How to throw an animal-themed birthday party like Sister Parish Design’s Eliza Harris

Party scene set with a quilted tablecloth, animal-themed kids' birthday decorations, and a chocolate cake.
Paperless Post BlogParty Décor > How to throw an animal-themed birthday party like Sister Parish Design’s Eliza Harris

How does one throw an animal-themed birthday party that’s aesthetically pleasing to both kids and adults? It’s no secret we often have different tastes—what with the former’s propensity for tossing toys and bits of food on the floor, and occasionally decorating walls using crayons and marker, and the latter’s inclination towards… literally anything else. But where there’s a will (and some creativity!), there’s a way.

To find out, we enlisted the expert help of Eliza Harris, Creative Director of legendary interior decorating firm Sister Parish Design—whose eponymous founder was Harris’s great-grandmother. Founded in 1933, Sister Parish (later renamed Parish Hadley) became one of the world’s foremost names in design when then-First Lady Jackie Kennedy enlisted their help in decorating the Kennedys’ private quarters in the White House in 1960. 

These days, Sister Parish Design crafts and sells beautiful heritage textiles and wallcoverings inspired by the extensive archives of Parish Hadley—and judging by Eliza Harris’s own home, it’s easy to see that a love for playful, colorful patterns with serious personality runs in the family. “As Sister once said, ‘Expressing personal feelings and memories is the essence of decorating.’ My personal style is based purely on feeling, memory, and the stories that I want to tell in my own life,” she explains.


Left: Kids' birthday party table set with rainbow and animal-themed decor. Right: Woman, Eliza Harris of Sister Parish, adds finishing touches to her kids' birthday party table featuring animal-themed decor. Photos by Grace Wilcox.


Using a smart combination of her own belongings and elevated party animal decorations and supplies she handpicked from Paperless Post Party Shop, we asked Harris to design an exciting animal-themed birthday party that people of all ages could appreciate. Read on as she shows us how to craft the perfect habitat for kids to go a little wild. (P.S. Looking for animal birthday party invitations? Start here.)


Animal birthday party ideas with Eliza Harris

Use textiles to quickly transform a party space.

Left: Light pink birthday party invitation featuring rows of quilted hearts. Right: Woman, Eliza Harris of Sister Parish, serves her son chocolate cake while wearing a colorful quilted dress. The table is set with a quilted tablecloth and animal-themed birthday party decorations. “Plaid Hearts” by Paperless Post; photo by Grace Wilcox.


When crafting a colorful backdrop for your animal-themed birthday party, start with items you already own. For example, patterned tapestries and tablecloths can work miracles.

“I love to focus on texture in addition to color when I mix and match textiles,” says Harris. “I often cover my tables in quilts and blankets for a more layered and luxurious effect. I similarly love to cover furniture in multiple textiles. For example, I might cover the back of the chair in a cotton chintz and the front of the chair in a heavy flannel. For a children’s birthday party, it’s time to bring out your block prints, vintage quilts, and performance fabrics to create a colorful, whimsical, and celebratory atmosphere.” 

Then supplement your décor with beautiful animal birthday party decorations from Paperless Post Party Shop.

Seating (for all ages) makes the difference.

Left: Long table featuring a series of mismatched chairs. Right: Kids' birthday party invitation featuring colorful party hats, coming out of a blue envelope. Photo by Emily Steffen Photography via Style Me Pretty; “Party Hats” by Ashley G for Paperless Post.


Provide chairs for all sizes of guests to relax when they’re on safari.

“For the little ones, I love mini chairs,” Harris tells us. “You can usually find them at flea markets and antique stores, and then arrange them around an ottoman or a coffee table to create a seating area.” And don’t forget about the grownups at your animal-themed birthday party, either. After a long day of wrangling little party animals, they deserve to rest. “It’s equally as important to create a comfortable and inviting seating area for the parents,” explains Harris. “Once, we built a tent inside our dining room for a friend’s one-year-old. The key is creating little worlds, and not overwhelming anyone.”


Choose decorations that are reusable—or regenerative. 

You can use them year after year.

“I live in the country, so I love to pick flowers and cut branches from around my house. I’m constantly scouring flea markets for more vases and pitchers to fill during the warmer months,” says Harris. 

As for balloons? “I don’t typically splurge on them because they aren’t reusable. I much prefer the decorations I bought at Paperless Post Party Shop. And I think a small present for each child is a nice touch. I loved the little animal gift bags from Party Shop.” What party favors are inside the gift bags she’s giving out? “YumEarth Organic Candy!”

From cake toppers to birthday banners to party hats, you’ll find tons of reusable animal-themed birthday party supplies at Party Shop. And if you do desire some fun and festive animal balloons that coordinate with the rest of your animal birthday party ideas? You’re also in luck.

Looking for safari birthday party decorations? We’ve got plenty of those, too.

Animal-themed kids' birthday party favors including two gift bags, one with a lion decoration and one with an alligator decoration. Multicolor Mini Party Hats and Rainbow Surprise Balls by Meri Meri, available in the Party Shop.


Pick out new items that pair well with what you already have. 

It’s the best way to stay within your budget and buy things you actually like.

