personalized table runner from Minted.com
cupcakes with toppers from Minted.com
focus your party decorating on key, high-traffic areas like the buffet
a simple outdoor kids table is ready for a messy pizza lunch
at an outdoor birthday bash, tiny succulents make great favors for growing gardeners

Baby's First Party

Jessica Ahnert Davis

A while back I posted about holiday entertaining for adults and tots alike. Now: let’s talk about kids’ birthdays.  

My baby Lucy turned one in May, and as I am wont to do, I served up an extra-fun (some would say rather elaborate) birthday bash. My kids are right in the sweet spot where parents are still invited to birthday gatherings and the parties are just as much about the adults as they are about the kids. I'm sure that when they reach the age of drop-off birthdays I will care less about doing it up grown-up-style, but I'm taking advantage of it for now.  

I happen to believe that an easy, fun party can also be amazingly staged. That said, there is a happy medium between creating a beautiful, themed event and making sure your party feels light and carefree (we’re talking about kids, after all!).  It just requires a little concepting, prioritizing, and clever planning. Here are a few of my tips for creating a beautiful, stress-free event:

1. Decide on a theme and color palette and stick with it. For Lucy's party we went with a garden theme.  Our friends at Minted graciously offered to help us out, so I had some fun with their Botanical Affair party supplies.  After getting my bunting, table runner, confetti, and labels from Minted, I decided to run with the color palette and pulled out orange, yellow and pink as my main colors for other things that I needed to purchase.  

2. Get online.  After deciding on the general theme, I hopped on Pinterest and did a search for “garden party, kids birthday.”  My search turned up a) a lot of cheesy stuff, and b) a lot of stuff that was super-elaborate and nothing that I would want to attempt to pull off.  But I went ahead and created a pinboard that really helped me solidify what sort of tablescape and vibe I wanted to create. (Pinterest is also a great place to find ideas for favors and easy eats and treats.)  After creating my Pinterest board, I created a concept board for the overall event.  (Before I lose you with the concept board, let me add the disclaimer that people who don't have blogs could probably skip this step!)

3. Take advantage of online invites.  After solidifying the theme with Minted, I went over to Paperless Post and found a complementary invitation that worked well with my paper products.  Online invitations are so much less work and money than mailed ones, and make it that much easier to keep track of who is coming.  With so many classy invitations out there that mirror letterpress invites, why not go paperless?

4. Farm out the crafts.  For my son Bryan's first birthday, my mother-in-law and I spent hours cutting out craft paper animals for a banner. Never. Again. Thank goodness there are lots of people who enjoy all that cutting and glueing!  Places like Minted and Etsy have so many options; the Minted bunting I used was personalized and even included a photo of Lucy! 

5. Stick to simple, non-themed paper goods.  I know, I know: your kid wants a Thomas party. In that case, pick up a Thomas cake topper and use some Thomas stickers for the favor bags…But for the “centerpiece” items most parties look and feel a lot more sophisticated (and are more cost-effective) if the theme is Trains as opposed to Thomas (or Adventure as opposed to Dora).  This is especially true when it comes to paper goods.  I always pick up solid-colored napkins, plates, cups and cutlery (Party City often has buy-one-get-one-free promotions on their solid colored party supplies).  Why solids? Aside from the fact that they look better and don't scream "paper plates!" they are more versatile. All the yellow and orange stuff from Lucy's party will easily work again for Bryan's birthday — and maybe for an adult event as well. The pink stuff can be stored for Easter brunch.  Stick to solids, or if you have to do something else, pick a fun pattern like a stripe, polka-dot, or chevron.

6. Don't decorate your entire house. Focus on vignettes.  This is the single biggest mistake party novices make.  Just like with decorating, when you stage a party, things are more impactful when they are grouped.  If you sprinkle a few decorations everywhere they will get lost in the rest of your home decor.  But if you focus your decorating on one table or room — shebang! — you've gotten people's attention (and, bonus, things photograph better this way).  I bought flowers and had just three vases for my entire event.  I focused all of my energies on the main buffet table, the beverage table, and the kids’ dining table on the porch.  No party decor in my living room, on my back deck or elsewhere in my kitchen (even though of course guests were free to roam).

7. Don't sweat the cuisine. Keep it simple and kid-friendly.  I like to cook for small, intimate dinner parties — but not parties for 15 kids and 20 adults.  For Lucy's first birthday, there were a few make-ahead items like crudités, fruit salad (both of which I confess I bought pre-cut and just assembled on their respective platters), and salad, but otherwise pizza was the cuisine du jour.  I ordered a few plain pizzas for those with simpler palettes and a few fancier ones for the adults.  For dessert, cupcakes made by Sullivan Hill Sweets (a great local source).  

Voila!  One week before the event, I organized all my various supplies on a workstation (i.e., the guest bed).  For the two hours pre-party, we arranged  child-care to free ourselves for set-up.  But otherwise the party basically ran itself and I got to socialize and enjoy my kiddo turning one.  Now that's what I call a good birthday bash!

Photos: Jess Davis and Soyoung Oh, Dogear Press 
Special thanks to Minted for their support of this post.

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