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.

signature

Themes

Van Parity

Gallery
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.

signature

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