Philosophy, Public, Themes

Housewarmings ASAP

Any occasion is an opportunity to party. I have moved several times, not just apartments but houses I have owned and not. The first as heady as the last and the key to settling so is to have a housewarming party as soon as possible.

There was a week staying at the Fairmont in San Francisco looking for a place to buy where a real estate agent picked us up every morning to tour all the nooks and crannies of the city and I was hungry the whole time for food, and possibly for something in my price range. I was cross there was no time in the house hunting agenda to eat and also to realize that I had no hand in the agenda in the first place! I threw fits then, internally I combusted. This was the housing lending boom of the early 2000’s– where pressure to buy was as high and willy-nilly as the extent the banks would loan you for. For the record, I said No. For the record, I said I was hungry for food.

The place we won we did for a price we were told we wouldn’t win it for. It was splitting hairs in my calling the owners bluff, I realize that now but I had had enough pushing and I was about to budge no further. For all the other offers on the table, I was surprised they chose ours in the first place. It was a tense and foodless experience up until our housewarming party thrown by the real estate agent. I credit her for large platters of shrimp, boxes under white tablecloths for presentation, creme puffs and quality picture framing. The moment she combined my apples and potatoes into the woven platter I had on the table “Look! It’s pommes and pommes de terre.” I forgave her everything and really adored whoever she was or would be from then on out. I committed. All the neighbors came. She invited friends she thought we ought to know. This was the beginning of a long life of meaningful, purposeful parties for me.

Before all that, there was the property manager showing me a studio apartment on 8th Ave across from Town Hall in Seattle. It was a birdhouse of a place, a few stories up, corner unit. This was a place of 12+ floors where some tenants have lived for 30+ years. I was looking at my future. She popped my dream cloud and pointed out the east window to a sliver between two skyscrapers downtown where I could see the sparkling Puget Sound. She consoled me before I could reflect on her first statement by drawing a line in the sand “Maybe someday you can have a full water view.” Oh that’s where you want the line to be, eh? I don’t think so. I think we are standing in a sliver view of you keeping your job if you don’t rent me this apartment, I talked to the maintenance man on the way up, I know you’re half full in tenants, and full up on riff raff. “I’ll take it!” I got it for $200 less than asking. It was a superb place. I loved there were so many windows, there wasn’t any wall space, and the french-doored bookcase (with a window in it!) that amounted to the kitchen–thoughtful in an embarrassing way, like a huge smile with crooked teeth. What can you do? The window sills sat below my ass, and a lot would fall out of those windows to the shrubs below over the years. Occasionally, I would go down to collect the things. I never lost a guest.

Once I moved into this place, I packed it with strangers for a housewarming party, and the result was that a casual gang emerged that looked out for me when it came to even stranger strangers in all my time there and that is probably why I am still alive to tell these stories today. They saved my laundry, they made sure I woke in the middle of the night when the fire alarm called for us to get the hell out, they walked the stairs with me instead of taking the elevator everybody did because one could easily go missing in the bellowous shaft of the stairwell. What then?

Bainbridge Island occurred to me just over a decade ago now. During a storm where a college professor gave us a driving tour of the island in places where the storm enraged the water sending waves over the road we tempted down. I didn’t know what the hell this place was but I knew I wanted to find out more then. We bought a condo off the plans, a reckless fever that lit us from within which worked out because we couldn’t really see the plan and associated model with the power out and all. In the pitch of dark, the real estate agent’s enthusiasm failed to wane; I remember really wanting her to calm the fuck down. We didn’t have a housewarming party, I had a baby instead so the parties centered around that which made a lot of sense. Parties are the balm to the ouch of living.

