Happy Menocal’s art of the last minute summer dinner party

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As anyone who’s ever cringed while serving a dozen ramekins of flat soufflés can tell you, preparing for a dinner party can be a lot of work. Or, it can be a wonderful last minute adventure, which is exactly why we ventured to the dreamy Brooklyn home of always-in-demand painter and Paperless Post design partner, Happy Menocal. Best known for her signature watercolors and modern heraldry, the seasoned hostess bucks the stressful dinner party stigma, offering her refreshing opinion that “it’s really about making people feel special.” Most welcome of all, her advice on how to host a perfectly imperfect affair that left us downright, well, happy.


“Townhouse China” and “Slipper Room” by Happy Menocal for Paperless Post

Better late than never

Being a perfectionist is certainly not a prerequisite for hosting. “I do everything last minute,” confesses Happy. “Say I want to have friends over on a Thursday, I’m gonna email them a Paperless Post invitation, get home from work at 5:30, order takeout, throw my mom’s pretty candlestick and my Ikea glassware down, and have a party.”


Lisa Corti fabric in Nizam Stripe stands in for a tablecloth, Mottahedeh dinnerware in Cornflower and Blue Lace, vintage flatware (similar)


Consider just desserts

Not only is her mix and match approach far less labor intensive, it opens the door to experiment with every element, from the flatware to the menu. “Consider having people over for dessert,” Happy suggests. Celebrate cherry season with cherry pie. Don’t feel like you have to DIY; with great options from local bakeries, there’s no sense spending the afternoon re-lacing pie crust.


For the table, mixing and matching patterns feels fresh, and lets you seat more people, alleviating the awkwardness of an unexpected guest cast to the edge of the table with a place setting that hopelessly stands out from the rest. Decorate the table with mini vases of wildflowers like aster or daisies, jot peoples’ names on scrap paper, and dessert is served. We tossed this wooden toy snake on the table, but whatever you happen to have can be turned into a playful finishing touch. Happy explains, “Children’s toys or sentimental trinkets you have around the house make great table props.”


It’s never too last minute to throw a last minute dinner party thanks to our array of vibes for even the quirkiest host. Browse them all at Paperless Post Flyer.


Image credits: butcher paper, Raffit silk ribbon, vintage Staffordshire figurine, beeswax candle

Party favors go a long way

Whether you’re hosting a bridal shower, baby shower, or a shower celebrating showers, Happy’s rules of unruliness still thankfully apply.


Serve a salad. It’s room temperature, easy to assemble, and colorful. We chose microgreens, but whatever is available at your nearest grocery will be fine. Decor-wise, keep flowers sweet and low. Here she used Queen Anne’s lace, Veronica, and wheat. Add visual interest with solids, florals, and metallic tableware. Happy recommends starting a collection of vintage linens and candleholders to have on hand for just such occasions. They are easy to spot at thrift stores or estate sales, and they make a table feel personal. Keep an eye out as you travel and don’t think that you have to pick up a whole set at once.  


But most of all, treat friends to a party favor waiting for them at their seats. Favors, Happy offers, “can truly be anything.” Happy’s qualifying rule for party favors is three-fold, “Personal, useful, lovely. If it checks two out of three of these boxes, it works.”


Plate, chopsticks, tenugui as napkin, mat board used as a double placemat

How to quickly create ambiance

Nothing adds a shot of mood quite like the right playlist, and making one doesn’t have to be a time-consuming chore. “Make the playlist, preferably that day,” Happy recommends. Perhaps your party consists of takeout fried chicken and a homemade salad. Add songs throughout the day, then listen to it while you’re making the salad. “Then you’re hyped for the party.”

What to serve on hot summer nights

If you’ve spent half your day running around the heat, chances are your guests have too. Give everybody a break by hosting an ultra-casual dinner party of cold noodles and seasonal berries. “Order in!” Happy gleefully advises. “Use real plates and napkins, but skip the cooking when it’s hot outside.” Serve alongside an easy-to-make (and even easier to order) cucumber salad, and you’ll not only make a crowd-pleasing meal but “you won’t have to keep dishes warm as you hang out with friends.” Finally, a dinner party in which the host gets to join the party.


Spend a few minutes of the time you saved by ordering delivery using colored paper and markers to create menus for each place setting. Adds Happy, “A menu is an especially sweet takeaway for a birthday or anniversary.”


Don’t fret the guest list

One of the defining factors of a last-minute dinner party is a guest list left somewhat in the hands of fate. Whoever in your world happens to be available, that’s your guest list. But rather than fret this, embrace it. “I’m a big fan of mixing worlds,” she says. “I find it’s good to be slightly nervous.” Wondering if people will hit it off? “I think that’s a good thing.”


While Happy may not be available to help with your last-minute dinner party, her invitations are ready whenever you are.

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