Any Ideas? – How Many People Will be in Attendance?

How does this play into the theme, you might ask?  What does it matter if I’ll have 10 people at my event, or 100?  Well, unless your budget and your space is unlimited, the number of guests in attendance is crucial to the planning of your event.  You may have your heart set on a fancy sit-down dinner for 200, but if your backyard only has enough room for half that many seated, you may have to plan on serving cocktails and appetizers instead, or cut your guest list in half.  Similarly, if your budget is only $1000, you can invite 10 people and spend $100 on each, or 100 people and spend $10 on each.

Not surprisingly, the less people you expect to have, the more elaborate a theme you can have.  Consider favors – just a small part of a wedding or other event.  With a $250 favor budget, you can give 200 people a handful of jordan almonds wrapped in tulle, or 10 people personalized sterling silver charms.

You can still have the same general theme – say, bohemian wedding – if you have 15 guests or 150.  You may still have the same basic costs – like DJ, coordinator, photographer, lighting, and paper goods – but your per-person budget will determine how many beautiful themed details you can include.  The more guests you have, the less you can spend per person.

Your expected guest list also helps determine your exact venue – if you absolutely must have room for 300 wedding guests, the back room at your favorite restaurant probably can’t hold them.  But if you’re having a small wedding celebration with just a dozen close family and friends, there’s no reason to rent a ballroom.

If your venue is set – say, your home – you’ll need to know the number of guests early on for planning the flow of traffic.  In our living room and kitchen, we typically can’t fit more than four comfortably.  But for my husband’s board game birthday party, we removed all the excess furniture, set up a bunch of small chairs, and transformed our kitchen into an appetizer serving space.  It was tight, but we enjoyed the company of eight of our closest friends (and could have probably fit another couple or two!).

One of my favorite recent examples of the importance of knowing your guest list is the Cinderella-Inspired Birthday on Hostess with the Mostess.  The party host admits that cutting down the guest list was hard – for her daughter’s previous birthday she’d invited over sixty kids – but was able to make a beautiful, lavishly-decorated party with elaborate gift bags for just ten guests.  “This year, ten girls was just perfect!” she says.  Had she tried to plan the same party for even twice that many guests, it would have turned out very differently; from the setup of the party space to the gift bags, she would have had a completely different party.  This is not to say it wouldn’t have been lovely – or that you shouldn’t invite every last one of your friends to your next bash – but the number of people you invite will always be a consideration for your space, your budget, and the scope of your party.

Any Ideas? – What is My Audience?

The part audience plays in the planning process may not be as obvious as the type of party you’re having, or the when and where.  So I’m going to use examples heavily here.

Glam Rockstar Birthday for a Young Girl - from Shannon Baily Photos

Glam GirlRockstar Birthday - from Shannon Baily Photos; cupcakes by O'Cakerie

Say I’m planning a rock star birthday party.  What do you think of for thematic elements?  Posters on the walls?  Guitar Hero on the Wii?  A cover band?  Big hair?  Safety pins?  Now let me suggest that this party is for a 7-year-old girl.  Suddenly there are sparkly pink microphones and glam makeup a la Jem and the Holograms, a fun photo session with dress up clothes, and Disney karaoke on the Wii.  If the party is, instead, for a 30th birthday, I might insist that all attendees wear their best grunge-inspired clothing and play endless Nirvana.  For a 40th birthday, the theme might be based around Spinal Tap.  That is, unless the birthday girl has dreams of being Joan Jett (or Jem!).  What’s appropriate for a 7-year-old girl and her friends may or may not be what’s appropriate for her mother or her older brother and their peers.

Take another example: the tea party.  Now, I could easily plan a tea party for that same 7-year-old girl (of course, if she’s more of a rock star, she might not be too happy with me for planning her such a sedate theme!). There would probably be lots of ruffles, some pretty tea cakes, a princess dress-up box, and plastic tea set favors.  If that little girl grew up and was having her bridal shower with a tea party theme, I’d focus more on soft floral accents, cucumber sandwiches and scones, perhaps some great hats for her guests to wear, and tea bag favors.  If she were celebrating her eightieth birthday with a tea party (as my grandmother did nearly a decade ago), the food and favors might be the same – but the party activities would be distinctly different (can you imagine a room full of eighty-somethings playing a risque game of shower charades?  okay, maybe you can…).

