8 Ways to Create an Intimate and Elegant Birthday Party

When you’re planning a birthday party for your closest friends and family, it’s important to have the party essentials dialed in and layer after. In honor of our 50th anniversary this year, I reached out to our friend and party expert, Holly Becker who has authored four books on decorating to share her favorite must-do tips when throwing an elegant birthday party at home. Read her eight tips below.

Start with a neutral, solid canvas. I personally don’t like patterned tablecloths but prefer a natural, white or cream linen. If I want to add color and layers, I’ll add a solid table runner in a color but normally, I don’t bother—I let my food, wine and flowers be the colorful stars of the show. With a neutral backdrop, you can get away with owning only three tablecloths instead of a drawer full of assorted patterns and colors that may or may not match. Keep it simple.

Theme the rest of your table color palette with your dishes and wines on the table. For instance, seafood linguine pairs lovely with a chardonnay, whereas a rack of lamb is best with a rich cabernet sauvignon. Not only do they pair well together on the palate, they also look beautiful together on the table. I recommend choosing 3-5 dominant colors. In this birthday party set-up, I went with white and cream tones, plus natural tones of green, rose and soft browns.

If you’re looking to save yourself some time, I recommend purchasing flower bouquets from your local farmer’s market to place in vases for your table. If you prefer to create your own flower arrangement, this is a handy recipe to follow: Start with 1-3 large flowers, add 5-7 smaller blooms and use additional greenery as fillers—eucalyptus pods, cow parsley or branches. This recipe will create what you see in my photos—a medium-size arrangement that fits a four- to six-top dinner table. I also recommend arranging your flowers with floral foam so you get the shape you want. (You’ll also use less florals, which will save you money that you can reallocate into your wine budget.)

Always have a small party gift for your guests on every plate. It’s always a nice gesture to thank your guests for coming. For this birthday party, I made my friends small flower bunches (leftover from my table arrangements) to pin onto their shirt or wear in their hair. A few other ideas include chocolate bars that you re-wrap in pretty paper, a small scented candle or an extra cupcake to take home. Remember: Your gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be special.

If you want some celebratory flair, add some sparklers. You can place sparklers on top of a cake, cupcakes or donuts—anything delicious that your friends and family prefer. The important thing is to have your camera ready because the sparklers create such a festive backdrop.

If a traditional birthday cake isn’t your thing, try something special like lemon-filled cheesecake muffins from a local bakery and stack them on a cake plate so they become a focal point on your table. I suggest adding some edible gold leaf on top to make the plate pop.

Serve your wine out of classic but beautiful wine glasses for festive dinners like a 50th birthday party. I prefer to use my handblown wine glasses that I purchased in Italy because of their sentimental value and gorgeous shape. Riedel and Baccarat also make elegant crystal glassware that I love serving for special occasions.

Never, ever forget the power of a good music playlist and candlelight—even during the daytime. For music, I suggest Spotify, but I also use a lot of the playlists on iTunes and Pandora. Let the music and candlelight put your guests at ease and in a celebratory mood.

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