Story by Shawna Davidson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography
I think of my home as more than just my sanctuary, it’s a reflection of my style and personality. So when planning for an outdoor gathering I wanted to bring the inside out, creating an extension of my home. The goal was to transport my small guest list to a backyard dreamland, creating multiple safe spaces to celebrate a small break from reality. When creating any gathering, ambiance is at the top of the list. I try to envision the perfect balance of décor, food, beverage and lighting. In this month's issue, I will show you how I pieced together an intimate getaway with thrifted decor, and of course, a fully stocked sanitation station.
Meet the Party Planners
I’m an original Fargo girl, born and raised. I love thrifting, decorating my home with those treasures, making art, hanging out and entertaining. With family vacations and romantic weekend getaways postponed or canceled, this year has been a challenge, to say the least. We have avoided our usual entertaining and large gatherings with friends and family, but as human beings, we still craved that social interaction and felt isolated without it.
As summer is fading away and with fall fast approaching, I decided with a little forethought, hard work, and lots of handwashing and sanitizer, I could throw that fabulous outdoor party… just on a smaller, safer scale. Ok, who am I kidding, Iris Apfel’s “More is More & Less is A Bore” saying is my current motto. So, I went big with décor, because that’s just who I am. A smaller guest list, single-serving dishes, hand sanitizing stations, and several small sitting areas to help guests feel more comfortable, made it all possible.
Like most of you, I haven’t entertained since Christmas and I am more than ready to carefully get back up on that horse. Luckily for me, my best friend has a serious passion for throwing over the top parties. Lynette Neuschwander is also a North Dakota girl who loves to decorate her house and entertain on “another level”. She surely didn’t disappoint on this one and certainly raised that bar on throwing a spectacular party. You could say we are two peas in a pod. We have a mutual love of thrifting and decorating with inexpensive finds. Besides candles, two bunches of flowers, limes and food/beverages, we didn’t spend any money. Using what you already have is the key.
The Backyard Oasis
We created several areas to sit, converse, and sip some bubbly. Bringing inside furniture outside is an easy way to bring elegance and sophistication to the space. Transforming your outdoor area into a charming atmosphere relies on enticing all the senses.
Create areas that are pleasing to the eye. To achieve this, indoor rugs, soft pillows, draped linens, and lighting were added for coziness. Through simple mood lighting, you can create an amazing atmosphere for any outdoor space. If you want to make a big impact, candlelight is the winner! I think it is the simplest biggest bang for your buck. Our bodies are sensitive to light and candlelight easily elevates your senses. I used tapers, pillars, votives, and flameless candles in areas where they might get bumped. “While using all different shapes and sizes, keeping all candles the same color helps unify the spaces,” said Neuschwander.
I chose to decorate with things I already had and spend my money on nice champagnes, wines and food that guests will appreciate. Keep it simple - cold dishes on hot summer nights are perfect.
Choosing the right music makes your guests feel a certain way. I chose a nice soft Jazz to enhance the experience, personally, it makes me feel “fancy”.
My favorite! I love walking into a space and smelling a lovely candle, so why not use them outside? While I have no problem spending money on a “good” candle, I use inexpensive ones outside. No need to worry about wax and smoke residue outside. An aromatic candle flickering as the sun goes down can create a playful and inviting atmosphere.
Keep hand sanitizing and mask stations handy, by placing these items on a tray or in a dish. Even a “Sanitation Station” can be pretty! Keep Paper towels and disinfectant wipes in the bathroom, your guests will appreciate it. Single bottles of alcohol and water, plus single-serving dishes cut down on how many hands have touched them.
Welcome to the Party!
The Dining Area
A vintage, floral pink rug was placed under an elegant, whimsical table fit for Queen Elizabeth herself. It's actually a folding table draped with thrifted linens and topped with a vintage rug from my living room. Yes, a rug (which was recently cleaned). Put unexpected things in unexpected areas.
“Shop thrift stores for napkins, tablecloths, and placemats in basic colors, many have only been used once or not at all,” said Neuschwander. Lynette lent us her “Royalty” chairs, which she thrifted for her daughter’s wedding and spray painted gold… at $20 each. They are true show stoppers! Oodles of brass candlesticks were grouped together and topped with glass votive cups to keep the candles lit if the wind picked up. These are very versatile and move around quite frequently in my home to make a statement. I just love a flickering candle dancing to the music, well, in my mind it is!
A round table was added as a serving station for food, and quite frankly, for drama. Again layered up with linens and a tapestry. White and gold china plates stacked under glass cloches with simple inexpensive lettuce on them provide a nice pop of color. When asked about the varying heights on the table, Lynette commented, "Different lifts and levels are appealing to the eyes and keep things interesting."
We served shrimp cocktail with cucumbers and a sprig of basil, an arugula pear salad, and grilled, spicy honey glazed scallops, prepared by my son, Alex Davidson. I recommend a hand sanitizer station if people are serving themselves or have a designated “sanitized” person to fill glasses.
Since we did have to use some of the bigger pieces of outdoor furniture, a throw blanket was tossed over the back to hide the “lawn furniture” look. Pillows and a rug from inside helped to shape a wonderful place to sip champagne with a friend and watch the candlelight reflect off the water in the pool. Turning on the firepit as the evening goes on adds another level of light and creates an alluring gathering point.
The Champagne Bar
Pink and gold champagne bottles keep the color theme going… yes, I buy things for their color and labels, ha. As Lynette said, "Don’t be overwhelmed by color, try to keep a tight color scheme. Pick a neutral and one or two accents, this will help make your decorating easier.” I recently purchased the three-tier basket for $9 at The Dakota Boys Ranch, sprayed it gold, and filled it with artificial and real limes which can be used later. “A beautiful display of limes or lemons can really make a statement and are a lot more cost-effective than flowers,” said Neuschwander.
Several linens were draped over the bar and thrifted curtains were added to soften the space and to make it feel like a room. The two vintage hanging lights again add that touch of mood lighting. This was a favorite area for people to mingle in.
The Playhouse AKA “My Tiny Art Studio”
I spruced up the outside and painted the door a soft pink. Thrifted birds and a shelf were sprayed gold and added. Two chairs and a small table from inside set up a small sitting area for two to enjoy. A couple stems of lilies and some greenery I had laying around filled in to make a beautiful bouquet. I always grab cheap greenery when I see it, I look for seasonal clearance sales; it’s a great way to spread out those expensive fresh flowers. Inside is a Palm Beach vibe… with a few works in progress.
Capture the Mood
When planning that special evening, think about how you want your guests to feel in your outdoor space; use fragrance, mood lighting and accessories to create the mood. Bringing indoor pillows and rugs outside, help shape a perfect atmosphere that enables guests to relax, safely interact with one another and enjoy the evening.
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