On sunny Saturday in mid-May, Caitlin Moran kicked off summer early, with friends, cocktails and a busy grill.
Moran, an Annapolis, Md.-based stylist and editorial director of the lifestyle website the Glitter Guide, is an expert party hostess, so even her backyard barbecues are handled with extra care and extra flair. At her party in May, she served sparkling sangria, and instead of standard-issue burgers on the grill, she created a make-your-own gourmet pizza bar, with a variety of cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables available as toppings.
Summertime is prime entertaining time – and an ideal time to host a party at home. According to global market research firm Mintel, in 2012, nearly a third of Americans hosted a summertime party celebrating Memorial Day, Labor Day or the Fourth of July.
Casual backyard get-togethers are fun but Moran promises that establishing a trendy theme and paying attention to details can take house parties to the next level.
Starting with the menu, even simple twists can elevate a party from standard to special, Moran said.
“Having a theme is a nice way to make it special,” she said. “Even if it is just ‘gourmet burger night’ vs. burgers and dogs.” Seasonal menu items – anything with herbs and fresh vegetables – are especially appropriate.
Hiring a food truck is another fun and trendy take on the backyard barbecue, said Baltimore event planner and interior designer Stephanie Bradshaw.
“We have a lot of food trucks coming to parties after weddings,” she said. “But you can also just have the truck drive up to your house at the party.”
Bradshaw likes the idea of keeping summertime menus simple and easy for hosts.
“It’s trending to have less complicated food in the summer,” she said. “You don’t want to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I cater everything! You have less stress!”
She also recommends adding sparkle with a fun – and easy to follow – dress code. “I think that dress codes are fun – like caftans or all white.”
“Mad Men” actress Christina Hendricks made headlines this spring when she announced plans to celebrate her birthday in Palm Springs with a “caftans and casseroles” party. The flowing gowns have become popular among entertaining and lifestyle bloggers, who tout the dresses’ retro cool style – and practical summertime comfort.
“Create a logo, use it on the invitation and print up a menu, even if it’s just casual finger food,” suggests Fresty, saying that Pinterest is a great source of graphic design inspiration.
Especially for casual summer events, Fresty insists that paying attention to a few important details can have more impact than, “going overboard at the party store with the matchy-matchy plates, cups, napkins and table décor. Choose a color story instead,” she recommends. “Keep it understated.”
Moran agrees with the Here. approach to color. “Come up with a color palette, even for a barbecue,” she advises. “Use it throughout the event on things like cups and flowers. Even if you just tie pieces of ribbon around a wine glass – it takes five minutes but people love it.”
Moran also enjoys hosting summertime parties that focus on seasonal activities, like flower arranging or planting herbs.
“For a shower or girls’ night, it’s fun to create a planted pot herb garden,” she says. “You can put pots out and get herbs from Home Depot. It’s just a fun activity that’s practical and affordable. You can paint the pots, too, mixing the DIY trend into entertaining.”
Recently, Moran hosted a flower-arranging party, where guests arranged loose blooms and took home their bouquets as favors. Ambitious party hosts can even hire a florist to instruct guests on the finer points of arrangement.
Initially, when a friend asked her to help plan the party, Grove was hesitant. “The intent is good – read a book, sit around drinking wine and cheese – but it’s not my scene. It’s a tired concept.” But then, Grove thought, “What if I could help host something that would get people excited about doing it again? Something stylized, colorful, light.”
The inspiration for the party, “luxe meets library,” is apparent in the details, from J. Crew-designed invitations (“Let’s get this on the books,” they say) to white paper-covered books stacked strategically around the party space and topped with pretty potted orchids.
The wrapped books double as favors – guests will unwrap them to reveal the first book the club will read.
Since the focus of the event is on the books and the club kickoff, the party doesn’t have to be food-heavy, said Grove. “We’ll keep it bright and colorful,” she said, with late summer treats like white wine sangria and a mango, watermelon and bleu cheese salad.
Of course, no matter how much attention is paid to themes and details, parties are ultimately about people.
“Make sure to introduce all your guests to each other,” said Here.’s Fresty. “Create a festive and cozy atmosphere by making everyone feel like they already know each other.”