As the lighting is set for the Met’s Costume Gala, party planner David Monn takes one final walk about the space. Solo, he gingerly circles each table adjusting the petals of the tables’ flower arrangements – surely he wouldn’t be the only one to notice their leaves hanging a smidgen too much to the left. It’s quiet in the hall as that all-too-familiar, pre-party hush has set in. He knows it well. It always seems to totally settle the moment guests turn the knob to come inside. He’s ready for them though, and now that he’s tweaked and double checked the arrangements, the space is as well.
It’s all in a day’s work for the celebrated celebrant. The Guggenheim. The White House. The Plaza Hotel. They all know his name, and he’s become synonymous with putting on a stellar night. Recently, his successes led him to publishing his very first book titled The Art of Celebrating, and we are huge fans. Luckily for us, in honor of the book launch, David has taken his wealth of knowledge and organized it into 10 steps to make any holiday bash a hit. From scents and sounds to visuals and food, he’s got you covered. So click through and get ready to take notes! Enjoy! —Garrett
Photography courtesy of David Monn
1. Ask the Right Questions: When designing an event, I am guided by three core principles: authenticity, scale, and detail. I don’t do themes. The only theme you need is the authenticity of why you are having the party. Be it a wedding or a birthday; find the personality details that can be brought out in decor. Once you decide on a plan, consider the context and proportion or relative scale of the area you’re looking to create in. Finally, enhance your space with details that reinforce your concept. Each and every item should complement every other to create a harmonious whole.
2. The Five Senses – Smell: We use our sense of smell as the first of our five senses. Think about how powerful even the thought of a specific smell is: the saltiness of the ocean or the crisp smell of a cold winter morning. When your guests arrive on your doorstep, the smell should immediately transport them to another place, away from their everyday, and into the spirited environment you’re creating. These scents can come from [flowers], your favorite scented candle or a simple seasonal scent you create on your own. For the winter holidays, I love simmering a simple mix of cinnamon sticks, apple peels, orange rinds, and cloves on the stove to create a warm, slightly-spicy scent.
3. The Five Senses – Sound: Music soothes our soul. Orchestrate the perfect balance for your event by identifying the purpose of the party, and the guests you’re catering to. Once your guests walk into your home, their senses are heightened and they’re going to seek out ambient sound. Create a playlist in advance or make use of the seasonal recommended mixes from Spotify so you don’t have to worry about monitoring the music all evening. I have a fondness for gospel during the holidays, so that’s often playing softly at my gatherings.
4. The Five Senses – See: Next, your guests visually take in the environment that’s been created in the room. In order for our eyes to absorb the scene, there must be proper lighting. I believe it’s essential for light to come from an incandescent or a natural source, whether it be tea candles or string lights. This gives the room, and in turn your guests, the soothing and comforting feeling of warmth.
5. The Five Senses – Touch: As the experience progresses, our guests find themselves more intrigued, and they have a desire to touch and taste. Incorporating textures into your decor allows guests to actively participate. Textures can be worked in in a variety of different ways. One of my textural go-to’s for the season is burlap since it’s affordable and can be manipulated in a number of ways. I like to fray the edges of a sheet of burlap by strategically pulling threads to create a fringe effect on my tablecloths and dinner napkins.
6. The Five Senses – Taste: Incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients as both edible items and serving vessels. Your food offerings don’t need to be fancy. Oftentimes I turn to a tried-and-true favorite: pigs in a blanket. [They’re] elevated by being brushed with a bit of truffle oil. Some things are not old, they are classics!
7. The Power of One: Take one color or element and thread it through your entire concept. Your eye is pulled to color. When you can create order in a palette of colors, it helps create that sense of organization.
Image Above: Upon entering this hall (in the NY Public Library), guests could make out thousands of strands of oversized, white-paper leaves hanging from the ceiling. The table was lit from within, but the rest of the room was dark.
8. Live Elements: When in doubt, bring the outdoors in. Use mother nature as your inspiration for seasonal colors. Adding an element of natural living beauty brings a sense of the calm outdoors inside and often a pop of unexpected color.
9. Edit: Often there is a temptation to continue adding elements to enhance your space, which often leads to the appearance of clutter. At my events, after the tables are set and the last wine glass is placed on the last table, I clear the room of everyone and give the room a final look to make sure that everything is in its place. Then we open the doors.
Image above: I’ve cleared the room (in the American Visionary Art Museum) so I can do my final walk-through and make last-minute adjustments before guests arrive.
10. Your Party Begins with You: Be yourself, and your guests will feel at home. If you are stressed when your guests arrive, the energy in the room will be tense. Give yourself adequate time to plan and set up, so that you have a few minutes before your guests arrive to just relax and enjoy this stunning environment you’ve created. Let your senses transport you, like they will your guests, to this magical place you’ve dreamed up.