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    Ambiance Trifecta: Music, Candles, and Flowers—Oh My!

    In a few weeks, my friend Katie and her new baby girl will be making a visit all the way from Australia! Because this visit falls over the first weekend of May, I’m now in the throes of planning a Kentucky Derby party in her honor.

    As we all know, party planning—whether it’s an intimate dinner party or a large bash—is a bit of a matrix: guest list, menu, timeline, maybe even a theme. Once all the essential details are nailed down, it’s on to the fun stuff. In the spirit of horse racing, I’ll call it my Ambiance Trifecta; Music, Candles, and Flowers. Incorporating these three components into your next gathering are the icing on the party cake of a successful soirée.

    Here’s the rundown…


    A fun beat instantly sets a festive tone, and can also help relax people in social situations. I’ve realized the importance of ambient tunes after attending a few showers and dinner parties where you could literally hear a pin drop, which I find completely unnerving.

    I find making playlists incredibly fun, not to mention nostalgic for my mixed-tape-90’s teenage heart. But, like the rest of you I’m sure, I rarely have the time. Luckily, technology swoops in to answer all our problems with loads of playlist options and apps at your fingertips. If you’re old-school, the radio or even a CD will work fine, just make sure and pick something upbeat and in-tune with the crowd your hosting. For instance, at my husband’s recent 20-year reunion we bumped Pandora’s throwback 90s R&B Radio, which was both hilarious and fun, but probably not on the docket for Grandma’s 90th birthday luncheon!

    The playlist I chose for our more formal party shown below is the Dinner Party by Starbucks mix. I found it on Spotify but it’s also available as a CD.

    Photo by janifest


    Flowers always feel luxurious, and add an element of unrivaled beauty to any gathering.

    Here’s a few tips for nailing your floral décor:

    • Keep arrangements low at the dining area and coffee table to allow for unadulterated eye contact and conversation. You’re not there to talk to the dahlias! You’re there to talk to nosy Aunt Sue. But maybe you prefer the dahlias? Anyway….
    • Skip overly strong varieties in the kitchen. Save the lilies or lilacs for the entryway or powder room.
    • Invest in vases that can be reused throughout the year with seasonal arrangements. I have a collection of antique mason jars and milk glass I’ve picked up at thrift shops over the years, two urns for low table arrangements, and one tall glass vase for the entryway.
    • If you’re not a floral aficionado, buy big bunches of the same flower and disperse through the house, or simply stick to one color palette with lots of different floral varietals.
    • Depending on the look you’re after, greenery alone can be a good choice. I used eucalyptus below and have also done arrangements with ferns from my yard for a more boho look. Both ideas BTW are mega bargains!
    Photo by Oleg Samoylov
    • If you’re short on time or feeling overwhelmed, floral arrangements are a great thing to outsource. You can save a little dough by providing the florist with vases from your own collection.


    Candles can make anything feel festive. They set the mood that something special and celebratory is happening. Unlike flowers, which can sway on the side of spendy, candles provide a ton of bang for your buck. Inexpensive votives and tea candles can be used year-round, eliminating the need for holiday-specific décor that’s a pain to store.

    Photo by Maren Winter

    Here are a few tips for using candles for entertaining:

    • Similar to flowers, opt for unscented in the kitchen so you’re not competing with the food, and keep candles low or out of the sight line of guests to not block conversations.
    • If candles are on the table, it’s most likely an evening party. Dim the lights! Give you and your guests’ skin a candlelit glow. Sure, candles make things feel special, but they also create a demure and sexy vibe for the night.   
    • In the powder room, and other entertaining spaces where food isn’t the main player, I opt for scented candles. With experience working in a home goods store, I can attest to the fact that not all scented candles are equal, and sometimes paying a bit more is worth it. My absolute favorite brand is Nest. Even their tiny votive candles make an entire house smell like heaven for an evening.
    • Last is a funny little tip from this anxiety-prone Mama. Every time I light candles for a party, I leave a Post-It note by my tooth brush reminding me to blow them out at bedtime. Hosting can definitely put your mind on overload, not to mention a few glasses of bubbly, so let’s opt out of a late-night visit from the fire department.

    So, there you have it. Want to elevate your average shindig, and make your guest feel extra special? Leave the lions, tigers, and bears to Dorothy, and have a little fun incorporating my entertaining trifecta; Music, Candles, and Flowers—Oh my!

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