Heavy Metal Birthday Cake - from Hostess With the Mostess

Heavy Metal Birthday Cake - from Hostess With the Mostess

Too much estrogen for you?  How about a party with a casino theme?  For a teenager’s birthday, they might enjoy dressing up, “gambling” for prize tickets, and drinking fancy non-alcoholic beverages (think slushy virgin margaritas and muddled mint and club soda “mojitos”).  For a 21st birthday, though, the drinks are alcoholic and guests are learning real gambling techniques.  For a bachelor party, poker dealers and bartenders are beautiful women and the beers flow freely.  For a 40th birthday, the guests come in their nicest attire (think Monte Carlo) and the martinis are shaken, not stirred.

Know your audience – age, gender, and likes/dislikes – and you’ll be able to tailor your theme to fit them.

Photo credits: Glam Girl Rockstar Birthday, Heavy Metal Birthday

Any Ideas – When and Where?

When and Where?

This question may also sound like an obvious one, especially if you’ve already chosen a time, date, and place.  But any themed ideas you come up with should have as much to do with the timing and location of your event as with the type of event.

For example, if I were planning a wedding and needed to come up with a theme, I’d first want to know the season in which the wedding will be taking place.  This will help determine what flowers are seasonally available, what decorative elements will easily be accessible, and what the bridal party should wear.  Then I’d want to know the basic characteristics of the location where the wedding was taking place.  If I’m planning an outdoor wedding in the dead of winter in a snowy locale, it’s not very practical to put my bridesmaids in yellow cotton shifts and give them bouquets of rannunculus and lily of the valley.  But that very same bridesmaid dress-and-flower combination would be perfect at a summery outdoor ceremony.  And a fur wrap with a long burgundy brocade and a bouquet of roses and mistletoe – or pinecones! – would look a little strange on an eighty-degree day.

Sometimes it’s all about the details – the same color of bridesmaid dress might be just as perfect during the winter as the summer, but you’d pair it with different accessories.  For example, both of these weddings (one summer, one winter) use gray bridesmaid dresses – but the winter one pairs the dress up with a white fur while the summer one uses a pop of bright yellow.

Winter Bridesmaids in Gray from The Knot

Winter Bridesmaids in Gray from The Knot

Summer Bridesmaids in Gray from Snippet and Ink

Summer Bridesmaids in Gray from Snippet & Ink

Likewise, the time of day of a wedding plays a big part in the planning.  A sunset ceremony and candlelit dinner will have a distinctly different feeling than a morning ceremony followed by an informal bunch on the lawn.  You’ll want to have different food, different fashion, and different decor.


Even for non-wedding events, such as showers and birthday parties, timing plays a huge part.  A bridal shower brunch will serve different food than a bridal shower tea or a bridal shower dinner (think quiche and mimosas, versus cucumber sandwiches and iced tea, versus a pasta dish with wine).  You may be planning your party in a different locale based on the time of day (that patch of lawn might be lovely in the morning but without some shade may be wiltingly hot at 2 pm; likewise, the seaside bluff may be perfect midday but have a chilly breeze in the evening).

Think about the basic when and where of your event before finalizing thematic details and you’ll be able to ensure that all the elements work together.

Any Ideas? – What Kind of Event Am I Having?

As the first in my ideas series, I want to help you to explore the first important question I ask before coming up with a theme for any event:

What kind of event am I having?

This might be obvious.  I’m hosting a bridal shower or a birthday party, or a wedding.  But there is a huge difference between the scope of, say, the birthday host that pays Christina Aguilera a million dollars to sing for an hour and the birthday host that asks all their friends to pitch in a potluck meal.  Both parties can be spectacular – one of the most fun weddings I have ever been to had a potluck dinner (which is next to impossible to pull off but was flawless) and in total cost less than most gowns featured on Say Yes to the Dress.  But until you really think about the kind of event you’re having you can’t really move forward.

I’ll admit this is overall a relatively simple question.  But if you’ve ever been the Maid of Honor for a wedding, you might remember a moment of panic when you realized that all the slightly racy shower games were going to be played to an audience including the groom’s grandmother.  Consider the type of event – not just “wedding” but “intimate family wedding” or “minimalistic urban wedding”, and not just “bridal shower” but “relaxed family bridal shower” or “silly risque bridal shower with friends” – you want to have before everything else.

