As the holiday season approaches, we start to go into a crazy panic. How do we pull together a stunning, unforgettable, festive party—all while staying on budget? Don’t worry, we chatted with event planner and magic-maker extraordinaire, Vicky Wang of Alchemy Design Co, an event planning and boutique design company to get the inside scoop on how to plan a highly personalized and unique holiday party that will surely wow your guests. Whether it’s a big company bash or intimate gathering of a few friends, here are some tips on how to stay cool, calm, and collected during the year’s most hectic season.
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Tell us a little bit about yourself, your business, and your design philosophy.
We are an experiential event and design company that believes in artfully weaving a story from favorite memories, family, and loved ones, or your company culture, and adding a touch of magic (and of course, great food!). We work to create experiences that transport you to a different world, and, for a moment, invite you to step out of the everyday. In that fleeting moment, we hope you feel a little wonder and that it inspires you to see the world with renewed curiosity.
How did you start the company and what exactly is experiential event planning?
This company was born out of a love for New York City. Having lived in the city for a few years, I was looking for a fun and different way to experience the city. I decided to host a pop-up dinner in Bryant Park for a few friends and they enjoyed it so much that soon other people were asking to join, and the company grew organically from there. I think the experiential aspect speaks to us actively inviting our guests to constantly engage with the moment, whether it be through nostalgic and customized details or even a fun activity. We have now launched a design division where we create personalized designs for clients so that even if we aren’t able to host the party for you, we can still create designs that will make guests feel special.
How and where do you find inspiration or gather ideas for events?
Besides the regular sources (art, magazines, Pinterest…), our favorite place to draw inspiration from are the personal stories our clients share with us. These help us get to know the guests, frame the events in a personalized way, and curate the experience to their favorite memories, interest, and passions.
Do you have a favorite event that you’ve planned so far?
Looking back, my favorite events and moments are usually spontaneous ones that were unplanned. We hosted an anniversary dinner at Highline Park in New York City and when a group of six-year-olds walked by, they decided to serenade the couple with “You Are My Sunshine.” Another moment was when we set up a dinner in Central Park, and two strangers dressed up in cartoon character costumes (it wasn’t Halloween) decided to join the dinner party, resulting in a hilarious and fun highlight!
What differentiates a good party from a GREAT party?
Guests remember an evening as great when they get to fully immerse themselves in the moment and forget about everything else. Unfortunately, you can’t always plan these moments, but you can create an environment that encourages them. One way to ensure this is by helping guests feel comfortable at the party.
What are your top tips for throwing a great party?
Make your guests feel special by including little touches that make people feel welcome and at home. For some events, it’s helpful to have a theme—something that will make your event cohesive and tie everything together. For example, we once did a retro ski lodge beer pong tournament that was tied together by an ‘80s/neon theme. Creative personal touches are also a great way to make the party memorable. For example, using a cinematic light box that welcomes guests with a fun title for the evening is a great way to set the mood. Oh Happy Day is a great creative resource as well.
If you’re not throwing the party in your own home, how do you go about finding a venue?
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. I walk around New York City and am constantly on the lookout for interesting spaces. Sometimes it can be a coffee shop, a bookstore, or even a haunted theater (we found out it was haunted DURING the event). Be proactive about speaking to the owners and ask if they might be open to hosting a little get together in their space.
Do you recommend cooking at home, or having the food catered?
As a host, there is already so much to prepare before the party that you should do whatever is less stressful and puts you in a great mood to greet and host everyone once they arrive. If you enjoy cooking, treat your guests to your culinary genius. However, if time in the kitchen is a stressful prospect, go ahead and cater! It might be nice to add one simple dish that you can put together (e.g., a cheese plate with olives and crackers or a simple watermelon salad). Either way, be sure to check with guests for any dietary restrictions beforehand so everyone is well fed.
What sort of entertainment can hosts provide for their guests, other than food and drink?
When I’m casually hosting at home for some close friends, fun games are always a simple way to engage the group (try Cards Against Humanity or Taboo). Activities around photos are great, too! Have guests get creative with Pablo (an app that allows you to “draw” with light, just be sure to have a completely dark background for the best effect).
What are the trends this year for the holidays? What are the must-have decor or food items?
We’ve seen a lot of rose quartz, wax seals, marbled patterns, geometric shapes, and flamingos (!) this year. Guests also seem to really appreciate mulled wine and infused water.
What advice do you have for entertaining on a budget?
Give extra thought and care to music and lighting, two elements that can have the biggest impact on creating a festive and fun ambiance. If you weren’t a born D.J. or live music is not possible, you can use Spotify to create a playlist. Changing up the lighting instantly transforms the space and creates an intimate vibe. Buy white candles of varying heights and style them in clusters for maximum effect. You can also hang strands of market or fairy lights for beautiful overhead lighting. Lastly, you can even create a makeshift photo booth with your iPhone, a tripod, and a fun backdrop by using Simplebooth.
What are the most important things to remember on the day of the event?
Always leave enough time to do all of the prep required. Make lists beforehand, and think through the flow of the event. I always try to do as much prep before the day of the event so that I can focus on execution and am not running around picking up last minute items. Most important of all, have fun and enjoy being with your guests!
If you have to put together a party last minute, what is your advice for making it personal and fun on a tight deadline?
Make it an adventure for everyone involved and bring the party with you. Find an unexpected public or outdoors space, pack blankets, napkins, and a fun touch (like flowers) and then ask everyone else to bring food and drinks. Voilà, an impromptu night-time picnic! Just remember to check the weather in case there is a forecast of rain. If indoors, hanging up decorative pennant flags, garlands, and balloons also have great impact. You can also come up with one “signature cocktail”—it’s special, easy (because it limits the options), and very personal if you come up with a unique name. Plus, it feels very exclusive!
Any last bits of wisdom for party planning?
Don’t be afraid to experiment. The most memorable parties are often ones that transport the guests out of the ordinary and bond them in that moment. Sometimes, it doesn’t take too much planning, just an open mind and a willingness to be up for adventure.