I planned a fab-fab-fabulous 50th birthday party for myself a couple of years ago (If I had waited for my husband to give me a party, I'd be still waiting!) and I have had several requests to share with you the planning that went into it, so here you go.....
A successful party has many ingredients, just like a recipe. If you mix it up with just the right amount of love, caring, and big spoonfuls of organization, you will have a party you will never forget, just like I did.
|One of the four Tiffany box-like cakes from Beautiful Cakes by Ron.|
(All photos by Barbara Banks)
|A close-up of one the boxes in the entry hall vignette.|
Even though I planned the entire party myself, I was able to enjoy every minute of it. The decorations were simple, but impactful, the food was catered and served by an attentive Michael's On East staff, and all the entertainment was on time and prepared. The key of course, is organization.
I kept a notebook where I entered everything. I visually walked through the entire party in my head concentrating on the five senses – what my guests would hear, see, touch, smell, and taste. Early on I visited my venue and took lots of photos. I then placed them in order of what my guests would encounter as they moved throughout the event. Analyzing each photo, I could see what needed to be done. I wrote down everything that needed to be done in each room – what I needed to buy, order, or make, then checked it off, as each task was completed. I also used that list when I was loading up my car the day of the event, so I wouldn’t miss packing anything. But let me start at the beginning….
|My two daughters, Holleigh and Kristin, who helped me immensely the day of the event. They are terrific daughters!|
I knew I wanted something special to mark my 50th birthday. It had to be elegant and refined, yet fun and meaningful. I knew it had to be luncheon and I wanted 50 of my best girlfriends to attend. Now came the hardest and most important part or ingredient – deciding on a theme.
I had always loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Audrey Hepburn. The Truman Capote novel was written in 1957, the year of my birth, and published a year later. When I perused the Internet for some starting ideas, they all had to do with weddings or really weren’t of the caliber that I wanted my party to be, so I started from scratch.
Invitations are tres important for setting the mood right from the start. My favorite stationery store special-ordered a design that was perfect! It was in the shape of a blue Tiffany box with a white satin ribbon. The top of the “box” flipped open and a large cutout of a diamond ring was inside, as was card stock that had the actual invitation printed on it.
Renting the gorgeous and historic Phillippi Estate Mansion for the setting proved to be perfect. Its gleaming wood floors, crystal chandeliers, and beguiling French doors set the perfect tone. Guests were welcomed by a guitar and flute duo seated at the beginning of the walkway to the mansion. Strains of Moon River wafted out to accompany guests on the way into the mansion. A row of white mums were placed in front of the musicians and ten Tiffany blue shopping bags were the base for blue, white and black balloons lining the walk to the front door.
|Musicians serenade arriving guests with Moon River.|
|Tiffany blue bags with balloons and rose petals on the entrance walkway.|
Once inside, guests found me standing there to greet them. I had set up a vignette on the polished wood buffet in the foyer. Placed on it was a large (24 x 36) framed black and white poster of Audrey Hepburn seated at a table in Tiffany’s. In front of the poster were my antique silver tea set and a silver basket, lined with a Battenberg napkin, holding two croissants. Next to that was a vase with a single red rose. On one side of the tea set were two large Tiffany shopping bags with white tissue, pearls, and a cigarette holder and on the other side were several different sizes of Tiffany boxes with pearl necklaces draped over them. Everything was set on a sumptuous black velvet cloth, just like at the jewelers!
|The setting-the-mood themed vignette in the foyer.|
A violinist playing classical music strolled amongst the guests as they enjoyed hors d’ oeuvres and champagne in the wood paneled library. A huge poster of Audrey looking in the Tiffany’s window was placed on the fireplace mantel, while more Tiffany boxes were placed on either side. Vases of red roses filled up the deep window sills.
|A vignette on the mantel in the library where guests enjoyed cocktails.|
A lush floral scent wafted through the mansion. I had scented candles burning in the foyer and in both bathrooms that were close to the front door. Speaking of the bathrooms, I didn’t forget to decorate those either! As the mansion is owned by the county and operated by the parks department, the bathroom had institutional accoutrements, which I changed out and enhanced. I brought in Tiffany blue rugs, new wastepaper baskets, towel holders/towels, and beautiful bottles to hold liquid soap. I also set up a small vignette on the table – an 11x15 head shot of Audrey on a small easel, the candle, and vases of red roses.
Two standing easels were set on either side of the doorway leading into the large living room where lunch was being served. On one easel was yet another black and white poster of Audrey and on the other was a small triptych of Audrey photos and the seating chart.
|As guests entered the living room through the north sunroom, they passed the easel on the right with the seating chart.|
Two long tables, each seating 25, were covered with luscious Tiffany blue tablecloths. Each table had two Tiffany box-like cakes and three bowls of fragrant white roses. Interspersed between the roses and the cakes, strands of pearls were languidly arranged around with jaw-breaker sized faux diamonds. I found the perfect white ceramic bow place card holders to hold my calligraphy written place cards. Each setting had large glass chargers that were rimmed with silver beads. The chairs were white chevaliers. Over the fireplace was a brightly colored photo of Audrey in Tiffany’s mimicking the blue, black, white theme of the party.
|The living room with the colorful Tiffany's poster on the mantel, which included all the colors in the elegant room.|
|A close-up of the place setting.|
The menu was exquisite and sophisticated - just like Audrey! We started with a creamy artichoke bisque, followed by a colorful lobster salad – mounded in the shell and surrounded by tropical fruits, and then ended with three different flavored cakes – carrot with crème cheese filling, butter pecan with caramel filling, and chocolate with peanut butter filling.
|The artichoke bisque|
|The lobster salad|
I had struggled with deciding on the appropriate lunch-time “entertainment” and ended up with the perfect choice. The one male at the party was my good friend, Cliff Roles, who is an actor and photographer. I asked him to “perform” for ten minutes. I gathered lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the movie and Audrey that he then told stories about, adding his proper English accent and comic timing. He was a huge hit, especially because he was friends with most of the guests. He performed between the soup and salad. Then as dessert was served, I stood up and went person by person and briefly told each of my dear friends how they had impacted my life and how important they each were to making me into the woman I am today.
|Cliff Roles sharing movie trivia and tidbits.|
|Me, sharing with everyone what they meant to me and my life.|
At the conclusion of my remarks, the party was over. Guests departed through the dining room which was set up with a large table. At one end of the table was a large colorful drawing of Audrey in poster form on a table easel. In the middle were two large silver trays that held the party favor gift bags and on the other end was a huge standing silver candelabra and a vase overflowing with full-blown pink roses.
The favor was a special anniversary edition of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie. They were placed in white glossy bags with black tissue peeking out the top. I had “Debbi’s 50th birthday, Nov. 8, 2007” printed on large round white stickers encircled with Tiffany blue dots that were then placed on the front of the bags and the handles were tied with satin Tiffany blue ribbon.
|The party favor bags holding the Breakfast at Tiffany's movie.|
I had a few stumbling blocks along the way to planning the perfect party. I had ordered ornate silver cake plateaus for each of the cakes to sit on. Two days before the party, they had still not shown up. The supplier had ordered them from another vendor and they had never been shipped. I was beside myself, but what could I do? My caterer ended up providing clear glass blocks for them to sit on and my cake baker placed the cakes on silver foil covered pieces of wood. They looked fine and only I knew they were supposed to have been something else, but I was still disappointed. I like things to be perfect!
Overall, the challenges were few and minor. The important thing was that my guests felt loved and appreciated and my 50th birthday memories will carry me deliciously into the next half of my life. And in the end, that’s all you can really ask for.
|The living room set for lunch.|