If you haven’t already figured out, I really enjoy the work of party stylist Amy Atlas. From her inspirational blog to her new book, she is full of fun and creative ideas to use at any party. When she announced a few weeks ago that she would be going on her book tour, I had to find a location close enough to attend. It turned out that she would be signing at the Williams and Sonoma at Annapolis Mall. So, Little Bug and I traveled out there yesterday to enjoy an afternoon filled with party tips and sweet desserts.
When Amy’s book, Sweet Designs, first came out, everyone commented how kind and wonderful she was. They were absolutely right. Her goal is to help you – whether it’s designing a table better or starting your own party planning business, Amy was more than willing to sit down and chat with everyone one on one about her experiences. It was wonderful to see great ideas in action and learn some key tips to styling tables better.
The presentation opened with the idea that when outdoor entertaining, always offer guests a drink first. Amy had prepared a recipe from her book – red zinger iced tea. It wasn’t too sweet, which made it very refreshing for the warm summer afternoon.
Amy said when looking at a table, “Cohesiveness is the key.” You want to pick an overall theme and stick with it. It doesn’t matter what variety of the patterns you mix in, just make sure that you stick with the sensibility or feeling of the overall design. For the presentation, Amy had laid out the picnic dessert table. The table had an informal sensibility, which allowed her to use frayed edges, scalloped borders, and gingham patterns. If it had been a fancier table, these elements wouldn’t have worked as well together.
Being that Amy has limited storage space (actually, all her props are now kept in her home… she tried a storage unit, but missed being able to “see” everything), she mentioned finding multiple uses for different materials. This helps save money and space. For example, a trifle bowl can be used for more than just desserts. You can display candy, stack truffles, and hold favor bags. Even though you might get bored with them, white platters are the star of the party because of their versatility. She suggested adding a liner, such as wrapping paper, ribbon, or sprinkles, to bring the serving piece into the color/pattern theme.
She also focuses on turning the unexpected into a new party element. Amy suggested multiple uses for cloth napkins, including lining them up as a table runner or cutting them into triangles to make a bunting. In the picnic dessert table, she used chargers for serving platters and mini jam jars as glasses.
The vertical element is an important feature to the dessert table. As Amy says, “If everything is flat, it’s boring.” Naturally, our eyes scan the table looking for visual interest. You want guests’ attention to be drawn upward through this piece. To get this look in a creative way, Amy stacks up cake stands, cake dummies or gift boxes. She also will use tiered dessert holders, depending on the dessert to be featured. Amy suggested that the element can be in the middle for a symmetrical table or on the sides to create an assymetrical look. Low lying foods, such cookie trays or berry baskets, should be lined up in the front of the table.
Many of the desserts that Amy styles with, incorporate a specific flavor as a base such as cherry or lemon. Amy suggested having that flavor out in its natural form as well as in the dessert to connect the theme together. For example, she created cherry cupcakes and pies for this picnic dessert table. Amy also had ceramic berry baskets and scalloped kraft paper bags with cherries in them.
One of the pieces of advice that I loved had to do with creating desserts. When you want to show off the colors and textures of a dessert, use a glass dish. If the dessert is messy, try baking it in a ceramic one like a ramekin. I will definitely be following this rule in future dessert baking.
Overall, Little Bug and I had a wonderful time. I think Little Bug might become a party stylist herself when she grows up, but for now she seemed to just want to chew through the dessert table.
As a little side note, Amy’s book tour is not over yet. She still has a number of stops in the coming days. You can find the schedule here. If you have time, I highly recommend stopping by. It’s great introduction to the art of party styling.