addresses. So I used Paperless Post to send out the invitations. I used an adorable photo and loved how the invitation looked. Plus, the list management and email capabilities were fabulous. (I might actually prefer to use this method for our parties from here on.) There are a lot of online invitation services you can use and I highly recommend them!

If you are looking for any of the items I used to plan these parties, check out below.

You can also read my other posts about the Engagement Party.

Part One – How to Plan the Party of Your Dreams

Part two – How I Built an Outdoor Dining Room for Sixty Five Guests

Part three – Adding Decor to the Outdoor Dining Room

Part four – The Final details of the Engagement Party

In these posts, I shared how I built the “outdoor living room” for the party. They also include decor, table setting, personalized ideas, and menu planning.

I can’t wait to share more about how my dream for a party became a reality!

about leslie


Welcome to My 100 Year Old Home. I started my blog so I could share my passion for entertaining, décor, cooking, and crafts. You will find all this and more right here. Read more…

15 Responses

  1. Leslie….this is such a well though out post – I can’t wait to read the others!!! (The photos are great…makes me think I can do this!!!)

  2. Love how you came up with the theme. I use email invites except for wedding events. The invitations become part of the photo albums and introduce each occasion. But maybe I’m more classic than most though.

  3. Beautiful! You are truly amazing and have a great eye for detail. I would love to see a more detailed list as I was asked to help my niece with her wedding. I’m new to your website and so excited to view your previous post and looking forward to future post!

  4. I find it helpful that you shared how a person can find inspiration by looking through Pinterest in order to come up with a theme for a party. Aside from that, one can also opt to rent out several party trailers to entertain one’s guests at least two weeks before it starts. Doing this will help hold a bachelor or bachelorette party with ease while avoiding anyone from getting rained on.

  5. I swoon over all your dinner party posts Leslie!
    I’ve wanted those Pheasant Black plates since the first time I saw them in one of your posts. I’ve found them on Replacements.com but wondering if there’s a cheaper option out there. Also, I’m thinking of just investing in the salad plates and layering them over some beautiful white dinner plates I already own. Your thoughts?

  6. Hi Leslie, I wanted to find out if your outdoor furniture is all made of teak? I know teak lasts “almost” forever. I noticed on your porch/patio pictures that you might have teak. I have white plastic patio furniture and am looking into investing in patio furniture that will last for a long time. I love your amazing pictures of your party. You have given me so many ideas in the past. I am so glad we have these types of detailed blogs to read and get so many good ideas. Your blog is one of my favorites so much so that I sign up to get notifications. ♥ Thank you for taking the time to share so much about your home and family.

  7. My fiance and I planning to throw a Summer theme engagement party, which is why we’re currently looking for a restaurant that serves the best hotdogs and hamburgers. Well, I agree with you that it would be an excellent idea to prepare an outdoor dining room. Thank you for also suggesting here that a White, Gray, and Medium Blue palette will be an incredible option.

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I'm Leslie,
Welcome to My 100 Year Old Home

I started my blog so I could share my passion for entertaining, décor, cooking, and crafts. You will find all this and more right here.

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