Cover story: Party to remember starts with a theme

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While you may assume what you serve your guests to eat and drink is of paramount importance to a successful party, interior designers know the secret to hosting a party that will be talked about for months is developing a theme.

No one is suggesting that you should redecorate your entire home before a party, but furniture, lighting, music, food, drink and some inexpensive accessories can be used to create a theme and carry it throughout your home.

Step 1 in party planning is to determine the party’s purpose - book-signing, a baby shower, a holiday party or simply a friendly gathering.

“You’ll need to decide if you want this to be a formal occasion with linen napkins and real plates or a casual gathering with paper plates and plastic glasses,” said Kelley Proxmire, principal of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda. “Then you can decide the theme, which can be as simple as a color scheme like black and white, something centered around the season or something more elaborate like a ‘Mad Men’ party with your guests dressed up to fit the theme and music and food to match.”

Shanon Munn, an interior designer and principal of Ambi Design Studio in McLean, suggested establishing the theme at the curb with a sign or balloons and continuing to the front door and throughout the home.

“You can color-coordinate everything, including plates and napkins,” said Amanda Welch, an associate designer with Ambi Design Studio. “You can inexpensively order personalized items online such as napkins, stickers and even coffee mugs that can become a keepsake from the party.”

Elizabeth Boland, a partner with Design in a Day in Chevy Chase, suggested having a supply of white tablecloths and adding color appropriate to the theme with candlesticks, votives, vases and serving pieces.

“Our three favorite party elements are good silver, great serving platters and a freshly ironed tablecloth,” Ms. Boland said. “Accumulating a good collection of platters and candles allows you to be creative with party planning on a whim. You can just pick up flowers on the way home from work, and everything else you need is already at home.”

Ms. Proxmire owns a red tablecloth with attachable bands in white, green and blue to fit different color schemes, and she layers more color with flowers, balloons, votive candles and napkin rings enhanced with ribbons.

Jeff Akseizer, an interior designer with Akseizer Design Group in McLean, suggested bringing some nature inside, such as hydrangea blossoms or forsythia branches wound among the serving platters.

In addition to establishing a theme with accessories, Mr. Akseizer said hosts and hostesses can purchase a throw or some fabric to add extra interest to the furniture.

“You can find a faux fur throw for $35 online or re-cover your dining room chair cushions to fit a theme and then push them against the wall to create more space,” Mr. Akseizer said.

When hosting a party, he said, he spreads the theme throughout his home and invites guests to explore each room.

“Don’t close the doors to your bedrooms,” Mr. Akseizer said. “Let people experience your home and go on an adventure. I leave a dim light on in every room so people know they are welcome. People are uneasy if there are rooms that are off limits.”

Ms. Munn recommended keeping lights on in the party rooms and the draperies open so guests know they are arriving at the right house. She suggested directing guests to the party spaces with music and lighting, switching off lights in the bedrooms.

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