How to have a good House Party

pop the champagne and have a house party

Fifth child third daughter turned twenty-one a week ago Wednesday on New Year’s Day. I was thinking of saving this post for next year December as it’s kind of holiday in theme and we’re all so over that but then I thought whatever, it’s got a few useful ideas and her dress I styled her in is currently available at NET-A-PORTER so here goes anyway:

The seeds of our recent New Year’s Eve party were planted while talking with Elizabeth while she was crying (she can cry) and studying in Scotland this past fall. She was missing her sister, her family, and felt quite alone. In an effort to engage, she and I started talking about her birthday, I offhandedly mentioned let’s do a black-tie kind of thing, it’s going to be 2020 and you are turning 21 and it will all be so much fun, and it evolved. 

She was born on New Year’s Day and most often her birthday is a bit of an afterthought. We’ve had two other big parties for her, a New Year’s Day brunch at home when she turned 14 and a Sweet 16 at a club, with dancing and five cakes, one from each of her siblings. 

This year I decided on a cocktail kind of thing for her, a little reserved for conversation and visiting in the beginning and then a full out dance party from eleven until midnight. A big celebration at the stroke of twelve with cake and singing. I had a vision of serving breakfast food too. 

installing the dance floor
setting up the bar
I made tiny bouquets for the bistro tables
chardonnay at the ready for when guests first arrive

Here are a few of my tips for how to have a good house party:

white votives, happy 21st sign, digital clock for countdown
  • Lighting is key. Husband and I lit the house up quite well for the Christmas season, outdoor lighting, six indoor trees all with miniature white lights, most of our interior lights on dimmers. It’s important to manipulate the lighting situation to create a warm glow. 
  • Candles are next up. Small intimate dinner for two or a houseful of eighty-four, I like to have votives all over the place. If it’s simply a small dinner three or five is good, if you have people all over, I go big and put them everywhere, even and particularly the bathrooms. 
invite guests of all ages and start a fire
want a cookie Mazi?
handsome, distinguished husband
  • A real woodburning fireplace, with a fire. If it’s winter or there’s a chill in the air, nothing else needs to be said.  
a string quartet for cocktail hour
  • Music: I still haven’t mastered ad free Pandora on the Sonos system, and my kids tell me it’s all about Spotify, no matter. I hired a string quartet for a little live vibe for the first two hours and got second son on deck for DJ’ing. It was seamless, quartet did Bohemian Rhapsody at 11:45 with everyone singing along even though it’s a sad and deep piece, then juxtaposed with loudspeakers and current sounds got EVERYONE on the dance floor. 
  • Dance Floor: we rolled up the carpets in the front hall and had caterers install a 12’x12’ black and white dance space. 
a little raw bar
  • Food: we did five passed hors d’oeuvres and two stations, raw bar and antipasti. Late night food included breakfast sandwiches, platters of bacon, chicken and waffles, fruit cocktail. Birthday cake went totally untouched, just for show, I guess.
guys and their phones, FOMA
the party always seems to land in the kitchen
  • Signature Cocktail: it’s nice to offer a drink right upon entry, I like to have glasses of wine at the ready on a high-top. As this was a big celebratory thing Lizzie requested French 75’s in a nod to her time spent in London, nothing like some gin mixed with Prosecco, lemon juice and simple syrup, oh my, I think I had 3 of those things. 
signature cocktail, French 75, in an nod to Lizzie’s time in London
we turned the dining room into a bar-room
  • Drink: okay, so for this gig husband decided on 3 hours of top-shelf bar per guest instead of our usual, us providing the wine, and bar based on consumption. Who’s to know which is more economical? In the end probably a wash…I set the bar in the dining room and used the dining room table as small as I could make it with a back bar behind and overflow in the butler’s pantry. 
birthday girl and a few of her men
  • Guest List: it was our entire nuclear family and our kids’ closest friends, with out of town house guests. We were on overflow. Love a good age mix. Lizzie did evites, I had no control, and it was okay. 
a few fancy things for just before midnight
  • Additional Décor: we were pretty jazzed up from holiday decorations, I did remove the manger season and most of the nutcrackers. We added in 17 oversized helium balloons in the foyer/dance floor area, that was the most we could procure with many trips to Party City throughout the afternoon as the maximum purchase allowed due to national helium shortage was 3 per family per visit. Checkout staff knew something was up as we all kind of look alike, each sister and one brother had to make an individual trip, and also the in from out-of-town college boyfriend. 
we had a great mix
  • Make it a Crowd: as before I had no control of guest list, husband and I were in charge of style and expenses. That said I love a good mix. We ALWAYS have room in the inn if you too like to celebrate life and all of its’ blessings. 
  • Be prepared to CLEAN: the next morning I was on hands and knees washing every single floor and flat surface in the house twice, it was that gritty. 

Main message: I think the most important thing when having a house party is to have an open heart, an open mind, and to definitely let shoes in the door. You can dance on our floors, spill drinks on our walls, the only thing that is precious is our children and our guests, bring it on, we think house parties are great fun.

Lizzie in a saffron dress
happy 21st
Lizzie in her French paper crown
we did have a cake, and she did do an outfit change

Style notes: I started looking for her dress while she was still in London, texting her and her oldest sister screen shots usually first thing in the morning while everyone else was still sleeping. I still remember picking her dress for her sweet sixteen, it was light blue with long sleeves and a high neckline, that party we asked all guests to dress in black and white and she stood out as the birthday girl in light blue. This year I was looking for something a little out of her ordinary, and I found her dress on NET-A-PORTER. She was nervous about the color, saffron, and the volume of the skirt, her sister and I both told her she would be amazing in it. After a few weeks of thinking and looking she pulled the trigger and ordered it. Once it arrived, she still wasn’t quite sure, that’s how she is, and tried it on several times even showing her older brothers to get their approval. We all loved it, and in time with a little reassurance so did she. It was a GREAT party dress, she was STUNNING, and she wore shoes she had from last summer’s wedding festivities. Just before midnight we grabbed her crown from our dining room china cabinet, the same one I sourced from wine country in northern California that she wore for her fourteenth and her sixteenth birthday parties, love the staying power of that beautiful French paper crown.

have a roaring good time…

About the dress: Designed by Alexis Mabille, it’s tied at the waist with a shirting-inspired bow, has a flouncy asymmetric skirt and boned strapless bodice. The faceted crystal buttons take it beyond, in my opinion. Not surprising I was drawn to this designer; he did a nine-year stint at Christian Dior before launching his own line in 2005. 

Caterer: Giancarlo’s Italian Steakhouse

String Quartet: Queen City Strings, 716-583-0268

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  1. Looks like a great party. Hope some of your kids helped you clean the house!
    You can tell Lizzie feels gorgeous in that amazing dress. The color suits her skin tone. You have such a great eye when it comes to styling women.
    I like the 2020 Step and Repeat photo backdrop. Very on-theme.
    Did you hire a caterer to prepare all that food?

    • Hello Rachel! Thank you for all your nice remarks, I truly love all that I do, even washing floors, without the help of any of my kids. They do help with setting the table and stuff though. Yes, I used Giancarlo’s, they have been my go-to.

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