“The animals on the streamers and party bags I found at Party Shop had a sophistication to them that made these items easily mix in with my own tabletop items,” Harris explains. “I also loved all of the bright, bold colors on the plates and glasses, which made it simple to select tablecloths and napkins from my own collection.”

For hanging decorations and party bags like the ones used by Harris at her animal-themed birthday party, try the 16-Piece Rainbow Honeycomb Decoration Kit and  Animal Parade Party Bags, both by Meri Meri. For bright plates and party cups that are reusable, pick up the Bright Stripe Large Bamboo Plates and Mixed Set Bamboo Fiber Cups, also by Meri Meri.

No matter what animal birthday party ideas you may have your heart set on, try to remember that this is your child’s party, first and foremost. So let kids be kids, and indulge in some of their tastes, too.

“My son Rees loves lions,” Harris says. “The mini animal toppers for the cupcakes added a lot of personality to the table and really got him excited.”


Think beyond the tabletop. 

Left: View from above a kid's birthday party table set with rainbow plates. Colorful honeycomb decorations hang from the ceiling. Right: Animal-themed kids' birthday party invitation coming out of an orange envelope. Photo by Grace Wilcox; “Animal House” by Rifle Paper Co. for Paperless Post.

It’s good to give your guests something to look up to.

“Hang decorations from the ceiling!” suggests Harris. “The big paper fans I found at Party Shop were absolutely perfect. And they come in a range of sizes and colors, so you can play around.”

(Does your kid love colors? Check out these rainbow birthday party ideas.)


Plan the menu like a kid would.

Left: Pizza-themed kids' birthday party invitation coming out of a turquoise envelope. Right: Pizzas made in the shape of two octopus. “I Want the Biggest Piece” by Mr. Boddington for Paperless Post; Image via Fork and Beans.


If your child’s palate is limited, now isn’t the time to push the boundaries.

Harris’s recommendation: “Pizza and chicken fingers. Keep it simple!”

Here are a few of our favorite kid-friendly foods and recipes, perfect for an animal-themed birthday party:

And don’t forget: you can turn any cake or cupcakes into an animal-themed birthday party-ready dessert with cute cake toppers from Paperless Post Party Shop.


Keep little ones busy with kid-centric activities.

Harris’s (and Rees’s) favorite? “A scavenger hunt.” 

Here are some more animal-themed birthday party game ideas we love:

  • Pin the tail on the animal. Think beyond the donkey and use a large cut-out of whatever your child’s favorite animal is. If it doesn’t have a tail, a nose or other body part will do. 
  • Animal charades. Just like the classic party game, the kids can act out different types of animals instead of guessing a movie, TV show, person, etc..
  • Piñata. You can’t go wrong with a piñata-version of your kid’s favorite animal filled with candy. For older children, don’t forget the blindfold!

• Safari scavenger hunt. Give each guest a list of (plastic or stuffed) animals you’ve hidden around the party area—the one to find the most wins!

Find more fun kids’ party game ideas.


Patience and kindness go a long way (but a nice garbage receptacle doesn’t hurt, either). 

Yes, the outside counts. But what’s inside matters most of all.

“In addition to making your home look charming and inviting, the key to a good party is making everyone feel welcome,” Harris says. “A large dash of authentic hospitality is the biggest hosting tip I know.”

However, there is *one* thing you shouldn’t forget to secure:

“An attractive trash can is important too. Especially for a kids’ party!” 

When the fun and games come to an end, make guests feel appreciated—and give them something by which to remember your animal-themed birthday party—with some sweet party favors. Hint: stickers are always a hit.


Purchase thoughtfully and intentionally, even for something short-lived like a children’s party.

It’s a piece of her great-grandmother’s legacy that Harris treasures most,

“My great-grandmother taught me to invest in well-made pieces and to shop slowly. She believed that you should always buy what you love, even if you don’t necessarily have a place for it yet. Just like Sister Parish, I value the work of the hand and the story behind how an item is made and who made it.”

Kids' birthday party table set with a quilted tablecloth, rainbow plates, tiny party hats, and colorful cups and napkins. Photo by Grace Wilcox. 

Animal-themed birthday party invitation ideas

The first step to getting guests excited for your child’s zoo, farm animal, or safari birthday party is choosing the right invitation. Send a Paperless Post design that highlights your birthday party’s animal theme so that young attendees know exactly what’s in store: 

  • Animal House” by Rifle Paper Co.: The perfect invitation for every party animal.
  • Safari Squad Photo” by Paperless Post: Surround the birthday kid with some sweet animals on safari. 
  • Strings Attached” by Meri Meri: For a farm animal party, you can’t go wrong with this barnyard design—E I, E I, O!
  • Plushie Parade” by Paperless Post: Does your little one love dressing up in fun costumes? Then this design’s for you.
  • Critter Creek” by Petit Collage: For a woodland-themed party, we love this invitation full of forest friends.

Thank you, Eliza!

Ready to plan a party animal birthday for your child? Start by finding the perfect animal-themed invitations at Paperless Post—then head to our Party Shop for coordinating decorations and supplies to make it unforgettable.

Click here to shop all of Eliza Harris’s party animal decoration picks, available now at Party Shop.


Browse Animal-Themed Invitations

Hero image by Grace Wilcox.