Tips & Techniques

5 Party Ideas We're Stealing From Event Designer David Stark

December 15, 2015

It's challenging enough to pull off a menu and basic decorations for a dinner party, but when you're throwing a big event—a wedding, let's say—going the extra mile is part of the deal. Which is why we went looking for some tips from the professionals.

NYC event expert David Stark is this little town's preeminent party planner, known for decorations that are more akin to art installations than centerpieces; he's put together bashes for Beyoncé. To help inspire those with events of their own to plan this season, he shared some pictures from 5 of his most memorable fetes—with ideas that you can adapt to parties of all shapes and sizes.

1. Tease the party with the invitations.

"A party invitation is like the coming attraction of a film," Stark says, "so have it be reflective of the magic to come at your celebration." This suite of invitations he had designed by Cheree Berry for a young book lover's party makes it clear what the feel of the event will be without giving away too much. Plus, using this tactic encourages more themed parties—and we're all about that.

2. Light things up.

"There’s strength in numbers!" Stark says of this field of glowing lanterns he designed for a bash. "Sure, they can be set out on entry tables or hooked on the wall, but lanterns are a real surprise when clustered on lawns and walkways, elevating their placement and configuration into the realm of installation art. There are never too many!" We agree that it gives a mystical feel to the space, almost quilting the lawn— especially since the lanterns are of all shapes and sizes, in clusters of all numbers.

3. Don’t be afraid to mix patterns.

The above color palette, which is both playful and sophisticated, was created by hand-painting the patterns on muslin, which was then turned into a table covering and seat cushions. "Whether you paint by hand or simply buy patterned fabrics, pick a color palette and make sure you have shifts in scale," Stark says. The difference in sizes—one pattern that's zoomed in and graphic against a small one that's more like a field of pattern—will make even contrasting colors or a range in fabrics work together.

4. Customize paper lanterns.

"A paint brush and some acrylic paint are all you need!" Stark says, encouraging hosts to create a custom message or pattern on glowing paper lanterns. "Here, on the lanterns and walls, we listed all of the names of the artists in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art for a recent Whitney gala." For a more everyday party, you could have guests each submit a wish for the new year, or a dream guest they'd love to dine with—and script them all over the (disposable parts of the) decor.

5. Go green.

For the Swan Ball in Nashville (a chic event that benefits the Cheekwood Estate and Garden), Stark had the tent draped with a printed material that gave the impression of a natural surrounding. "When it comes to party decor, greens are often thought of as a filler to flowers—but we beg to differ," he says. "The world of foliage is wondrous, special, and varied—and worth embracing as the star of your table or decor."

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.