Birthday parties often fall into two distinct categories: those that are fun for kids (bounce house, petting zoo, maybe someone leaves crying), and those that are fun for adults (cocktails, gourmet fare, maybe someone leaves crying). But over in Los Angeles, laid-back cool textile designer and mom, Heather Taylor, has bridged the gap. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that the best events are the ones that feel personal and authentic to the host or person being celebrated,” says Heather. “Also, less is more. Have a few thoughtful touches that make an impact, rather than a bevy of cookie-cutter elements.”
There was nothing cookie-cutter about the simple yet elegant picnic she threw for her daughter, Marigold (“Goldie”). Goldie’s first birthday inspired us to sit down with Heather to crack the elusive code to throwing a kids’ birthday party everyone, of any age, can enjoy.
Start with a theme
For Goldie’s July 4th birthday, Heather teamed up with her friend Annie of Annie Campbell Catering to create a unique theme that they dubbed “Red, White, and Goldie.” The Americana look and feel helped dictate everything from the invitation to the decor (“lots of red, white, and yellow roses from a local farmer”), to the cake (more on that later).
“Betsy Square” by Liberty
When it comes to kids’ parties, the possible scenarios are as vast and varied as programming on the Disney Channel. Choosing a theme for your event can help reign in the organizing frenzy by setting boundaries for all the planning decisions to come.
Kids can be difficult. Finding your theme is easy with our kids’ birthday invitations.
Sand Tablecloth, Cherry Tablecloth, and Gold Tablecloth, all Heather Taylor Home.
Serve food you actually want to eat
Most parents have suffered through enough cold pizza and lemonade at kids’ parties. Rather than serving exclusively “kid food,” consider offering cuisine that appeals to everyone, as Heather and Annie did by selecting a simple, delicious menu of Americana favorites. “Annie has the best menus,” praised Heather. “And together we picked the classic crowd pleasers (buttermilk fried chicken sliders, 5 cheese mac ‘n’ cheese) and some delicious summery salads (cornbread panzanella, watermelon, and lime salad) that adults would love, too.”
Try to strike a balance between food that’s not innately messy (read: nix the spaghetti and meatballs) and food that’s just messy enough for cute photos. Kids can be picky, and you won’t know the specific tastes of other people’s kids, so play it safe and stick with the basics. Parents will be happily surprised by the thoughtful menu, says Heather, while kids will be “happy to see their favorite foods.” Case in point: for the kids, they served Annie’s fried chicken in mini-slider form for easy grabbing.
Classics can be showstoppers
Whether you’re turning one or one hundred, pretty much everyone enjoys vanilla cake. For Goldie’s birthday, Heather chose a simple, seasonal vanilla cake with vanilla cream cheese, decorated with chamomile flowers and fresh cherries. “The result was so sweet but also really sophisticated,” she says.
Marigold Throw and Pillow, Heather Taylor Home.
Add an adult beverage
“Serve a cocktail for the adults,” advises Heather, who served the parents’ of Goldie’s guests a refreshing cherry margarita. “It does not need to be anything complicated, but greeting parents with an icy drink instantly creates a festive tone and helps them relax.”
Activities are key
Keeping the little ones occupied can be the biggest differentiator between a kids’ party that feels like work for the grownups, and one that feels like a party, so whatever fun and games you program, be sure they do not require full parental engagement.
You could surprise your guests with a Mariachi band like Heather did at Goldie’s older sister Scarlett’s birthday, which got everyone dancing and singing to such success she considers it “the best party trick I know.” Or, hire a music teacher to entertain the younger children with drums and shakers, as she did for “Red, White, and Goldie,” while a swing set kept the older siblings happy.
But really, any programming that frees the parents up to enjoy themselves will change the energy of the day. As Heather knowingly puts it, “The last thing I want to do at a kids party is lean over a craft table making sure my toddler doesn’t spill glue everywhere.”
The best party planning advice she’s gotten
“Don’t stress,” says Heather. Something is bound to go wrong, so “be prepared to roll with it.” So maybe you spend weeks planning a picnic only to have it rain on the day of; move the party inside and keep smiling. The details of your party plan may seem precious to you, but as Heather has been happily surprised to learn, “the reality is that your guests don’t care as long as everyone is having fun.”
And the worst
“Cook everything yourself.” Noted.
Worth a thousand words
Aside from help in the kitchen, there’s one thing Heather advises splurging on: hiring a professional photographer to avoid spending the whole party running around taking pictures. “We hired Cliff Fong from LA Kids Photography, and it was worth every penny.”
Heather suggests 3-5 p.m. is the optimum time to throw a kids’ party, to catch the post-nap, pre-dinner energy window, and all went according to plan for Goldie’s special day. Heather’s highlight? “Singing happy birthday to my baby in celebration of her first trip around the sun is emotional in the best possible way.” For the birthday girl? “Probably tasting cake for the first time.” A first that literally takes the cake.
Let your guests know your kids’ party is anything but typical with Paperless Post Flyer, even if you don’t have everyone’s email.
Hero image: Cherry Tablecloth, Heather Taylor Home. All images by Cliff Fong from LA Kids Photography.