Getting engaged is one of the most momentous occasions in a couple’s relationship and there’s no better way to celebrate than at a small soirée with your closest family and friends. So, what does a bride-to-be do? Host a dinner? A Sunday luncheon? A barbecue or a picnic in the park? The options are endless... that is, unless you live in NYC and have 100 of your closest friends and family on the guest list. Yes, I'm aware this sounds more like a wedding than an intimate engagement gathering.
After getting engaged in the summer we decided to wait until the fall to celebrate, when everyone was back from their summer travels and it provided us with more time to plan. This “planning process” never seems to end – and when I set out, determined to find the perfect venue for our party, I quickly realized how all of the elements can add up. (Naive, I know.) We opted for a fun cocktail party with great food offered on trays, so that we could mingle and spend time with our family and friends. We can save the seated meal for the wedding.
Working as a fashion director for an entertainment website definitely comes with some perks, so I quickly resourced some contacts. While at first I entertained the idea of using a club or bar, I realized at a certain point the venue would be open to the public – and I didn't want our guests mixed in with random, rowdy strangers and barely clad bottle-service girls.
First, I became frustrated, and then I got resourceful. I decided renting a space would be our best option – but again, I didn't want this to turn into a mini wedding. Luckily on Airbnb, Inc. I found a location that I thought was just right with its exposed brick wall and vast wood table and bar area. I went to see it after work and fell in love with it, but unfortunately when my mother arrived she didn't appreciate the rustic potential as much as I did. We ultimately decided to rent it for a full day, which gave us ample time to set up, decorate, and allowed us to keep the party going well past midnight. I was especially pleased with this because I didn't want to wind up bar hopping in East Midtown in my party dress.
The task at hand: to throw a chic cocktail party that didn't feel over-the-top and was personal without appearing like a cliché Pinterest board.
With right around a month until the party, there was a lot to do. First, we ordered invites. We decided against a photo of us gazing lovingly into one another's eyes and opted for an invite that featured a bottle of Champagne – hey, it is a celebration, after all!
Next, multiple trips to retailers ensued, where I purchased cake plates, frames, and an obscene amount of candles, because, atmosphere! I wouldn't have been able to pull any of this off without the help of our families. In fact, a few days before Thanksgiving, my mother drove me to two store locations in the very same day to hunt down more of the same holiday potpourri, which I used for the favors. While this was much to her frustration, I positioned it as bonding time.
Since our party fell on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I embraced the holiday theme without wrapping the place in orange and plaid. Instead, I gave out mini mason jars filled with potpourri in warm tones. Stickers with our initials added a nice touch to the top of the jar. DIY Favors? Check. Next, we set up a pie dessert bar, which inevitably turned into a table with all of our favorite desserts. From traditional Greek sweets to homemade cupcakes (iced in Nutella by yours truly!), cookies, pies, and cannolis, the sweets station featured items that looked and tasted great.
While the space had a slew of couches and oversized armchairs, we rented high-top tables to infuse more of a cocktail-party vibe. Striped paper straws, napkins with our initials, and a table with some of our favorite photos in mirrored frames rounded out the personal touches. My advice? Don't drive yourself crazy trying to find identical frames. Not only do they actually look better if they aren't all the same, but you should be conscious about the colors and styles you select. Buy frames that will look good in your home, so they can repurposed.
As for the food, we catered and served it buffet style and decided on one of our favorite Italian restaurants from Brooklyn. As much as I love tiny tuna tartare appetizers, I wanted to be conscious of our family and friends – and, unfortunately, I don't think tiny, Pinterest-approved appetizers would’ve cut it. When you're planning, it's important to accommodate the guests that are in attendance – and my fiancé and I are both firm believers that good food is a necessity when attempting to throw a good party!
The morning of the party our families helped us transform the space; it was definitely a labor of love. The room also had strategically placed shelves, which were perfect for candles. I can't get enough of candles, but it's important to check the lifespan of a candle. Nothing is worse than having your décor totally melt away as the party kicks into full swing! Luckily I figured this one out in the midst of my many shopping trips.
Though I love entertaining and seeing a party come to life, I must admit that trying to throw a DIY bash for 100 of your closest family and friends definitely requires a lot of work and, like everything else with wedding planning thus far, it was definitely a learning process.
My advice? Be realistic about what you can create in the amount of time you have. Stay organized and do your research. Trust me, it's an economical lifesaver. Come up with a color scheme, make a list of exactly what you need and envision the space perfectly, so that when the day arrives all you have to do is watch the pieces fall into place. Trust me, the beauty is in the details.
Photos courtesy of Katrina Mitzeliotis