Stress-free party planning
Thrill your guests with an unforgettable event
The holidays are the perfect time of year to throw a fabulous party, but where does one start? With the help of Michelle Mouton Harrison of M-Harrison Designs, we have the tips and tools you need to pull off a successful event.
The holidays are the perfect time of year to throw a fabulous party, but where does one start? With the help of Michelle Mouton Harrison, of MHarrison Designs, we have the tips and tools you need to pull off a successful event this season.
Michelle said she learned the art of hospitality from none other than her mother and grandmother.
“As the oldest of 17 grandchildren, there were always events to be planned — always some kind of orchestration from holidays to weddings,” she said. “I'm in my fifth year with my business, but I've been doing this my whole life. Everything from weddings to events to fundraisers.
No matter what's on the agenda, Michelle said planning a casual or formal event should not be a daunting task and with that, she offers these tools for hosting a memorable event this season:
Set your budget and stick to it. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you don't set a limit for yourself. And let's face it — you're going to have to splurge on one thing, so decide what that is early on and build your budget around that. “You may say `Well, I can't cook so I'll need to have it catered,' and know your parameters when you meet with your caterer,” Michelle said. “Being able to tell them to plan a menu at, say, $10 a head will keep you, and them, on track.” According to Michelle, different nights of the week are better for formal or casual events so select your date accordingly with drop-in hours perfect for either style. If you're going for a more casual event, Tuesdays and Thursdays are perfect to bring the kids and come as you are. Fridays and Saturdays, on the other hand, are
instantly more formal because it's the time to unwind after a busy week.
Pick a theme that fits your style. “A theme like `Nordic Holiday' is classic and can be dressed up or down,” she said. Incorporating reds, whites and browns into your decor is easy, and depending on whether you're going casual or formal, your invitations will reflect that.
“For a casual party, get the kids involved by making hand-dipped ornaments with all the party details on brown paper tags, then personally deliver them,” she said. “If you're thinking more formal, step it up with the written invitations, tailoring them to your own style.”
When coming up with your guest list, you want people who will keep conversations going. “Whether it's casual or formal, have a good mix of colleagues, neighbors, and family and friends who will mingle well with each other,” she said.
Whether you're preparing the food yourself or calling in a caterer, planning a memorable menu is key to a special evening. “Keep it simple by having large amounts of a few things that can be replenished quickly and if you're making the spread yourself, cook ahead of time and call in the help of friends as needed,” she said. “Every good party has a signature drink and this can be anything from mom's recipe for hot chocolate to a special martini if you want something formal.”
Showcase what you have in your décor. If you have a special tree devoted to a particular group of ornaments or you have an extensive nutcracker collection, feature it somehow in the look and atmosphere of your party decorations. “There's no need to re-do the whole house for one evening,” she said. “Have your tablescapes and buffets reflect the theme and décor you already have on display.”
If you're planning to go casual, Michelle said the perfect gift has already been given with the homemade ornament, or by making your famous cookies that everyone loves. But if you're going a different direction, she suggests giving your guests something small from one of your favorite local shops. A special treat from the best bakery in town or locally made soaps put your personality into the gift and, as they say, “It's the thought that counts.”
Leading up to the big night, have your timeline at the ready. “I like to work backwards — guests will be here at 7 p.m. so what do I need to have ready at that time?” she said. “Work out the kinks of when and how everything needs to be done and you'll have a successful night.”
“Enjoy yourself. The key to being a good host or hostess is being relaxed because, if you aren't, your guests won't be,” she said. Let others who have offered to help handle certain aspects of the evening so you can visit with all of your guests.
As host, you'll receive gifts as a “thank you” for the invite. “After the party, you'll want to say thanks for all the wonderful gifts, and after all thankfulness and giving is what the holiday season is all about,” Michelle said.