Party on the Playground: Transform Your Toy-Trashed Yard into a Swanky Space

During the summer, the only place we want to be on a beautiful evening is outside. Our yards—once as barren and frigid as the Artic tundra—are lush, green and inviting.


Of course we want to entertain out there.

But throwing a party in a kid zone can be tricky. It’s tough to work around all the toys, equipment and gear. Fortunately, Wilmette hostess Suzanne Armstrong offered up some inspired solutions.

When it comes to throwing an outdoor party, Armstrong considers everything in her yard to be part of the scene—even the hulking swing set that dominates so many families’ backyards.

“It’s a frame that begs for staging,” she says.

By removing the hanging swings and building a simple frame from tomato stakes and brackets from the hardware store, Armstrong was able to drape a canopy over the monkey bars to create an exotic Bollywood-themed buffet area.

The canopy pictured is actually made from two inexpensive shower curtains wired together, and the paper lanterns add a lot of atmosphere at a low cost.

“Paper lanterns are really like grown-up balloons,” Armstrong says. “They fill the space, but in a more sophisticated way.”

Armstrong is also a fan of creating outdoor spaces with a living room feel. “Bring things that normally belong in the house outside,” she urges. Accent pillows, pillar candles and throw rugs enliven the yard and make for cozy conversation spots.

For a party with a laid-back surfer vibe, Armstrong disguised her daughters’ playhouse as a tiki-hut bar complete with thatched roof, seashells and surfboard— a charming place for friends to enjoy a cocktail.Even the big locust tree got into the act, sporting a grass hula skirt and bikini top.

Large toys and bicycles can do double duty as well. For a casual family picnic, Armstrong parked a bike with plates, napkins, and cutlery stacked in its basket next to a serving table. Her son’s ride-on tractor pulled its weight as a cooler for drinks.
Another playful touch is the pinwheel placed in the basket, below. Armstrong made this one from photos of her son, Jack. She frequently uses personalized pinwheels as decorations for straws, napkin rings and centerpieces, and they are easy as pie to create.

When it comes to outdoor entertaining, Armstrong believes that using the things you already own makes a party feel more relaxed and authentic.

“You’re not putting on airs when you’re using your kid’s bike as a serving piece. And in some ways, it’s an easier party to set up because those things are already there.”

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