A couple months ago I moved into a house that is slotted to be torn down in a year. It is a fine shack of a place near the water that the real estate agent encouraged, “Mak it is funk-y and if anyone could make something of it, you can.” Then I did and I am. Straight-away I set on a housewarming plan, affixing the invite to bottles of wine, delivering to all the neighbors and hounding my well-worn friends and some family into attending, too. It was just the warming spirit this place needed! After that party I could settle in. It was as if the air shifted and started flowing in cahoots with me where before it was ominous and pokey and I had no idea if things would ride right. What I still can’t believe is the neighbor next door and the neighbor across the street each having lived here for several years, met each other for the very first time crammed thigh to thigh on the broken-down adirondack chairs I had rescued from the yard and wrestled onto the porch just for the occasion! This news thrilled me, tickled my toes even. I was too aghast with delight to say so then.

Regular people. I am regular people, too. The synergy of getting regulars together is something I have dedicated myself to because there is nothing else I am so good at. There is an obviousness about the craft that flows through me and I just allow it. Well, I wrestle with it, too. Fight, disagree, ignore and still–it finds me just in time and asap.

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The day after a party is my favorite. I get to reflect… and notice things I didn’t before that brighten my already sunshiney review. Things like the faces on these flowers here.

“Home isn’t a place… it’s a feeling.” – Cecelia Ahern

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Public, Themes

Spoon Social

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New restaurant–Open but not ready for Grand Opening–makes it’s debut and welcomes a series of parties echoing the heart of the place. When parties serve as a call for a decided match in clientele, no matter the game, it is a win for all. You don’t have to capture all the people to make a place or party successful, just the right people at the right place and those are exactly those that show-up. That is it. It is as magical and as plain as it sounds.

Staying home is magical and plain too, I get it. A burgeoning hermit as there ever was, I find the collection of a few dowdy people (besides me) creates a lot more to live for than I ever could create on my own. I think this is a human way and so I don’t take it too personally. It is a matter of human nature to socialize, to connect for real. When we forgo connection for a variety of reasons and excuses, we have a hand in creating the problems we see in the world and deny ownership of yet suffer for.

If you didn’t have your reasons and excuses, what would you be doing now? How would you suffer less?

xx

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Themes

Field Games

Early in the day before anything has a good chance of happening is a perfect time for a kid party. Rented parks cabin to roll out onto a hilltop green to a catered brunch and field games. No matter if any kids show-up for this horribly situated birth date for parties smack-dab in the middle of vacation season, the adults have a ball. To plan a party in the highest esteem is the only party that ought to be planned.

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Themes

Salon (French)

I spend no time behind a camera to create these happenings. A photographer is missing perhaps. Needless to say, it is possible to provide for a score of regular women to show-up donned in formal attire for an aristocratic lounge-like dining experience that contrasts splendidly amid the set of a broken-down house built in the 20’s.

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Themes

Study cum Dance Hall

Old Boar

Brazen detention of sorts. Piped loud music and chinese takeout into a long hall with low ceilings, chock-full of antiques, stuffed with couches and chairs ripe for the kibitzing. Games included people bingo (where you collect a lesser know fact about each guest and place at random on a bingo card) so guests must find out who ‘won the seattle marathon’ for instance which gives rise to a connection each time a bingo square is mastered. What happens is these connections fill-up the place with the buzz of your dreams in no time flat. An icebreaker is paramount to any mixer going off without a hitch. For everything else there is the taxi and the sleepover. Be a good host and see your guests to and through your event carefully so they may readily, steadily party again.

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Themes

Van Parity

2 Volkswagen Vanagons, 1 camp site, 10 people and a guitar. The challenge was to create an intimate social gathering within a public campsite. The solution was to corral the vans, pop the tent tops, park them parallel with sliding doors open–creating social space between and within the vans. Served traditional camp foods, plattered along with a single tray of Mai Tais to start, each just short of plastering. Bubbly to finish. All under the tin twinkle of a few string lights under battery-power. Effortlessly we glow camping.

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Themes

Rooftop Dance Party

This party is perfect for someone who loves to dance, and wants to amongst a bunch of people that they know. The benefit of creating a party space where there wasn’t one before is that you are free from the trappings of apathy which tend to pervade places that extend themselves in a certain way for too long. You know you are in a place like this when the corners seem stale. Stale is only good for bread and for the birds.

Objective

Facilitate a dance scene reminiscent of a hot Miami night on a rooftop except on Bainbridge Island.

Details

  • Guests: 50-80
  • Rooftop adjacent to the art museum was something I had been eyeing since its construction. Several introductions, personal emails, and emails on my behalf later, I had it booked and insured–as a gift no less! The universe wanted this party to occur, clearly, and so I pressed on.  To the police station.

Note: It’s important to consider all the people you may effect and try to mitigate circumstances before they occur.  For a perceived positive impact: look to extend. For a perceived negative impact: look to hedge.  Big mistakes are made when the focus is too narrow, although one cannot avoid mistakes altogether as long as one is human, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Be merciful because the less beat-up you are, the more fun you will have.

  • Get all the permits. Meet the police. Find out who will be on duty that night, and send a personal email. Make it clear to everyone that you are a law-abiding citizen and wish to remain so.
  • Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Plan as if someone will call the police to complain.  I proposed to the police chief that callers be given options: a) attend the party, or b) a trade of 2 hours community service by yours truly in exchange for them shutting their pie hole, er…allowing the dance music to blast through midnight.
  • Assign someone to manage the police the day of the event.
  • Signs/Directions: Consider all possible entrances and exits, decide the best, and sign affectionately.

Props

  • Outfit outdoor fireplace area at the entrance with rug and throw pillows to affect a posh and inviting scene.
  • Consider lines of sight from all major areas. Adjust furniture and props accordingly. (I prefer to do this process alone because it looks weird to do, and I cannot be concerned with how I look at this stage or the space will suffer.)
  • Hand-lettered signs–food, bathroom, %alc on the beer in the keg, etc.
  • White tablecloths for food areas, patterned tablecloths and pillowed seating at cafe tables.

Note: Why mix it up, re: tablecloths?  You have a bunch of tables, why not give all tables white tablecloths? The answer is, you are communicating to people what to do within a space in a variety of ways, and if successful, you will facilitate connection between people. Using cues to minimize conflict between people and the space they are in is key.

The tablecloth color was one of the ways I communicated what was happening within each space so people could spend their energy on other, more fruitful things like socializing. Also, signage. You know how it feels when you are running around looking for the bathroom. Terrible. You’re in a panic, and probably not connecting with people as a result. Social events tend to be short and so there really isn’t time to recover from something like this: it’s a good night if you don’t pee your pants. Set the bar higher.

  • Situate cafe tables to emphasized the dance floor, like hands holding prayer space.
  • String lights, crisscrossing over the dance floor, further delineating the dance space and creating warmth.
  • Hobbled glass candle holders at tables, another layer of lighting and texture.  Ideally, there are at least 3 layers of light in any scene. This provides that comfortable feeling you can’t quite put your finger on.  It’s like a light hug, feels so good.

Note: Layer textures for delight. Take a view of a space and make it flat, like a picture. Identify the textures in the picture to see that they are alternating well. For example: floor–sandy, gritty | table–steel, smooth, hard | tablecloth–soft, flat, patterned | candle holder–nubby texture, solid | space above table–blurry mess of movement | string lights–solid, steady.

  • Pick a color palette.  I chose a sunset at the beach theme: blues up high, reds and oranges at midline, ground the color and texture of sand–this detail delighted me most because I could have it no other way without a ton of effort, and the way it was could be no better.

Outfit

Vintage silk shorts/tank onesie in a flowering squash pattern with onyx buttons cast in gold frames down the front; black-glitter keds; spray tan.

Food & Entertainment

Interactive Art

Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company. – Rachel Naomi Remen

It started with a couple of extra large picture frames, burning a hole in my garage:  an interactive art piece to be created at the party.

I had two existential-type questions that I had planned to fashion the words out of felt or wire and affix to the top of the frames.  With my dear neighbor during the odd hours, we made die-cuts in two shapes, one to represent each question on which guests could write their answers with a hearty ballpoint pen, and affix somewhere within the respective frame. One frame was black, one what white, I had mats made (Julie’s Frames) to bring the initially blank visuals up a notch. I eyed them for weeks. I was thrilled.

