When it comes to hosting in any season, I often call on our party guru, Hugh Howser, for help. This was definitely the case when my client, Veuve Clicquot Champagnes, wanted me to put together a Nashville-based dinner party to showcase a few of their select vintages. With Hugh’s help, we roped in our friend Holly Williams to serve as honorary hostess and started on the VIP guest list. Aside from the attendees and showcasing the brand, I left all of the other details to Hugh. He not only put together a gorgeous setting, but created something truly special inside the intimate Southernaire Market downtown. It required moving out some kiosks and shelves of goods but also provided the bonus of refrigerated cases along the wall where we could display endless bottles of the bubbly. The end result was a fall-themed dinner party (with the Veuve “yellow label” being the color inspiration) catered by The Southern restaurant, which is adjacent to the market.

While the décor is obviously autumn, the intent was to embrace the season in a tasteful way. Although individual color preferences will vary depending on location and personal style, it’s important to not go overboard when trying to stage an entertaining space. Instead of all kinds of seasonal accessories, more subtle hints result in a theme that is obvious but perfectly understated.

Using his tips and this dinner party as a guide, you can easily come up with ideas on hosting your own celebration this season.

Think Outside the Dining Room

Just as we decided to host our dinner in the eclectic shopping market instead of a private dining room, you can get creative when choosing your own location. Here are a few of Hugh’s favorite ideas:

Consider an open-air market (or your nearest farmer’s market). Set a dinner table in the middle of produce sections, add candles and serve a fall feast. A farm or barn can also be stunning with wooden tables and natural garlands on the chairs.

I have always wanted to place a long dinner table in a shallow creek. This sounds insane, but guests would receive invitations that instruct them to wear rain boots. An even better idea is to give wellies as favors and provide them to guests upon arrival. I imagine chandeliers hanging suspended from tree branches above the setting and lots of lanterns and candles for lighting.

Head to the nearest park or spot of land and create an elegant blanket picnic for a group. Various quilts layered vertically (to form a long ‘table’) centered with baskets filled with a variety of wines, produce and bread. Bring a pop-up table and tablecloth to complement the quilts and set up a side-buffet for the food and drinks.

Hughs and Don’ts for Autumn Entertaining

Let’s make those pilgrims proud! This time of year, burnt oranges, deep rust hues and chocolate brown accents seem to take over the nation. Rather than making your décor look like an elementary school fall-fest, try a few of these “Hughs and Don’ts for Fall Entertaining.”

HUGHs:

Use one monochromatic color this year for your table. A setting with cream-colored pumpkins and all-white flowers makes a subtle statement, especially in a world obsessed with white marble kitchens and brass hardware. Don’t forget to place white candles everywhere. Fall is all about candlelight.

Let the décor compliment the environment—don’t randomly place an ear of yellow corn in a vase on the entry table and think you’re done. Guests will think you need help with your groceries. Use a color that works for the space. Painting fresh pumpkins in the color of your choice can also be a fun but tasteful way to center a tablescape.

DON’Ts:

Use silk fall leaves or faux gourds, they immediately look like a bulletin board in Mrs. Burgess’s classroom.

Don’t spray pumpkin spice scent anywhere. No one wants to smell like they’ve just left a Cracker Barrel.

And lastly, don’t incorporate a tacky theme scarecrow. Enough said!