Throw a simple summer soiree

The arrival of warm weather puts me in the mood to throw a summer soiree. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t entertained. Now I’m ready to dust off my screened porch, sweep out the back courtyard and fill it with friends. Here are a few tips I’ll be following as I entertain this summer. Perhaps they will help inspire you, too.

Sweet simplicity

In the past, when I’ve thrown a party, I’ve been all about creating drama in my tabletop designs — building lots of layers in my place settings and centerpieces, based on color and the symmetry of the dishes. But this summer, I’m eating up the refreshing trend toward simplicity.

Recently, my husband, Dan, and I went to a dinner party where the meal consisted of several petite courses of flavorful foods presented in an innovative manner, like soup served in shot glasses. We went home feeling pleasantly full but not stuffed. So this summer, I’m going to try the same approach.

I’m also going to keep my tabletop designs elegant but edited, saving the over-the-top displays for winter parties, when rich, luscious layers make more sense. This summer, I’ll create the simplest of centerpieces, like a trio of miniature rose bushes potted in complementary cachepots, marching down the center of my table. How about an over-scaled bowl filled with green apples? Or put a pillar candle in a large hurricane, then fill it with sand and seashells or smooth, shiny river rocks.

When it comes to place settings, simple doesn’t have to mean boring. Start with a gorgeous summer tea towel as a place mat. Or try my old favorite — wicker chargers — or my new favorite — zinc chargers — to give the setting texture and definition. Then add your basic white dishes, topped off with a colorful salad plate in an unusual shape. I’m partial to apple green or pale blue, but I love any color that looks clean and fresh.

Reason to party

You really don’t have to have an official reason to gather friends together, but it’s fun to pick a big holiday or event so you have an instant party theme that provides loads of inspiration. My friend Mary has done just that with the huge Fourth of July party she throws every summer.

Mary’s home sits high on a bluff overlooking the large city where she lives. On Independence Day, she can see more than 20 municipal firework displays from the comfort of her lawn chair.

So Mary and her next-door neighbor decided to have a Fourth of July party so friends could enjoy the spectacular view, too. Since then, the intimate gathering has grown into a much-anticipated bash, complete with a huge barbecue and a live band.

As they prepare for the ever-growing party, the hostesses start early and keep things simple. For instance, everyone brings a side dish, and dinner is served buffet-style.

They also keep this annual event fresh by changing their innovative but inexpensive table treatments each year. This summer, the dining tables will be covered with red-and-blue tablecloths. Red and blue plastic sand pails filled with sand, shells and a pillar candle will serve as the centerpieces. The cutlery will be prewrapped in red bandanas, which will double as napkins.

Big summer barbecues are just one way to celebrate the season with friends. You could host a garden tea or luncheon for your book club. Or host a wine-and-cheese-tasting event for neighbors or work associates. How about throwing a bridal or wedding shower for a special couple? The sky’s the limit. But remember: To keep yourself from reaching your limit, keep things sublimely simple this summer.

Mary Carol Garrity owns three home furnishings stores in Atchison, Kan., and wrote several books on home decorating. Write to Mary Carol at nellhills@mail.lvnworth.com. Her column is syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service.

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