As it happened, I ditched this idea in favor of keeping the dancing interaction, front and center.  Sometimes you will find that more is more, and thank your lucky stars when you do.  Just because an idea is great, doesn’t mean you have to use it.  This is one of the most important lesson I have learned in curating parties.

Any unanswerable questions?  I’m yours.

xx

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Themes

Camp Beverly Hills

What I love about this party theme is that it takes advantage of the warm weather–a prize in the Northwest, a fun mix of women, and a particularly landscaped backyard, effortlessly.

Objective

Create an outdoor space to promote social connection in way that had likely not been experienced before, and in a fashion that would engage every guest for the occasion of a birthday.

Details

  • Seated dinner for 8-10 people
  • Make use of a backyard with graduated landscape, including large boulders and mature, evergreen trees.
  • Pick on an outdoor theme that excites me, which is something nearly over the top, that I have most props handy or borrowable for (in an effort keep the proverbial bank intact), and I can imagine each guest being engaged within.
  • Discover enough about each guest in advance of the party so I could imagine how they might act in the party scene that I was slotting for fruition.

Note: People are the hardest part about throwing an effective party. More on this in my next article about the power of one dud in eight to ruin things. Joy! Right? Hey, we can’t prevent what we don’t talk about.

  • Seed the party theme with guests by sending invitations written in the form and style of a camp call (the bugle not withstanding).
  • Figure the arrival experience.  At the side of the house there was a gated arbor entrance with a stepping stone path that bent around to the backyard.
  • Create element of surprise. Contrary to the popular guest-receiving at the front door of any house, I presented a shuttling the guests around back as a finer, more on-theme experience.

Note: Creating the element of surprise if often the hardest won detail of any party.

  • To accommodate the entrance surprise, I create several visual directives, aiding the guests to come around back by the path and not up to the front door. We had nary a folly. Note: If I had to do it again, I would have included auditory and olfactory cues as well, such as music and fire.
  • Consider transitions and only take the absolute necessary or pleasant ones. For instance, if guests went through the front door, they would have had to find their way through the house and out the back, to get to the backyard.  This would have been too much transition, and also, we could have lost a few.

Note: If you are OK with losing a few guests, those are exactly the people who you ought not to invite in the first place. Don’t miss the point of the party for the social pressure. Invite only the people you want to connect with now.

  • Select and fashion props to look like a girl scout setup camp except for a few finer details.

Props

  • Large canvas tent, covered on all sides
  • Indoor dining table and chairs
  • Bandana napkins
  • Cowhide rug
  • Flag pole and flag fashioned with bamboo pole, guy lines, and staked out. (Higher budget: custom flag and shirts)
  • Vintage Hudson’s Bay blankets
  • 60’s kitchen cart
  • Gas fire pit
  • Gas lanterns
  • Music: campy, 50’s 60’s tunes

Outfit

Long button-up linen dress, extra-wide brimmed hat, compass necklace, clipboard, lace-up boots, lipstick.

Food

  • Appetizer: nuts, cheese, fruit (Town & Country Market)
  • Vegetarian chili in sourdough bread bowels (Cooks Illustrated)
  • Layered chocolate cake with wildflowers (Blackbird Bakery)
  • Drink: Local boxed wine and natural sodas in cans (Badger Mountain, Hansen’s)

Game

I’m a sucker for games, or some planned part of the event that is designed specifically to draw members together. Games provide a focus and certainty about connecting people, and are not for the faint of party hosts.

For this event I initiated “camp stories” which provided that we go around the table, taking turns telling a personal story. Guests could pass when their turn came if they chose. All guests shared, there was hooting and hollering, and we laughed until we cried.

The neighbors offered-up the next morning that we sounded like we were having a great time, and they were glad.

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“Never miss a party… good for the nerves… like celery.” ―F. Scott Fitzgerald
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