"I'm a big fan of casual—not a big fan of sit-down," Cherry says. "If you do sit-down dinners, somebody ends up having to serve the food and make sure it's hot and fresh—and that takes away from friendship time."
If you don't have the option of getting hired help, make more casual canapés, dips, and snacks that are easy to serve yourself. Casual potluck dinners can also be a big time saver. Have guests with names A to M bring a savory dish and those from N to Z bring a sweet dish. This allows for plenty of choices and a good balance of tastes.
If you're bringing together diverse groups of friends, it might help to play a few games as icebreakers. "Parlor games, before there was any kind of media, was the main form of entertainment," Cherry points out. "Interactive games are a wonderful way to get complete strangers to meet each other." These games needn't be of the gloomy variety found at bridal showers or networking events. They can be as over-the-top or thoughtful as your event merits.
In the '50s, couples planned scavenger hunts for parties and adult birthdays. People would spend a great deal of time creating clues and placing them in remote locations. "It was a very high-brow sort of thing to do," Catherine Munson recalls. These games are still great crowd-pleasers today, especially if you can relate it to your guests' hobbies or local community.
Cherry says some of her friends prefer silly fun. "At one friend's party," she says, "he loved to have guests hang a rope around their waist and try to swing a ball into a hoop. I will never forget it. It was so off-the-cuff and silly, and we all ended up making fools of ourselves."
If silliness makes you cringe, then consider an interactive experience like sharing their intentions for the year or their best travel moments. Themed costume parties can be great icebreakers. "I see that as playful activity," Cherry says. "People have an opportunity to talk about their costumes and laugh about it. You make memories that way."
Loni Nagwani has hosted successful theme parties for clients and friends for which her guests show up dressed as members of the Rat Pack, and Cherry has held events with a black-and-white or 'groovy '60s' theme.
Like good food and drink, music is an absolute essential. Cherry Capri recommends planning the music ahead of time. Have a multi-compact disc player ready with a stack of CD's or build a party music library in your iTunes. Today's home sound systems can turn any room into a dance floor.
"I do moods in my music to help control the situation to a degree," Cherry says. "My music is a little slower as guests arrive, and a half an hour or so into it we only have up-tempo songs. As the night winds down, we have some chill-out songs so that some of the slow-goers get the hint."
If you're outside, set up a few tiki torches for some beach-kitsch. A fire pit in the backyard will become a quick point for conversation if you set out a station for S'mores: marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers, and roasting spears. Mmmm.
If you're new to throwing parties, invite two friends over and have a nice evening of cocktails and conversation. Once you're comfortable with that, up the ante by inviting eight to ten people. "Take baby steps," Cherry says. "I don't recommend people jumping into the deep end." And by all means, relax and have fun.
Photos: Ernie Braun; and courtesy C. Capri, MoMA Design Store, Sur La Table, Carmen Nicholls
Fine reading on the fine art of entertaining:
• 'Pad Parties: The Guide to Ultra-Entertaining' (Chronicle Books) by Matt Maranian, Robert Field, and Jack Gould
• 'Occasions' (Simon & Schuster) by Kate Spade
• 'In Style Parties' (InStyle) by editors of In Style magazine
• Want help planning your next party? Check in with Cherry Capri at cherrycapri.com
Here are the ingredients you'll need to host an unforgettable retro-styled party in your modern home: