Who says there’s only one way to do elegant? Rita Konig wings her annual get-together, while Allison Sarofim masterminds an orchestrated event—but each affair is equally unforgettable. Our favorite party girls share their secrets.
unfussy (but real) invites “Usually I just send e-mails—or text messages,” Konig says. “But for a proper holiday gathering, I try to be more organized.” She buys vintage postcards on eBay and mails them out two weeks in advance. “Invitations set the tone,” she says. “A personal note is more relaxed than a formal printed card.”
a bar by the bed Even though Konig’s space is tiny, she hires a bartender. “It’s so worth it. You can enjoy the night, rather than spend it fixing cocktails.” She drags her desk into the bedroom doorway for the set-up. In addition to a few standard options, she serves one distinctive drink, like a rye manhattan— “Whiskey is wonderfully wintry!” If she needs more, she runs out to the wine store for prosecco.
“Parties are about fun and flirting, so I make sure I have warm lighting and delicious drinks. A little dancing never hurts either!”
Tiny upgrades, like monogrammed paper napkins, make things feel special (and can be used year-round).
simple decorations Konig saves time by choosing a single focal point: her mantel, which she trims with mistletoe, red and white berries and a lush fir garland (“Nothing says holiday like the smell of fir”); Santa Maria Novella pillars “look like church candles.” More subtle accents elsewhere, like a treasured dove ornament in non-Christmassy lavender, add to the mood without turning into a scene from Santa’s workshop.
a good iPod mix “Hiring a band takes time and planning—and would mean no room for guests,” Konig says. She asks her friend DJ Jonathan Jacobs for music suggestions. (His top seasonal pick: jazz icon Jimmy Smith’s Christmas ’64 album.) “It’s nice to have something surprising,” she notes.
store-bought snacks (that look homemade) Konig keeps it basic by sticking to a single hors d’oeuvre. “My motto: Do one thing, but do it beautifully.” Mini shepherd’s pies remind the native-born Brit of home, and are as easy as, well, pie: She calls New York’s Tea & Sympathy and requests that the food be cooked in her own ramekins—“So people think I made them myself!” she says. “Often gourmet grocers will do this—all you have to do is call the day before, then drop off your dishes.”
“Unclutter whatever room you’re holding the party in, but don’t take out all the furniture. People need to sit down!”
Each guest leaves with a wrapped treat, like a little bottle of truffle oil.
just-so invites “Perfection is in the details,” Sarofim says. “People get asked to lots of events at this time of year, so I think, ‘How can I make my invitation unique?’” She loves handwritten cards from calligrapher Margaret Neiman Harber, who uses penmanship styles that date to the 18th century. Personalized postage from stamps.com furthers the custom feel. “Using my iPhone, I take a photo of my black Lab, Babu, and turn it into a stamp.”
a smart music strategy Sarofim opts for a mix of tunes: “You need to switch the tempo so the evening has a clear beginning, middle and end.” She kicks off with a mariachi band (“I like to begin with an element of surprise, and mariachis make everyone happy”), then brings in a DJ and finally winds things down by calling a friend’s iPod into commission. “It’s good to start out with a big bang and end on a casual note.”
full bar, plus one signature drink
Sarofim offers plentiful options made to order by her team of bartenders, along with something old-fashioned “for a bit of nostalgia,” she says. This year’s choice is sugar-rimmed sidecars, served in pretty venetian tumblers and passed on trays. “I like a cocktail that’s not overly sweet. People can always ask for these without sugar too.”
serving ware at the ready Sarofim begins prepping her table about a week in advance: polishing platters, ironing napkins and making sure she has enough glasses. She chooses graceful accents in a pared-down palette—silver serving platters, creamy-hued hyacinths and paperwhites—for an effect that’s “eclectic but refined,” she says. “Neutrals are wonderfully simple, but at a holiday party, they’re also unexpected.” Vintage glasses and delicate linen hemstitched napkins picked up on her travels turn the dessert table into an ornament in its own right. “You don’t have to have a coordinated set of linens,” Sarofim says. “Just the fact that they’re cloth counts!”
fast food! Sarofim’s one unabashedly lowbrow moment: sliders and fries from New York’s Pop Burger (passed on silver trays by servers). “They’re crowd pleasers!” she says. “In my experience, people gravitate toward basic, hearty fare.” Dessert, however, is flat-out extravagant: an antique English buffet laid with dainty pastel macaroons, rich Vosges chocolates, irresistible caramel popcorn balls—and vanilla milk shakes garnished with peppermint straws.
“Guest are the most important aspect of any party, so assemble a variety: your inner tribe, some interesting friends from different worlds, plus a few jokesters and glamour-pusses.”
“Whenever you’re out shopping, keep an eye peeled for interesting dishes you might use later. A beautiful tray could inspire a whole party.”