Sliding-glass doors to the backyard and atrium and the open single-story floor plan encouraged families to move between spaces and congregate together in the main rooms. Although many of us think today's outdoor rooms are a newfangled idea, in reality the modern homes of the '50s already had outdoor rooms on backyard patios that became the place to entertain. People paid attention to outdoor furnishings, splashed in backyard pools, and purchased portable barbecues to grill all-American hamburgers and juicy T-bones.
Homeowners today have expanded on that idea by building expansive outdoor kitchens, complete with a cook top, barbecue, pizza oven, and a refrigerator. Set up a hammock, and there's no real hurry to get back inside.
The interiors were a whole other landscape for entertaining. The open living rooms and broad fireplaces made cozy spots to share a snifter of brandy late at night. The original kitchens were the heart of the home, much as they are today. The Eichlers' pullout tables rolled out and expanded to accommodate larger crowds. What an ideal place to cut a cake or share some fondue.
Today, with the hustle and bustle of active, non-stop lifestyles, it's no wonder that many homeowners are dreaming of yesteryear, of a time and a place where family and friends take a front seat to work stress, and home-cooked roasts and fresh pies displace takeout Chinese. In the '90s, Martha Stewart took it upon herself to resurrect home-based entertaining, and although her ideal might be too far-reaching for most, there's comfort in knowing there's still an art to creating a cozy home and fun environment for guests.
Living in a mid-century modern today lets one easily recreate that feeling. There's every reason to throw a party bigger and better than the previous generation. "The thing about parties in the '60s is they cared about parties," says retro diva, hostess, entertainer, and CA-Modern columnist Cherry Capri. "Sometime in the '70s or '80s a party meant putting out chips and a keg and having friends come over. That's a get-together, not a party."
Even in today's frenzied world, the best parties are those that are planned out for family and friends. Outlining a guest list, food, beverages, and activities long before your family and friends walk through the front door makes them feel appreciated and loved. It's not about impressing the pants off of them; rather, it's about making them feel utterly at home.
"There's one word for a good hostess, and that's 'thoughtful,'" Cherry says. "I have seen parties suffer because the host or hostess threw the parties for their friends to impress them. That's where people go wrong."
The most important element to any good retro party is the right beverages. "You can't miss with a good cocktail," Cherry says. "There are two ways to go about a cocktail party. If you have the money, go for a full bar and have everything there: lemon slices, lime slices, Maraschino cherries. If you can't afford that option, then be selective about drinks. Give one or two choices, like a Tangerini, so people don't have to think too much. And definitely don't run out!"
Good-quality martinis bring back the flavor of the '50s and '60s, and mixed drinks, such as champagne cocktails, cosmopolitans, and punches, also add an element of festivity. Have options, like beer, wine, or non-alcoholic beverages, to accommodate different preferences.
Keeping a well-stocked bar can make party planning easy. Have an ample number of bottles of alcohol and mixers and plenty of ice on hand. For a three-hour cocktail party, plan three to four cocktails per person, and more if your friends are real party animals. "It's always better to have extra for your next party rather than asking guests to go to the store to pick up something," Cherry adds.
With all those drinks, keep food simple so that you're not stuck in the kitchen. Historically, good hosts and hostesses have their menus planned and buffet tables set far in advance. "I'm a big fan of planning," Cherry says. "I have been known to set the table two days in advance of the party." Search through book, thrift, and antique stores to find party-planning books that can help jumpstart ideas for table setting and retro-themed recipes.