By Natasha Wolff

Published on December 14, 2016

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Photography by George Ross Photography

Throwing a unique event in December can be a challenge. People are party hopping to several parties a week, and it all becomes a blur. Having a well stocked pantry is key for planning last minute get togethers. So is some creativity.

“I have a passion for tableware and everything art de vivre so I usually improvise to create something special, mixing plates, colors and patterns,” says Elisabeth Holder, co-president of infamous Parisian bakery Ladurée US. She also searches for inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest and says it helps to have a theme.

Thoughtful attention and gracious entertaining always begins with a warm welcome and a signature cocktail or two. “My sole intention is to make every guest feel as if they are the most important person in the room,” says interior designer Michael Aiduss. What other elements are key to creating a magical evening around the holidays? “The setting of course,” says event planner extraordinaire Alice Ryan, “and a beautifully-calligraphed invitation, place cards, and menus.”

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Photography by Arabesque Vert & Parme

Give Small Gifts 

How can you inject some fun and personality into an event? “Personalized small gifts for each guest can really make a holiday party feel more intimate” suggests Holder. “I have never met anyone that did not like a Ladurée macaron!”

Event planner Alice Ryan agrees: “I love to have each person receive a gift at their place setting,” she says. “If I’m really being indulgent, I’ll opt for a monogrammed gold bracelet from Jennifer Fisher.” Otherwise, Ryan recommends a box of whimsical note cards from bespoke letterpress company, Marby & Elm. Who doesn’t love a gift at their seat?

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Photography by BFA

Games Are Always a Good Idea

“I am always a fan of a smaller, intimate dinner party,” says Serena Merriman, founder of event planning and design firm Merriman Events, who loves the tradition of participatory games in the vein of Secret Santa. Merriman hosts an annual White Elephant dinner party for which guests are asked to bring one wrapped present each, under $25, to contribute to the pool. “People draw numbers to determine who opens a present first and then players can choose an unwrapped gift from the pool or steal someone else’s,” she says. “It’s always fun to see how creative people can be and everyone goes home with a gift.”

For Merriman, there are three essentials for a successful party: candlelight, games and humor. “If the lighting is good, you have one game in your back pocket if the conversation lulls and there is a funny and/or surprising element (nutcrackers, scratch and win lottery tickets on every place setting, a surprise mariachi band), you really can’t go wrong,” she says. 

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Photography by Courtesy of Dazed Digital

Pick a Playlist

Which brings us to music, a very important element. “Music can be the ultimate party killer if it’s not done right,” says Jordana Blitz, founder of NYC catering company Little Gem, who opts for playlists with an eclectic mix of genres. “All of my playlists for dinner parties have some 90’s lyrical hip-hop, 60’s classic rock, covers of contemporary pop songs and lots of David Bowie.” 

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Photography by Michael Wiltbank

Decorate Festively 

“The beauty of a wreath on a door or above a mantle creates the most joyful welcome,” says event planner Alice Ryan. “The wreaths, trees and garlands that incorporate vintage ribbons, wild forest berries and fresh greens are my personal favorite for a festive holiday home.” 

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Photography by ALETIZA PHOTOGRAPHY, EVENT DESIGN BY CLAFOUTIS

Personalize Details

“Have balloons made with all of your guests names emblazoned on them in sequins,” says event planner and catering entrepreneur Jordana Blitz. “Little Gem just did this for a brand’s party, and everyone went crazy for them. And our client Rebecca Hessel Cohen used them for her daughter’s first birthday recently. The balloons makes for a major Instagram moment!” 

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Photography by Merriman Events

Have Fun With Place Cards

“If you have the time to paint, write, or draw place cards yourself, it’s always such a nice touch that your guests will appreciate,” says event planner Serena Merriman of Merriman Events. “Or, better yet, have your kids do it!” And think outside the box. “You can paint or write guests’ names onto pieces of fruit, mini potted plants or trees, Christmas crackers, snow globes, little bottles of liquor, chocolate bars or anything really!”

Make it a fun surprise. “Sometimes instead of guests names on place cards I’ll write archetypes or famous old movie stars and people pick where they sit out of a hat or depending on how they are feeling that night,” Merriman suggests. 

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Photography by George Ross Photographs

Light Up Your Glassware

“I love using vintage glassware,” says interior designer Michael Aiduss. “I assemble a mixed array of glasses on a silver tray and carefully place votives tucked in between to make the whole assembly glow. In fact, I prefer to use only candlelight for holiday lighting schemes.”

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Photography by Ben Draper Photography

Design the Perfect Place Setting

Event planner Alice Ryan cites collaborator and designer Kila Carr-Ince and her remarkable eye for sourcing chic and beautiful objects. “Kila always takes a table from chic to utterly breathtaking,” says Ryan. “She hand paints menus and searches for exquisite table top elements on her travels.” Here is a place setting Carr-Ince designed for a dinner at the Little Beach House in Malibu, California.