We’re a pretty party-obsessed bunch at Paperless Post HQ. Even so, every year the holidays seem to come out of nowhere. This year, we went to experts (our design partners) to find out how we can make our holiday get-togethers a little cooler and a little easier. Read on for holiday party ideas and tips from Kelly Wearstler, John Derian, Gray Malin, Jonathan Adler, and Chelsea Shukov and Jaimie Grobecker—the founders of Sugar Paper.
Best known for her sophisticated interiors, Kelly Wearstler’s signature aesthetic mixes and matches seemingly separate elements: natural and luxe, patina and new, raw and refined. She’s had a busy year—completing the design for the Proper Hotel in Santa Monica and publishing a new book, Evocative Style. Kelly’s holiday party ideas have the same distinctive, layered, intuitive feeling as the interiors she is known for creating.
Create a thoughtful holiday space
We always host intimate family gatherings during the holidays. I approach each event as a story. We often switch up which rooms we dine in to offer a different experience and narrative to our guests each year. A dinner party is the ultimate culmination of the interior design experience. The decor should create a cohesive dialogue with the interiors. Additionally, the sequence of events should happen with one story in mind. It’s important to consider the transitional elements from the entrance to the dining area.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up
Take risks and break the rules. When setting the table for holiday entertaining, mix and match china patterns and glassware for a look that is artful and eclectic. Use complementary colors and a hierarchy of scale and texture that is vibrant yet harmonious. Pattern mixing captures a sense of easy elegance and infuses even the most refined setting with an effortlessly chic spirit, keeping the mood fun and spontaneous. Personal, unique flourishes with florals and fruits tailored to the season and fresh takes on holiday traditions add a sense of excitement and distinction. And consider all of the senses—sounds, smells, textures included—to create a full, thoughtful experience.
Make the party soundtrack a little cooler
Sending out digital invitations via Paperless Post is environmentally friendly and so convenient. When I send out invitations, I ask guests to submit a song request with their RSVP; then, I create a playlist customized for my guests.
Sunscapes, snowscapes, seascapes: no matter the weather where you live, we love Gray Malin’s bright, bird’s-eye photographs for the holidays. His invitation collection this season includes locales both slopeside and lakeside. Ahead, the LA-based fine art photographer and author shares why celebrating the holidays with the team and his almost 1-year-old twins feels special this year. For more from Gray, check out his guide to holiday cards.
Savor the season
Every year I throw a festive holiday party for my team. It’s a fun way to celebrate all of our accomplishments throughout the year and to get to spend time together outside the office just enjoying each other’s company. Last year, we celebrated at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the team was totally surprised and blown away. Jeff and I are also looking forward to hosting our families this year for the holidays. When they came to visit last year, our twins were only a few weeks old, so it was a little chaotic, to say the least. I’m looking forward to starting holiday traditions with the children and getting to soak in the family time.
Start the holidays early
I’m really big on holiday decorations and start putting them out as soon as Halloween passes. I know some people don’t like to start until after Thanksgiving, but I want the holiday season to go on as long as possible. The holidays always remind me of how much I love spending quality time with my family and friends. It’s fun hosting people at our house and going to holiday parties with those near and dear to us.
Have a little spirited competition
One of my favorite ways to liven a holiday party is to play games. A white elephant gift exchange is usually my go-to, and I do one with my team every year—it’s always a blast! Any game that gets everyone involved makes the party that much more fun. Splitting into teams for Charades or Pictionary is fun, but if you don’t want too much competition, bring out a microphone for some karaoke, which is a crowd-pleaser. Creating a signature holiday cocktail also helps get everyone in the spirit and makes the party feel a little more festive.
The potter, designer, and consummate entertainer is known for his glamorous approach to interior decorating, and his invitations and cards feature his signature style of irreverent luxury. Jonathan shares how he and husband, writer, and fashion world creative Simon Doonan, inject a little surprise and delight into the holidays and why it’s OK to keep parties short and sweet.