Once you figure out what kind of party you are going to be having, you can start considering the answers to my other questions.

Any Ideas?

I get asked it a lot: “I’m holding a party/shower/wedding/other social event and I need help.  Any ideas?”

No, really – if you asked me this question this week, don’t worry – I promise you’re not the only one (even this week!).  And I like the fact that people think I have good ideas!

The answer to this question, though, is a lot more complicated than a simple yes or no, or even a simple theme.  Themes for events aren’t just dependent on the event itself (a birthday party for a four-year old girl, for example, which is something I haven’t been asked about lately!).  When asked this question, I could rattle off several themes (“Have you thought about ponies yet?  Yes?  Okay, let’s see, penguins are in vogue right now…  Or how about gardening and ladybugs?”).  But for anyone who has kids or has seen a kids’ nursery, there are about as many themes as there are people.  A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work.

In addition to the likes and dislikes of the person for whom the event is being thrown, a ton of other factors are at play.  For example, the audience of the event:  Are you having a houseful of rowdy twelve-year-old boys?  Or a playroom filled with toddlers?  Or hard-partying single twentysomethings?  Or sedate grandparents?  Obviously a heavy metal-themed party isn’t going to go over well in a bridge-playing country club set (unless, you know, it would, in which case, I want that job!).  A party princess won’t be welcome at the birthdays of most teenage boys (unless, of course, she’s a different kind of princess altogether).  And most bridal showers are completely different affairs than twenty-first birthday parties.

You can start to see why I can’t simply answer, “Sure, I’ve got some great ideas, and here they are.”  I’ve got tons of them floating around in my head – but it’s like walking into a giant bookstore blindfolded and trying to pick out a specific title.  Until you know which part of the store houses what kind of books and can narrow down how the books in that part of the store are organized, you’ll only be groping blindly, pulling books off shelves at random.

So here are the basic questions I try to get answered before I start planning any event.  Some are simple and straightforward.  Others might have you scratching your head.  But no matter whether you’ll have a planner involved (like me!) or not, you’ll want to answer these questions for yourself before taking on a party planning project:

  1. What kind of event am I having?
  2. When and Where?
  3. What is my audience?
  4. How many people will be in attendance?
  5. What does the honoree (or honorees) really like?
  6. What will our activities be?
  7. What will we eat?
  8. What will we drink?
  9. Do I already have a space available that can handle the number of people I’m expecting and the type of party I’m hoping to have?
  10. What is my budget?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll delve deeper into each of these questions to help you start to figure out your event’s theme, or to give you the tools to approach a planner  to create the perfect themed celebration.

Inspiration: Vintage Rosebuds

I love me some vintage!   I was inspired by a bride I’ve been consulting with to create a vintage sweet table inspiration board.  I love the tones of blush and daffodil!  I only wish I’d been able to find some photos of flowers arranged the way I can see them in my head.  I’d love to gather ranunculus, peonies, daffodils, dahlias, gerberas, and freesia together in just the right messy way, and I’d love to see them in the gorgeous pale pink glass vase in my event rental catalog.

I’d also add a bunch of fairy lights and some chinese lanterns in pale pink, yellow, green, and white.

Vintage Sweet Table Inspiration Board - Events by Elisa

Vintage Sweet Table Inspiration Board - Events by Elisa



To use this inspiration board for a wedding, I’d definitely start with a wedding dress from Fancy New York, like this gorgeous “Maggie Rosebud” design:

Maggie Rosebud by Fancy New York

Maggie Rosebud by Fancy New York


Photo credits (clockwise, from top left): Ruffled Blog, Little Loveables, Country Living, Kate Landers Events, KristopherK’s Flickr Stream, Old Fashioned Lemonade, The Sweetest Occasion, Karen Tran Florals.

