By Holly Parmelee
When did you throw your first party?
At our home in Michigan, my mom would throw a Christmas Eve party every year and I loved it. The first party I ever threw was when I was home from college and I begged my mother to let me take over the party. I set the kitchen on fire and the firemen came! It was the first and last time I ever hosted the Christmas Eve party.
What’s the best party you’ve ever been to?
The best one I’ve been to was the one Tina Brown hosted on Governor’s Island to launch Talk magazine. I was in awe. They had blankets set out with picnic baskets on them. We ate on blankets, watched fireworks and listened to Macy Gray perform in front of the Statue of Liberty. It was crazy cool. It’s still my favorite party trick — to put out blankets and picnic baskets and have people eat on the lawn — especially in the summertime!
What’s your favorite way to entertain?
Intergenerational parties are my favorite. Mix it up with a diverse, wacky crowd. Then sit back and watch the magic happen. My favorite place to entertain is at home. When you throw a party, it changes the energy of your house and the way you look at it. I think parties are the best reason to redecorate! It helps you fall in love with your home all over again.
I’m in favor of cheating — I buy the main course and make the rest. I love to get a bucket of chicken or order tamales and then make all the sides. People are so thrilled to be invited into someone’s home and have a semi home-cooked meal that you’ve already won!
Where do you shop for party supplies and craft materials?
I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s for pre-chopped food. I’m a Whole Foods junkie for their meats and cheeses. I love restaurant supply stores because they have everything you need for picnic supplies — good quality disposable cutlery and cups. I go to Michaels for all my craft supplies.
There’s a flower mart in Norwalk that’s great for inexpensive vases and fabulous flowers.
When people work hard to plan an outdoor party and it rains, what do you suggest?
Basically, my answer is: cry. Then, dry your tears and think of something novel if you have to move it inside. Set the picnic blankets on the living room floor. You need to bring the spirit of being outside indoors. Arrange tree branches in a vase to mimic the outdoors. Make everybody take their shoes off when they come in and put out a basket of flip flops. Have some kind of folly.
Mother Nature brings a touch of whimsy and makes you feel more carefree, so you need to bring that spirit, inside as well. If there’s a 50-50 chance of rain, risk it and set up the party outdoors. Just have a Plan B ready.
How long after guests arrive should you serve the main course?
I need to move it along. I’d say half an hour once everyone has arrived — tops. Maybe 40 minutes, it depends on how heavy your hors d’oeuvres are.
How do you handle food allergies and special diets (vegan, gluten-free, etc.)?
I don’t. I serve what I serve, but I make sure I have enough going on that there is something everyone could ultimately eat.
What do you say to people who don’t believe they can master these crafts or recipes?
That’s not possible! We try to make sure most of our projects have no more than three to five steps so everyone can do them. These are stylish, classy projects that are quick and easy.
How important is it to have kid-friendly components at parties?
I want the kids to walk away with a memory. Come up with an activity where the kids can bond with each other — like doing a play or craft. Usually, if they’re creating something, they’re happy and feel like they participated in the party. It’s important and fun to create traditions and memories.
Eating on the beach can be both awesome and annoying — the setting is gorgeous, the potential for sand and grit on your plate is gross. What’s the fix for this?
Pack individual bins. Sand spilling happens when you’re serving from large containers on the beach. Individual containers (get Chinese food containers at restaurant supply stores) help to avoid the passing and tipping of food into the sand.
Dinner on the beach is always a home run. Are there any other seaside entertaining ideas you love?
I think breakfast and brunch on the beach are great. I’ll bring bagels, juice and sliced fruit. I throw out contractor paper from Lowe’s and we rip a piece and put it in the sand with paints and brushes. The kids then paint while they’re eating. How easy and fun is that?
What time do you normally suggest for a garden party?
I think 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. is ideal, as this is usually a party for the ladies.
People love finger foods, unless they’re really hungry. At lunchtime, the lighter foods that accompany a garden party, while lovely, can be too light. What else can be served?
I like to do little turkey meatballs or chicken satay on a skewer that add a little more heft. They are still dainty, but hearty.
Is it appropriate to put a dress code for an at-home affair?
I don’t ever set dress codes. You set the tone of the party with the way you invite them — a formal invitation indicates if it’s going to be a more formal party.
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How did you come up with Personalized Design Solutions?
There was nothing out there where people could get decorating advice at a reasonable price. It’s hard to get quick-hit answers for small design problems. We’re offering that, as well as full design services at different price levels depending on the project.
How does it work?
Clients upload a photo of their room and submit a question about how to improve or change it. Our team of experts provide tips and suggestions. Or, people can also submit the room’s dimensions for a Room Make-Over Notebook — we tell you what to buy and you can click and order it right away. Depending on the budget we can source inexpensive finds. You can get great things at Target and Walmart!
Who is the ideal client for Personalized Designed Solutions?
It’s for people who, at any time in their lives, need a change. It’s also for people who have become comfortable with their personal style and are ready to move beyond the safe choices they first made and need help.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic?
Comfortable and inviting. I like things to look accidental and thrown together so it’s not intimidating. For parties, I usually do a self-serve element — make your own drink or I’ll ask someone to help me toss the salad. Jobs are a good ice-breaker. It comes off as laid back, but it’s anything but because I’ve orchestrated everything in advance.
How does interior design tap into your entertaining expertise?
Lifestyle is a holistic thing. I can’t plan a menu without thinking about what the table is going to look like, how guests will feel when they arrive and what music I’ll play. It all works together.
ABOUT KATIE BROWN: In addition to her PBS show Katie Brown Home Workshop, the Michigan-native and Ridgefield, CT, resident also has a syndicated New York Times column, “Domestic Dilemmas,” has written five books and has appeared on Oprah, Today and more. The parties pictured here are from Katie Brown’s Outdoor Entertaining.