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The Perfect Party

The Perfect Party
Photo by David Schmit

(page 1 of 2)

Entertaining is back. We’ve spent enough time feeling badly, haven’t we? It’s high time we make our own fun, even if it isn’t a so-called special occasion. Party-throwing seems like an art, but it is possible to balance simplicity, budget, and the wow factor. ¶ We were thrilled to snag our shoot location: local hostess-with-the-mostest and fashion designer Anne M. Cramer opened her gorgeous abode to us and, in her offer, embodied the graciousness and irreverence that gives any party a pitch-perfect tone. We set to work to show how one setting—in this case, Anne’s dining and living rooms—can work for any kind of gathering, from morning casual chic to dinner-and-cocktails sleek.


Bridal and baby showers, retirements, graduations—a significant portion of our celebrating is  done by day. Morning or afternoon parties may feel less formal, but they don’t have to be any less polished.

Set the tone with a mailed paper invitation. Design and wording will clue your guests into what to expect and provide a starting place to decorate, says Antoinette Ramos, owner of Paperista, an invitation-design company in Minneapolis.

Mixing tone-on-tone colors is simple, and, when reflected in even the smallest details, makes a big impact. Blues, from sky to cobalt, feel fresh for spring parties. Throw out the old gender tropes when considering color. (We love how, at left, the cake decorations match the polka-dot takeaway boxes  and M&Ms.)


Don’t overwhelm guests—or yourself—with a heavy menu for daytime parties. Keep light and easy finger foods on hand for snacking. We’d order a plate of sliders or the Pattycakes mini-cupcakes from Yum! in St. Louis Park.  A showstopping cake on a stand makes a dazzling centerpiece until it becomes dessert.

Popcorn balls tinted with food coloring  are a perfect treat for little ones and look great on the table. Plus, they can serve as a dessert, a snack, or a sugary takeaway.


“Most people don’t feel comfortable drinking wine during the morning or early afternoon, but they have no problem with it once you add bubbles,” says Tim Edmunds, wine director and educator for Crave restaurants. “Go with Prosecco. It’s cheaper than Champagne  and will please more palates. ”

Be Merry.

Daytime allows for more whimsy than evening might. “Retro touches are a strong trend,” says Marissa Onheiber, owner of InsertStyle, a styling company in Minneapolis. “Simple-made-modern details like straws, buntings, and retro sodas easily incorporate the look into any setting.”  Throwback details help guests recall more playful times—but the party will still feel pulled together.

Cheap Thrills

Small design details can make a big difference without adding a lot to your budget. We loved the graphic impact of this vintage ice bucket (from Hopkins Antiques) and these Jean Paul Gaultier-designed water bottles (on discount at T.J. Maxx).

Expert Advice on Invitations

Erin Newkirk, owner of Red Stamp, an online stationery and invitations company based in Minneapolis, answers our etiquette questions on invitations and RSVPs.
• Make it easy to reply. List multiple ways to RSVP—phone, email, Facebook.
• Add a deadline. It gives guests a timeline, and it gives you a reason to reach out if you don’t receive a response.
• Send invites early. You need a head count for planning and guests need time to make their own
arrangements to be there.

Decked-out DÉcor

Big, round balloons as party décor feel modern again. Same goes for buntings, which can trumpet an honored guest or sentiment. Their simple nature makes them low-cost at party-supply stores or on Etsy.com. DIY works, too!


Cocktail dresses, bow ties, sequins, and martini shakers. A few simple elements can make an evening party seem ritzy.

“It’s not so coincidental that home entertaining and Mad Men are on the rise at the same time,” says Marissa Onheiber, owner of InsertStyle, a styling company based in Minneapolis. “There is this dinner-party connection in the way we dress, entertain, design, and style our homes that has become a trend.”

Amp up the drama with evening parties. A dinner party can never go wrong in classic black-and-white, accented  with sequinned  runners and and mixed metallics—something that would feel garish by day. No overhead lights, please! Illuminate your space with lots and lots of candles. It sets a sophisticated mood and makes us all look younger.


An evening party—even a formal dinner party—doesn’t have to mean hours and hours in the kitchen. Consider hiring help—even just for last-minute prep work or to plate and serve. Or save some cash by asking a good-natured friend or relative (who wouldn’t otherwise be invited to  the party, of course) to pass plates and mix drinks.

Borrow a breakfast menu for dinner. It keeps prep simple and it’s on trend. Order individual quiches—we love the ones at Patrick’s Bakery & Café in Minneapolis. Pair them with an elegant green salad. Done!


Edmunds suggests pairing wines “density to density”—the light flavors of shellfish need a lighter-bodied white, while a medium-bodied white like Viognier or Chardonnay stands up to a more heavily flavored chicken satay. Or pair based purely on flavor contrast: For example, sweeter wines, such as Riesling, balance spicy Asian cuisine. 

Be Merry.

Is the guest list a mix of family, coworkers, softball-team members, and out-of-towners? It’s your job to connect future friends. “Make sure you introduce guests as they arrive to someone with a common interest,” says Erin Newkirk, owner of Red Stamp, an online stationery store based in Minneapolis. “Give a little context for each person. Chat for a few minutes, then return to your other duties.”

Expert Advice on Planning

Marissa Onheiber is the owner of InsertStyle, a party and styling business in Minneapolis. Here, a few of her observations:

  • If you’re planning a party and thinking it isn’t fun, call a planner.  It will show in your party if you are stressed out.
  • Party planners have great relationships with caterers, rental companies, and other vendors, which means you might save money or get a vendor that would otherwise be booked. 
  • People are definitely doing smaller-scale, more intimate parties, and planners can help with those—it doesn’t need to be a giant production.

The Glassory

Be prepared to serve drinks and cocktails in their proper vessels. Glassware can get very specific, but a good basic bar is stocked with Champagne flutes, glasses for both red and white wine, martini glasses, and, of course, the shaker.

Cheap Chic

A statement piece or two can set the mood, without breaking the bank. The silver asymetic vase made an excellent mantlepiece; and the black pillar worked in place of a candelabra on the dining table. (They cost just $40 and $20 at HomeGoods.) 

* See behind the scenes of our parties photoshoot at MNMO.com/parties.

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