‘If you’re having fun your guests will too!’ — meet the professional party throwers

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on RachelKhoo.com and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

Thoughts of party planning prompts grand ideas of Pinterest-worthy finger foods, handmade decorations, an unbeatable playlist and perfect lighting. But, bringing these things together can be a challenge — particularly with a growing guest list. We talked to a pair who know everything there is to know about planning the perfect party: the authors behind Decorate for a Party, Holly Becker and Leslie Shewring. Here’s what they told us about getting it right:

Tell us about your favourite party memories…

Leslie: There are so many! I love gathering together with friends and family and celebrating life. These special times are what I remember and they can create new traditions throughout the years. Impromptu summer beach parties have been fun where we all meet with dinner in tow and enjoy the long evenings on the water. More formal parties have been wonderful too with special wine tastings that often lead to dancing in the living room!

Holly: I really loved the party we had for our son when he turned two, it was so special to prepare everything, bake, see people we love and watch our little boy smile so big for so long. He really loves parties and people, he is very social and friendly, so I’m happy to report that anytime I mention parties or the word “surprise” around him, he lights up and wants to know more – I’ll be throwing a lot with him in the house now, for sure.

What are the most common party-throwing mistakes people make?

Leslie: If you are going to throw a party I think you need to be prepared and have everything ready. It isn’t fun when the host is in the kitchen or stressed about prepping and serving. Also, if you are going to rely on friends to help you prep or serve make sure you ask them ahead of time. You don’t want to be making them help in the kitchen wearing their best white silk blouse!

Holly: The host is too stressed and worried/anxious, not enough food or drink, too many people, house isn’t clean, you arrive and nothing is set up yet.

Have you ever had any party-throwing disasters?

Holly: Yes, when my son turned one we had a brunch party and I followed a Martha Stewart recipe; it said to keep the pancakes warm by placing them in the oven when you are cooking a lot (I made over 50). The recipe didn’t mention to wrap them in tin foil, I left them unwrapped. When my guests arrived, most of the pancakes were as hard as a stone – each guest only had two mini pancakes to eat, it was so sad – and since it was a holiday and I was out of flour, I couldn’t whip up anymore. In the end, everyone was still fed and full of cake, we managed, but I was so embarrassed at first. But my cake was so amazing (and the champagne) that everything turned out great in the end and most of all, my little boy was so happy and we have beautiful photos to always remember this special time with him.

holly becker and leslie shewring

Leslie: This past winter, 30 minutes before the guests arrived for a dinner party the power went out. There was a raging winter storm happening and just like that, all power was cut off (I think a tree fell on one of the main power lines further down the road). There I was standing in absolute darkness in my kitchen with everything cooking. Thank goodness the gas range still worked! I had to light so many candles! It was actually a beautiful evening…no way of playing music but the howling wind and pounding rain provided some pretty ambient sounds!

What can people expect to find in your new book?

Leslie: Many many ideas! This book is unique because it provides so many creative ways to make a party or simple gathering special. We try to encourage people to use their own home to have a party and to personalise their party decorations. Most of the ideas are really affordable and easy to do.

Holly: Wow, everything! We are all about showing people how to create atmospheres that connect people, we are not encouraging perfection or going all out. It’s a book that encourages people to celebrate more at home versus in rented spaces or restaurants, and exactly how to do that and over 200 ideas for decorating, serving and general entertaining…

There is nothing out there like this book, we wanted to fill a void, and we are confident that Decorate for a Party will be really inspirational and encouraging to a lot of people in a new direction – a more budget-friendly way to entertain that is beautiful! For instance, in our book trailer video, that party that we put together was so affordable! The decorations for the room were under $60 (not including food). We used Mexican wedding flags, yarn and ribbon, chocolate bars, some scrapbook paper, a bundle of flowers from the market, berries, and leaves from the forest for the wall decoration. But the end result is that it looked beautiful and you could even style a small at-home wedding or bridal shower this way and it would be affordable but gorgeous.

What’s the party you’ve thrown that you’re most proud of?

Holly: My wedding! We had 80 people and got married in the backyard of my aunt’s home outside of Boston, her yard was big and gorgeous with an English garden, it was up on a hill overlooking the Boston skyline, it was the perfect spot. We rented a big tent and I designed everything from my wedding shoes to my dress, to the tabletop décor, the cake, the favours, the invitations – my husband Thorsten and I did it all with a lot of help from my very talented and creative mother. She was trained as a florist, so she did all of our wedding flowers – we even picked them out and ordered them at a big flower farm – it was a lot of work but one of the best events I’ve ever thrown because there was just so much love and joy in the air and we really edited our guest list down to 80 (from 300!) which felt “right” to us, we got to talk to everyone, it was a beautiful, beautiful day. I’ll never forget it!

Leslie: A winter holiday party last year with close friends and family. It was lovely to kick off the season with a party at home. It got everyone in the mood to celebrate! We had a signature cocktail, which was lovely and easy because we were just making batches of one kind of drink. We also had wine and non-alcoholic beverages in a large ice bucket for those who wanted something different. I kept it simple with one kind of white and one kind of red wine. I kept the meal lighter by making some large salads to accompany the main course as the holidays are hard on the waistline! It was a wonderful evening because we had all ages and everyone had loads of fun. We ended the evening with an impromptu dance party, with both kids and grandparents grooving to the music!


Decorate for a Party by Holly Becker and Leslie Shewring is out now, published by Jacqui Small (£20).

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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We’ve rounded up Leslie and Holly’s best tips for party planning.