Winter Party Planning: Awaken the Senses
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Vogue about the latest edition of the Secret Garden Dinner Party. We chatted about the menu, the secret location, and all the little touches that make an evening really special. That got me thinking about a common theme in the Secret Garden Supper Club events and in everything I try to achieve from private dinner parties to rehearsal dinner parties. Great food and a steady flow of drinks are a good start, but that’s not the whole picture. It’s about the whole sensory experience. What are the elements that will make it a truly enchanted evening?
The season of cheer
With Christmas creeping up on us at lightning speed, it’s an ideal opportunity to try out some sensory elements in your party planning. Which flavors or colors make you think of winter elegance? What local ingredients can you add to the menu?
At the Secret Garden events, we’ve invited local artisans to tell the story of what they do, to give guests a sensory and emotional connection with what they’re seeing, touching, and tasting. There’s an element of theatre in announcing a secret location, and creating a simple but spectacular room.
You can make your winter dinner parties special with the little things, like stylish Christmas decorations or hand-made favors for guests.
A warm welcome
The fun begins when the guests arrive at the party. It doesn’t hurt to hand them a drink as soon as they arrive — a cocktail or a glass of champagne. If you’re feeling creative, you can inject a visual element, anything from ombré effects to edible flowers adorning the glass. For a lovely seasonal drink, think of classic Christmas ingredients like ginger, and how you can give them a fresh twist. Ginger mojitos, for example, or fresh carrot and ginger juice.
But more important than the drink is the personal touch. You don’t want your guests wandering around with a drink in hand hoping to bump into someone they know. I always try to greet guests personally, or ensure that the hosts are in the right place to meet guests as they arrive.
Awaken the senses and spark conversation
The table is the centre of the event. It’s where guests will sit down and enjoy the meal and conversation, possibly for several hours, so it must create a memorable effect as soon as they lay eyes on it. No matter how well you plan your party, there will always be something that goes wrong at the last minute, but if you have a beautiful, sensory table, no-one will notice a thing.
When I’m composing a table I try to think of how all the elements will fit together when it’s finished, like the elements in a painting. You can reflect the season without going overboard with an organic, pure white color palette inspired by the winter landscape and use lots of fabric and textures to create a cosy atmosphere.
The secret to designing an enchanting table is to think of it not just as something pretty, but as a way to awaken the senses. In the autumn edition of the Secret Garden Supper Club, I loved the knobbly squash decorating the table alongside floral arrangements created by Julie Guittard to reflect the colours of the season: burgundy hues, ochre, and wild foliage.
At Christmas, you can adorn your table with evergreens or delicate branches. Rather than a pristine, visually perfect tablescape, you’re looking for something that will make enhance the overall harmony of the table and make the event feel special. The sensory experience helps your guests feel connected, ready to sit down and eat with a sense of excitement about what comes next.
A cozy feeling of enchantment
Atmosphere is such an intangible thing, but it’s really crucial to making your party a night to remember. Try to think of how you can awaken the senses to create an enchanting atmosphere. If you think of the evening as a holistic sensory experience, how does your lighting fit into that? Your music (if you’re playing any)? How will the guests feel the moment they walk into the room?
When the days get darker in autumn and winter, I’m looking to create a cozy atmosphere that makes guests feel at home. We don’t always think of “elegance” and “hygge” in the same sentence, but that’s exactly what it is — warm, intimate elegance.
A sensory experience takes us beyond the dinner to a really thrilling and memorable evening. You don’t have to go all out. It’s all in the details, whether you have candles, a log fire burning when guests arrive, or you serve them comfort foods with a twist. I loved the swiss chard soup we served at the last dinner (perfect to warm you up on a chilly autumn evening) which featured vanilla and edible flowers.
- Imogen Bailey, Event Designer and Stylist for Secret Garden Supper Club