How to Plan the Party of Your Dreams

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You may not know that I was an event and party planner for a very long time. Today I am sharing one of my favorite themes and parties of all time.

This one is near and dear to my heart. I am so excited to share this with all of you!

The Engagement Party

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. Did you know I was a party planner for almost 20 years?

So what’s my big secret as a party planner?

It’s all about having a theme.

Wait, So I was a Party Planner?

I worked as a corporate event and party planner for over twenty years. I have planned hundreds of events from an exclusive board meeting for thirty executives to a private concert with name entertainment for 5000 incentive winners.

But my most favorite events that I “dreamed up” have been the creative and fun parties I have planned. They all included amazing decor, food, and entertainment.

But they all had one more thing.

They all had a theme. And that’s my secret to entertaining. (As a party planner of course!)

I have been planning parties and events in our home for a long time. We have hosted a lot of dinner parties and every one of them had a theme. 

There is one party that I hosted three years ago this week that I am going to share again. It was an engagement party for my oldest son and his bride-to-be. I really wanted to create something special so I created a very large “outdoor dining room” in the middle of our backyard.

It was a fun party and the theme was amazing. I had so much fun putting my parry planner skills to work!

Just prior to the engagement party, I created my first two “outdoor dining rooms”. In June 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.

It went so well that I have recreated a lot of dinners on the beach since then.

Today is the first day of a few blog posts I have recreated featuring the engagement party for our oldest son Andrew and his fiance Charlotte. It was an absolutely magical evening for sixty-five friends and family.

The Engagement Party in the Backyard

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. It doesn’t matter if it is a party for two, or six, or sixty-five. You’ve got this.

Let me share how I planned this amazing celebration.

Finding the Vision and Theme

The first task I have 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 browsing on Pinterest. When we offered to host an engagement party for Andrew and 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, and the theme “California Hamptons” was a theme that my son Michael came up with.

California Hamptons, you ask?

Quite a few 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. A 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. As I mentioned, I had built an outdoor dining room only twice before 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. This seemed to fit the California Hampton’s theme very well!

The Engagement Party and Dinner

Making Decisions

I am a big flea market shopper and wanted to use as many of my own items 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 would be 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. More about those later.

Save the Date Cookies

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. (The details of all of these ideas will be shared in the next few days.) At that point, the planning was almost finalized.

I pulled together links to the items described in this post. Just click the photos below to access the link!

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 theme, 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!

Looking for items I used to plan these parties? Click on the photos below to go to the item and check it out! You too can be a party planner!

There will be more posts in the next few days with all of the details. 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.

Tomorrow I am sharing how I Built an Outdoor Dining Room for Sixty Five Guests. Be sure to watch my Instagram stories for lots of fun prep videos!

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

How to Plan the Party of Your Dreams

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  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 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.

  8. Beautiful, Leslie! You’re such a talented event planner and it’s so nice that your family is able to have all kinds of lovely parties together. I like your tip to make a good list and write everything down – this is something I really need to lean into. It’s so basic but so important and helpful. <3

    1. Luckily, I am in Southern California, so bugs are not as much of a problem as they are in other areas of the country.

  9. I have subscribed to your site. I have also received copies of recipes you have been generous to share. So thank you. I love what you do and create. I am planning an event for September and am wondering how to receive a password to access your to-do list, creating a schedule planner you used for your son’s engagement party. Thanks again for your many use ful hints and projects.

  10. This is a great post full of so many good ideas. I am planning the centerpieces for my middle son and DIL to be and that seems like a lot! Beautiful job! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  11. I’m a party planner at heart, too. Your gatherings are stunning and I am always inspired by the beauty and inviting welcome that always draws you in by your touch. It was a joy to meet you at Haven as a part of KariAnne’s group. I can’t wait to watch how this party planning unfolds.❤️

    1. Hi Leslie – thank you for reaching out. It was so nice to meet you at Haven and any time with KariAnne is always so inspiring! Thank you so much for your kind words, I very much appreciate them. This may be my favorite party I have ever planned! Have a great weekend!

  12. Many people dream of planning their party the way they envisioned, but they do not know how to execute it. The blog will help all of us plan our party of dreams. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

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