Nothing against the whole minimalism movement, but when it comes to hosting outdoor parties, we’re all about doing it to the max. More colors, more prints, more fun.
Our friends at Carolina Irving & Daughters (that would be textile designer Carolina and her grown-up kids Olympia and Ariadne) agree. Inspired by their love of travel, their namesake homeware brand commissions handmade luxury ceramics and other goods from around the globe in bright, joyful patterns that beg to be mixed and matched.
Though their wares are equally as charming indoors and out, the Irvings are particularly fond of dining al fresco—and they’re quite good at it, too. “There’s something about eating outdoors that makes everything more exciting,” Olympia tells us—and we don’t disagree. We caught up with the co-working family at their picturesque home in the rural seaside village of Melides, Portugal to uncover their secrets to creating a layered, Mediterranean outdoor tablescape—and hosting a backyard dinner party like no other.
“Messidor” by Putnam & Putnam for Paperless Post; Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
Al fresco dinner party dos
1. Assume your guests will show up hungry (and put early birds to work).
Prep your party space by laying out light bites ahead of time. “When the first guests arrive, the bar table is already fully stocked with little nibbles: some pistachios, plates of jamon, and local fresh sheep’s milk cheese sprinkled with chives and olive oil,” says Olympia.
And it’s always nice to include early arrivals. “Hand them a drink first, and never give tasks that could ruin their outfits. Non-messy things like lighting candles, placing the place cards (based on your seating plan, of course!), bringing out glasses, etc.”
2. Kick things off before sundown.
Don’t wait ’til after dark to start your al fresco dinner party. “We have guests come right before sunset for drinks under the pergola. That’s the golden hour in Melides—the light on the rice fields and the lagoon are completely magical,” Ariadne says. “It’s also the perfect time to watch the storks return to their nests. Then we’ll sit for dinner around 8:30 or 9.”
Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters; “Simbad” by Marimekko for Paperless Post.
3. Never underestimate the power of good lighting.
Lighting can make or break a mood, so proceed with caution. “Besides the obvious good food, drinks, and good company, good lighting is the most important part of any dinner. Bad lighting can kill an otherwise elegant backyard dinner party” says Olympia. “You can create a sense of intimacy and a glamorous atmosphere which makes everyone look and feel good. Votives or hurricane lamps are always very useful—we love candles everywhere!”
“Fig Branches” by Felix Doolittle for Paperless Post; Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
4. Pick place cards that double as conversation pieces.
If you’re seating people with purpose, get them talking, too. “The three of us collect postcards from our travels, so Ariadne started using them as place cards,” Olympia tells us. “Reminiscing about past travels or laughing at which Renaissance portrait a certain guest got is a wonderful conversation starter.”
“Summer Forever” Flyer by Paperless Post.
5. Keep things cool with a lot of (little) ice.
Whatever you do, don’t let drinks get warm. “Our Mini Ice Buckets are fabulous for any table,” says Ariadne. “You can never have too much ice. Ice is essential for any summer dinner, so having a few ice buckets down the table is a perfect way for guests to help themselves and keep their drinks cool!”
Al fresco dinner party don’ts
“Sweetest Punch” by Anthropologie for Paperless Post; Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
6. Don’t overcrowd your table with flowers.
If you’re throwing a Portuguese-style outdoor dinner party, big floral arrangements are nada de bom, says Olympia. “We love flowers, but they are definitely not a necessity. If you have access to wildflowers or flowers from your garden, of course you should use them. But a lot of the time, flower arrangements can feel forced. If you do buy a big fancy arrangement, deconstruct the bouquet and opt for bud vases dotted down your table as opposed to a contrived, perfect arrangement.”
So, what should you dress your outdoor tablescape with instead? “Candles and pretty plates or platters can dress a table beautifully on their own. Sometimes a bowl full of lemons, for example, can be just as beautiful. We also love to use silver on our tables; we think silver should be used whether it’s a casual dinner or a more formal affair!” (For more ideas on how to pretty-up a table, visit Carolina Irving & Daughters—or for more casual parties, head to the Paperless Post Party Shop.)
“Rosina” by Paperless Post; Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
7. Don’t over-complicate things—including food.
In Portugal, trendy food isn’t where it’s at. Instead, opt for tasty barbecue and fresh seafood. “You’ll never see pretentious, over complicated food at a party,’ says Ariadne. “Our al fresco lunch and dinner parties always consist of big sharing platters all down the table, family style. It’s all very informal, and always outside.”
8. Don’t ask your friends to contribute.
Unless it’s sweet, that is. The Irvings aren’t fans of potlucks, but, says Olympia, they’re “super happy for guests to bring a dessert!”
Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters; “Creole Gumbo” by Paperless Post.
9. And don’t hunt them down for RSVPs.
If you’re inviting a larger group over for dinner, there are bound to be some last-minute dropouts and additions. But keeping track doesn’t need to be a pain point. “No matter how formal or informal your event is, Paperless Post invitations are always the way to go,” Ariadne says. “It takes away the stress of chasing guests and keeping count of numbers, and always makes any dinner party feel that much more special. Your choice of invitation can also give guests an idea of the vibe of the dinner based on the design you’ve chosen.”
“Apricots” Flyer by Paperless Post.
10. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the time.
Even the best backyard dinner parties must eventually come to an end. Make sure you finish things off on a graceful note. “There is nothing worse than holding your guests hostage when they are ready to go,” Olympia tells us. “There’s usually that point in the night when you ask if anyone would like another drink, and that’s usually a good tell-tale on where the night is going.”
And what if you have a guest who doesn’t get the hint? “It can be awkward—but the best way is to be honest and politely let them know you are starting to get tired. You could also suggest places nearby for a nightcap or a boogie if they aren’t ready to call it a night!”
Carolina Irving & Daughters’ tried-and-true al fresco menu
Images courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
Can’t make it to Melides? Sem problemas. The Irvings share their frills-free Portuguese menu for you to serve at your own Backyard dinner party.
– Fresh sheep cheese with quince, jamon, and pistachios
Starters (serve in bowls in the middle of the table so everyone can help themselves):
– Clams à bulhão pato (white wine garlic lemon and parsley)
– Shrimp with homemade mayonnaise
– Grilled sea bass with salsa verde
– Grilled asparagus
– Little boiled potatoes
– Arugula with cherry tomatoes
– Grilled peaches with basil and either vanilla ice cream or cream
– Gin and tonic or Campari soda to start, then move onto wine with dinner
Image courtesy Carolina Irving & Daughters.
Obrigada, Irving ladies!
Feeling inspired to host your own al fresco dinner party? Create an outdoor tablescape just like Carolina Irving & Daughters with artisanal treasures from their online store, and find unique outdoor party goods that complement your Paperless Post dinner party invitations at the Paperless Post Party Shop.