Inspiration: Born on the Fourth of July

I was at Disneyland on Tuesday (and, um, I’m going back tomorrow for a bachelorette party…  no, I didn’t plan it that way) and walking down Main Street U.S.A. started getting my creative juices going.  I created this inspiration board for an old-fashioned Fourth-of-July party that would also be appropriate for a summer birthday or wedding.  I can imagine serving a beautiful picnic lunch and making homemade ice cream in a vintage hand-crank ice cream maker (ok, actually, that would be really difficult, as cool as it would look!), and listening to a Barbershop Quartet or an old-fashioned band.   The perfect setting for this party would be a pretty green park – especially if there were a gazebo where you could hang the bunting!

Born on the Fourth of July Inspiration Board - Events by Elisa

Born on the Fourth of July Inspiration Board - Events by Elisa

Image credits (clockwise, from top left): Bliss Weddings Market, 4 In a Bar, Giggleberry Creations, Bouquet Bridal, Elizabeth Anne Designs, The Darling Bee, Jasperdo’s Flickr Stream, My Finer Consigner, North 60’s Flickr Stream, Events Wholesale, Pool and Patio.

Inspiration: Sunflowers and Lemonade

Maybe it’s the dismal weather we’ve had today: clouds, wind, and rain…  Maybe I’m just really looking forward to summer…  But my latest inspiration board creation is sort of inspired by Tuscany and Provence, and features a gorgeous sunny yellow color contrasted by deep blues.  I’d love to plan this party for a bridal or baby shower, or a birthday party!

Sunflowers and Lemonade Inspiration Board

Sunflowers and Lemonade Inspiration Board

Image credits (clockwise, from top left):  Hostess with the Mostess, Tickled Pink, Kara’s Party Ideas, Recipe Bloom, Country Living, Dit49’s Flickr Photo Stream, Wrapped in Happiness (but the photo was taken by Charlotte Geary), A French Tablecloth, Pink Cake Box, The Sweetest Occasion.


Board Game Birthday!

First of all, yesterday was the official launch of and our Facebook page.  Thank you to everyone for your support!  I am so happy!

Secondly, I’ve been teasing you about this one for a while, and I’ve finally had a chance to write about it: the Board Game Birthday!

This party was incredibly fun to plan; we hosted a dozen friends at our home for dinner and dessert, and, of course, board games!  It was my husband’s 30-something birthday, but I wanted it to have a distinctly kidlike theme.  You’ll have to forgive the lack of photography skill; I’ve got a lot to learn about my camera!

Of course, we had a bare bones budget, so I had to get creative…

First of all was the decor.  These giant-sized Sorry pieces were hand made from Crayola Model Magic:

Hand made giant Sorry pieces

Hand made giant Sorry pieces

I got several bunches of flowers and put them in various vases around the house; this was my favorite of the containers, with colored dice in the bottom:

Flowers with dice

Flowers with dice

Then, of course, the dinner table.  I’d originally planned to use contact-paper-covered board games as serving plates, but couldn’t find enough game boards in our local thrift shops that measured up to my high standards!  Since our space is limited, we had kid-themed finger foods: sliders, pigs in blankets, mac and cheese balls, crab cakes, and “peas and carrots”.  Too cute!  Of course I completely forgot to take a photo of the whole table while the food was laid out:

Our Kiddie Food Table

Our Kiddie Food Table

The Scrabble board name tags for the food, made by photographing my Scrabble board:

Scrabble Board Food Tags

Scrabble Board Food Tags

Of course, you can’t have a birthday party without dessert!  A dessert bar, to be exact.  I love this mixture of old and new glass jars (mostly from local thrift stores), holding some of my husband’s favorite sweets!

A Sweet Table fit for a kid!

A Sweet Table fit for a kid!

Including a Candy Land game board pasted onto styrofoam, used as a cheesecake pop holder, and “Sweets” spelled out on a wooden Scrabble letter holder.  The food table said “Bites” and the Drinks table said “Sips”, but this was my favorite:

"Sweet" spelled out on a Scrabble letter holder and the Candy Land styrofoam cheesecake pop holder

"Sweet" spelled out on a Scrabble letter holder and the Candy Land styrofoam cheesecake pop holder

Last but not least, we had extra special goodie bags for our guests.  We used paper lunch sacks and printed Scrabble board labels on them.  Of course I forgot to take photos, but I found some fun mini Uno decks, tiny Etch-a-Sketches, and playing card erasers, among other fun goodies:

Goody Bag Table

Goody Bag Table