An invitation sets the tone for an event, and there’s no denying that Edwardian Script embossed on thick cream card is a delight to the senses. But is it time to break with tradition? Personally, I find that good stationery makes my heart sing. Writing with my purple-ink fountain pen is a favorite task I haven’t given up in the digital age. For those months-in-the-making occasions, opt for an invitation that guests will treasure on their mantlepiece; just seek out a stationer who prints locally on FSC-certified paper.
For dinner in your kitchen or a birthday in your garden, up your game from WhatsApp and go to town with designed e-vites. Sometimes I link to a Pinterest board capturing the theme and dress code. Animated GIFs make inboxes disco-dance – consider them the colored tissue paper lining your envelope.
Food and drink
Eat! Drink! Be merry! Whether it’s cocktails for six or dinner for dozens, drinks should be plentiful and food should be a feast. Hosts so often feel pressured to serve classically luxurious food, but foie gras and caviar have had their day. Instead, go local, seasonal and colorful. Herbs, spices and wildflowers bring joy to table and palate. I have been serving vegetarian, and often vegan, meals for over two years now. It avoids the awkward puzzle of food preferences and I’ve surprised even the most die-hard carnivore with the depth of flavor it’s possible to get from a slow-cooked vegetable curry. Consider a vast Moroccan tagine surrounded by pretty plates of jeweled couscous, fresh tabbouleh and creamy baba ghanoush. Embrace locally sourced wines, too (refillable bottles are even better) – sparkling wines can have as much flair as champagne.
Glitter, balloons and plastic cutlery are the décor equivalent of those annoying guests who never leave. Forget a midnight departure: you could be waiting a millennium for these to decompose. A new approach is needed.
I find as much joy in dressing the table as the salad. Inspiration might begin with recent travels or a new take on a date such as Valentine’s Day. I used to seek out décor, often plastic, that was on-theme but throwaway. Now I try to invest, borrow or seek out second-hand. Trips to Rajasthan and Marrakech have resulted in a drawerful of colorful jacquards and locally screen-printed and hand-blocked fabrics, perfect for table linen. An even easier option: jazz up an oft-used white tablecloth with a wrapping-paper runner, making sure to recycle or upcycle for presents afterwards.
For the perfect plate, nothing beats a rummage around an antiques market – London’s Kempton Market is a favorite of mine – or one of the many online rental specialists. And why not try your hand at crafting? Last Halloween I wanted to add my twist to tradition with a pastel palette. Rather than plastic purchases, I found pumpkins of all shapes and sizes in the local farmers’ market, then painted them my preferred shades with water-based paint and finished them with golden stalks and a sprinkle of biodegradable glitter.
Whatever the time of year, and from peonies to holly, consider in-season blooms and greenery your most fabulous attendees. Source in advance from a flower market, then treat them lovingly (cut the stems at a sharp angle and change the water daily). I’ve taken to deconstructing a traditional bouquet to create a floral runner, with a base of perennial foliage twisting between pillar candles, then using colorful blooms to highlight.
Forget rigid bouquets of roses flown in from far-off climes and focus instead on seasonality. The constraints of the seasons mean flowers can’t be flamboyant throughout the year. But once in bloom, simple arrangements work best: dahlias in ombré colors make my favorite summer arrangements.
Wasted food has serious environmental and social impact. What’s more, leftovers are the heroes of the fridge. Max La Manna’s new book, More Plants Less Waste, inspires me with its ingenious ways to use things up, such as his veggie nachos using past-their-best tortilla chips, or the way he embraces peel and seeds as delicious garnishes when they might otherwise have ended up in the trash. Vegetarian foods keep well when stored properly, with the depth of flavor only improving.
Many of my crafted decorations last season in, season out – like the pinecones I repainted for a new theme (sadly, the pastel pumpkins went on the compost heap, but they lasted until Thanksgiving!). Create a party box you can return to year after year: ribbons, fabrics, trinkets, candles in an array of colors… You will be surprised at how well they work for new occasions. Finally, the party bag of today? Send guests home with a posy of flowers from the table, tied with the bows of the table setting.