A Decorator’s Guide to Al Fresco Entertaining
We celebrate the season with a vibrant assembly of fresh flowers, vintage glassware, and the warmth of good company. When hosting al fresco, the key to a beautiful tablesetting is based in the colors of nature. Here’s our approach to al fresco entertaining.
As we say goodbye to the hottest months of the year, we open another chapter: the arrival of fall. We don’t have much of a fall here in Houston, but we do enjoy imagining the transition. Even without the changing of the leaves, so much change happens from August to September. Our kiddos go back to school. We gratefully and regrettably leave our vacations behind. We look forward to the upcoming holidays as we return to our routines. This time can often seem like it’s in-between the better parts of the year, but truly this month deserves more attention. Time to throw the perfect al fresco dinner party!
A Well-Designed Farewell to North Boulevard
This time, we had a major life event to celebrate: saying goodbye to North Boulevard. Last month, Laura sold her beloved Tudor Revival. The stunning home will go on to new owners, and just like that, Laura is off on her next adventure. And next renovation!
We had to throw the home one last, beautiful bash. Thinking back, the home’s design included the entire Laura U team. And, it included our now Creative Director, Gina Brown, while she was a Principal at Newberry Architecture. This was not only a celebration of the home, but of all our team members that made this 10-month renovation such a success.
With every party, there are always a few must-haves: great friends, good food, and our favorite chilled beverages. But as designers, we simply cannot help but think the ambiance is the most important of all. You want to set an energy, a vibe, a feeling…something that lingers with your guests long after they’ve gone. With a little creativity, thoughtfulness, and burst of colors, you are sure to inspire your guests and leave them with an unforgettable experience.
Today, we are sharing a few pro-tips for creating that stunning al fresco scene.
How to Plan a Wonderfully Seasonal Al Fresco Soiree
One of the most important steps in the party planning process is: define what you can do vs. what you cannot. For our get-together, we enlisted the help of our beautiful friend and talented chef, Kelli Bunch. Kelli is the founder of KB Table, a full-service event planning and catering company that is based in Houston. Kelli is professionally trained and well-versed in Southern and Italian cuisine. Not only that, she knows how to throw a great party!
If you love to prepare the food for your guests, then you may think you don’t need a caterer. But for us, when planning in a flash, having reliably delicious food at the ready is such a time saver. Plus, the peace of mind is fantastic. And, it just gives us another excuse to see Kelli (who is always as busy as we are!)
Second, we want to keep prep (and cleanup) fairly effortless. We love event rental companies that allow us to splurge on a tablesetting without really making a huge investment. Your Butler’s Pantry allows us to create stunning tables that are different each time. With their rotating selection, you are sure to wow your guests with a completely bespoke tablescape at each party.
1.) Select a vibrant bouquet – the more, the merrier
Flowers steal the show in any tablescape. We love classic blooms and more contemporary arrangements equally. Peonies, when in season, or roses are perfectly romantic selections, while sculptural greenery in a tall vase is a more modern approach. Dahlias are having a moment right now, as well as white poppies. Whether you go traditional or trendy, you can completely change the ambiance of your party with the florals.
River Oaks Plant House or Central Market are our favorites for easy, great quality selections. The flowers we used for our tablescape here are from JoyBox Flowers, based here in Houston. Founded by the talented Layla Asgari, this Silver Street Studios florist creates the most stunning blooms in all of Texas.
Pro-tip: Make sure you place the flowers in the end, just before the arrival of your guests. It will keep the flowers at their freshest.
2.) Personalize the experience with Placecards and Handwritten Notes
For even a simple dinner with close friends, placecards make your guests feel extra special. If you have wonderful handwriting, you can add a personal touch with placecards you make yourself. We love Paper Source for beautiful stationery. You can also use faux monstera leaves, parchment, and even fruit (with a good calligraphy pen, of course)!
You can also add other fun details like cheese markers or dish description cards that add a handcrafted and special touch. We love marble place card holders and cheese markers that go with pretty much any decor or theme.
For our al fresco entertaining get-together, we served monogrammed glassware from Wren Home. When you’re outside, it’s very easy to lose sight of which glass belongs to which guest. Not the case when initials are etched right into the glass. Wren also offers lovely acrylic options for when you are poolside.
3.) Beautiful glassware for every need is a must
From mocktails to cocktails, there is a glass for every beverage. When al fresco entertaining, it’s important to consider weight and quantity – most of the action will be kept to the table. Indoor parties usually rely on clever assembly of cocktail tables, but you’re more limited outdoors.
When we planned the decor for our outdoor dining experience, we turned to Elizabeth at Your Butler’s Pantry, located here in Houston. They are the perfect partner when you’re hoping to throw an impressive shindig. What I like most about them is the fabulous selection of antique and vintage items, mingled in with modern classics. Founder, Elizabeth Whitehead, has curated these antique pieces with her keen eye for detail and style. Every good tablescape should have something with a little patina.
4.) Candlelight sets the mood
While festoon lights and string lanterns light up the outdoors in the evening, candles highlight the table decor. They give a sublime beauty to the evening ambience and at the same time, illuminate the atmosphere. Be sure to keep them ready for when your late afternoon lunch transpires well into the evening.
A great scent elevates the entertaining experience. A couple of our favorites are Diptyque’s Baies and Voluspa’s Suede Blanc. Both Diptyque and Voluspa have marvelous collections of aromatic and attractive candles. They never cease to awe-inspire us.
5.) Don’t forget the music!
Nothing sets the mood like your favorite songs. We recommend searching for “french dinner party playlist” on Spotify or Pandora for a sophisticated set list. We also enjoy the classics, like big band music, and Bossa Nova. If you’re an audiophile, share your latest find with your friends. Having a new song to enjoy will leave a lasting impression on your guests.
Well-Designed Dining and Al Fresco Entertaining – Last minute Tips
Always consider that hosting outdoors will come with different challenges than a party inside. Make sure you spray for bugs prior to inviting your guests, and light citronella (especially if you live in a humid climate). Find handsome paperweights for napkins and other low-weight items. Make sure there is ample shade, especially during summer. Trees can provide good coverage and hats make a lovely parting gift for guests.
And of course, we couldn’t share this wonderful party with you without the help of talented photographers. A very special thank you to Lynsey Owens of Lynsey Creative and the incredible team at Swiggard Creative.
Still unsure how to decorate for your next outdoor dinner party? Give us a call or drop a message, and we will connect you with the best event planners in Houston.