Host a holiday mocktail party
My husband Simon Doonan and I are both big fans of hosting an informal cocktail—or in our case—mocktail party. It allows guests to mix, mingle and motor if needed. There’s nothing worse than being shackled next to someone boring at a sit-down dinner party.
On life as a holiday elf
The truth is that my husband and I spend so much time trying to make the holidays fab for other people that we don’t have much left for ourselves. It’s hard being an elf! So for me, the holidays are basically just an excuse to eat all of my favorite foods with zero guilt—a big roast chicken and an (entire) apple pie for dessert? It’s a party.
Consider deconstructed décor
Sometimes it’s nice to do slightly deconstructed décor. One of my go-to tricks is to take one of my ceramic bowls and fill it with silver Christmas balls; it’s less expected than a floral arrangement but still looks seasonally appropriate. I’ll also carry around a few of our Petite Tray Sets in my LL Bean tote and hand them out like a Jewish Santa. You never know who you’ll run into, and no one has ever said no to a gift!
Chelsea Shukov and Jamie Grobecker, the founders of Sugar Paper, bring their preppy LA style to everything they do, including holidays. Their invitation collection adds effortless California style to holiday parties. With a thriving business and busy young families, they shared with us how to host an office holiday party the team will appreciate. For more holiday ideas from Chelsea and Jamie, check out their tips on hosting a chic and simple cocktail party.
Toast the team
Consider the size of your organization. If you have a small group, you can host a more intimate dinner that feels meaningful. If you have a large team, consider making the party thoughtful and straightforward rather than large and extravagant. The holidays are a time for letting people know they matter, and everyone wants to feel that their work is impactful. One year, Jamie and I hosted our small team at my home and made the dinner ourselves. We sat together telling stories about our work that only the team would understand, and we all took a moment to connect. For our now larger team, we once hired a mixologist to come teach us how to mix the perfect margarita in the middle of the workday. It was such a surprise, and everyone loved it.
Think outside the office party box
Consider ideas that don’t seem obvious. We once hired a party bus and toured the speakeasy bars of downtown Los Angeles. Food was served street-side from a taco truck. It was unconventional, but our team had a lot of fun together.
John Derian has been reimagining vintage artwork from his vast personal archives as beautiful, humorous, and sometimes eerie designs since 1989. His collection with Paperless Post feels especially timeless for holiday parties. And he should know—his stores in Manhattan’s East and West Villages are a Christmas wonderland starting Nov. 1. He let us in on how he and his boyfriend, photographer Stephen Kent Johnson, keep hosting simple during the holidays.
Host at home
Fall is here, lots of us are back in town, and it’s such a nice time to celebrate the seasons with friends—dinner parties and game nights have started, and I hope more are in the future. What I love about parties is going all-out with decorating, especially with garlands and evergreens. It’s a chance to rethink the space, move things around (our bed fits in the closet), create new places for gathering, and be conscious of the flow.
Incorporate holiday traditions
We do simple finger food. I order grape leaves from my childhood Armenian bakery (Masis in Watertown, Massachusetts), chocolates from Stowaway Sweets, and local Grand Daisy pizzas. We keep the bar simple: some wine, sparkling and flat water, and tequila and lime for our signature cocktail (an ice tequila and lime.)
Make your house smell amazing
We do a lot with unadorned garlands and trees. There’s an organic tree guy in the market that sells misshapen Charlie Brown type trees, and we put them around the apt for scent, texture, and charm our actual tree is a small antique feather tree covered in antique ornaments.
Keep things simple
Get the food and alcohol down to a science–keep it simple. If you’re doing it yourself, it will free you up to socialize. Have it all accessible to guests––pile the food high and start with a very stocked bar. Keep reminding yourself during the setup process that you deserve to have fun, make it easy for people and yourself. Remember, people can take care of themselves.