Party Decorations: Use What You Already Have

If you’re like me and made a pact not to acquire any more tchocthkes, here’s inspiration to stop buying and start using what you already have this summer.


Sharing the tricks of their trade, prop stylist Hilary Ashlund, and Stephanie Cook, a party planner from Lake Forest with SPC Events, give us the will power and wisdom to use and reuse for creative summer décor.

It’s All in the Massing
Forget less is more. In this case, more is better. A single object has more impact when grouped with like objects. The trick is to find a way to unite the masses.

A single pair of candlesticks on a table seems skimpy. Don’t buy more. Instead, pull out all your candlesticks—metal, wood or crystal—and put them in the center of your table. Use a single style and color for the candles, and you’ve freed yourself to add texture and shine through the other elements on your table.

Likewise a single floral centerpiece is predictable and bland. Amass all your crystal and glass vases in the center of your table. Ashlund loves the look of a single orchid stem curled inside each vase with the tiniest bit of water. This keeps the flowers from interfering with conversation, and adds a sparkle and translucence to the table.

For a less formal approach, Ashlund suggests massing glass bottles—whether it’s wine bottles, soda or beer—stripping the labels and filling them with flowers. Use flowers in the same shade or a single flower genus for a more graphic impact (all peonies or all roses).

Fresh from the Farmer’s Market
Nothing says summer like fresh fruits and vegetables. Grouped together, the pick of the day from the farmer’s market becomes a vivid, fresh display on your table or sideboard, transforming any odd bowl into a dramatic still life. Cook will even throw bunches of fragrant herbs into vases for additional texture and color.

Most of us have a few baskets tucked away. Ashlund suggests taking your wood cutting boards or even old bricks and stacking the baskets along your table, varying the height and angle. Layer each basket with a colorful napkin, throw in some fresh summer sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, chips and fruit skewers, and you’ve mastered casual summer entertaining.

Put Your Collections to Work
We all collect stuff, the trick is to take what you have accumulated over the years and transform it into an attractive, cohesive centerpiece. No matter what you collect, with a little creativity, you can put it to work. Often your collection can help define the party theme.

Collection of Hula dancers? Scatter the palm fronds, turn on the blender and you’ve got the perfect luau table.

World traveler? Pull together your postcards, miniature monuments, even ticket stubs and create an artful table. Ashlund laid down kraft paper and postage string for an added layer. Your menu? Tastes from around the globe, listed on individually handmade passports.

Avid gardener with lots of terra cotta pots? Create a garden table or patio decor with pillars and Spanish moss nestled into the pots—the more varied sizes the better.

Cook notes that using collections is a nice way to add a personal touch to a birthday or anniversary party, even a baby or wedding shower. Whether it’s childhood photos of the bride and groom or the mom-to-be’s baby mugs and spoons, these little family mementos remind us who the party is really about.