Decorations, props, and surprises are the extras that will make a birthday party memorable. Well-planned decor and moments of amusement all centered around a cohesive style and theme keep your party interesting and your guests entertained.
Generally, there are three primary types of parties that we like to use for birthdays:
THEME: Convert any theme or color to a birthday celebration with a few extras.
TIME: Mark the occasion with highlights of the birth year, decade or zodiac sign.
WHIMSICAL: Decorate in an adult adaptation of playful and amusing birthdays of our past.
Virtually any party can be transformed into a birthday celebration with a few little extra details inserted into your chosen theme or color, just add:
A "Happy Birthday" banner or sign
Hanging ceiling swirls or paper lanterns
Birthday candles or food picks
A Toast and/or song
And, if you don’t want the spectacle of a birthday cake, birthday candles or picks can just as easily be used in hors d'oeuvres and/or petit fours.
Also, give your event a name to relate the theme to the birthday boy or girl, for example instead of a 30th Birthday Party, throw a “Bon Voyage 20s Party” or simply use the guest of honor’s favorite color, TV show or movie as your theme.
Here are some ideas for inclusive birthday party themes specific to the guest of honor, I'm sure you can think of more:
Decade parties are a great way to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or commemorations of an event or date. Guests love dressing up for “the look” of the period; just add nostalgic playlists, decorations, food and drink to create a memorable occasion.
The most popular idea for a decades theme party is to combine vintage elements from the period or even a specific year. Alternatively, you may choose to make one specific event or trend your theme, such as a Sock Hop Party for the 50's. Here are some more ideas:
Combine elements of all eras for a Retro Party or Come As Your Favorite Decade Party. Find more details in DECADES here.
Another idea is to use an astrology theme with the emphasis on the guest of honor's zodiac sign; you might also hire a fortune teller for entertainment. For reference:
March 21 - April 19, ARIES: Ram
April 20 - May 20, TAURUS: Bull
May 21 - June 20, GEMINI: Twins
June 21 - July 22, CANCER: Crab
July 23 - August 22, LEO: Lion
August 23 - September 22, VIRGO: Virgin
September 23 - October 22, LIBRA: Scale
October 23 - November 21, SCORPIO: Scorpion
November 22 - December 21, SAGITTARIUS: Archer
December 22 - January 19, CAPRICORN: Goat
January 20 - February 18, AQUARIUS: Water
February 19 - March 20, PISCES: Fish
Create a delightful birthday party for adults by combining whimsical elements of childhood memories with lots of color. Whether you are planning dinner, cocktails and/or dessert, this party style, by far, is our favorite for celebrating birthdays and is always a hit for anyone that was once a kid.
whim·si·cal - (wim'zi-kul), adjective
playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way.
2. tending toward odd, erratic or unpredictable behavior; acting on a sudden wish or desire.
With this definition in mind, we've used a variety of bright and cheerful shapes, colors, patterns and fun motifs to plan a casual, lighthearted occasion that speaks to the inner child in all of us.
Although we have combined many of our ideas into a dinner table setting, you can easily apply them to all aspects of your décor including a serving table, party area, bar and bathroom.
Add substance and interest to your event with unique elements that are fun and engaging. First, choose a direction or general focus to guide your selection of motifs.
We’ve selected a gender-neutral kid & carnival angle with a popcorn cart, cupcake spreaders, balloon dog picks, gumballs, lollipop candles, cluster balloon picks and train placecard holders. The possibilities are endless, but some ideas for a whimsical theme include:
You could also simply use a shape or pattern as a motif:
Regardless of your theme, a wide variety of random color is playful, fanciful, appealing, amusing, erratic and unpredictable, i.e. whimsical. It still helps to plan your colors and placemat (okay, not so random), separating similar colors and working to achieve a balance. Too much pink, becomes feminine, too many dark colors are less playful, and earth tones are not so fanciful.
Don't forget about white space! When going for an explosion of color, white is your best friend. The secret to colors that pop is contrast; surround them with white, or at least, another neutral color. For example:
The white wall accentuates the color tulle stripes
The white cake stand highlights the cake
White dinner napkins show off the party bead napkin rings
White gumballs add depth to the display
White dinner plates draw attention to the napkin
White sour cream distinguishes the balloon dog pick
Compare the difference between the colorful train placecard holder, without white, and the snippets of color in the cake stand. Which colors stand out most?
You can establish a whimsical effect with the erratic use of a variety of colors, however, at the same time, you can repeat aspects of your decor to provide cohesion. We've used circles and spheres as a predominant shape to unify our presentation.
Our round elements include:
Popcorn cart wheels
Cake & stand
In addition, we've positioned napkins in a diamond shape at each place setting to connect with the lozenge tablecover.
Patterns are a subtle technique to reinforce a theme, such as stripes for a beach party, gingham for a country western event and fleur-de-lis for Mardi gras.
For our theme, the red & yellow stripes on the popcorn cart, the harlequin pattern of a jester as the tablecover, and swirls in the lollipops, straws and cake stand ribbon all serve to support a whimsical, carnival-like theme.
Whether you are planning a dinner party for eight or cocktail party for 200, consider your guests' viewpoints for maximum impact. Naturally, your greatest effort will be where guests will spend most of their time, but also plan vignettes where many guests will visit, such as the entrance and bathroom.
In addition, visualize different potential angles and perspectives, such as entering a room, sitting, or from a mezzanine.
Transform the atmosphere of any room to playful with a rainbow wall of color. This simple trick uses tulle fabric to create a dramatic effect for little cost or effort. You can change the impact with different color combinations:
Dark blue, light blue and teal for water
Red and yellow or red and white for circus
Black and gold for magic
Red, orange and yellow for sunshine
Dark green, light green and brown for nature
Red and black for pirate and western
Obviously, consider your wall color if you are leaving spaces between the tulle. And so simple, just 4 easy steps! Find the details at Birthday>More Decorating Tips.
Hanging paper lanterns is a great way to get the effervescent effect of balloons, but with a grown-up twist.
Use a variety of colors and shapes at different heights for that touch of whimsy. We clustered 2 sizes (9.5" and 14") in five different colors.
Use fishing line to create a fantasy effect of colorful orbs floating in air. We hung our paper lanterns with party beads to tie-in with the party bead napkin rings for an added carnival hint.
Other festive options for hanging, include:
Tulle fluff balls
Flags or Pennants
In addition to expanding your theme, design or choose focal points that tell their own story. Beyond composition, color and contrast, you can create interest and distinction when you incorporate deeper meaning into your centerpieces and vignettes.
We've created one centerpiece and 2 vignettes for our tablescape, any of which could easily be used as a focal point elsewhere.
Vintage Cake--In the center, we have threaded the holes of a white traditional, scallop-edge cake stand with multi-colored rick rack (zigzag) trim to complement the rainbow swirls of a large round lollipop candle in the center of the cake. We've also included 3 smaller round swirl lollipops in blue, yellow and pink for emphasis.
The vintage style of the stand, variety of colors, swirls, and cake along with the lollipop symbols of adolescence are reminiscent of the thrill and wonder of a birthday party as a kid.
Note: For a dinner party, you may want to start with hors d'oeuvres and balloon picks on the cake stand, then present the cake for dessert.
Gumball Machine--Fill a large curved-glass vase with vibrant multi-colored jumbo balls of bubblegum for an elegant recreation of the childhood fascination and magnetism of a gumball machine. Tip: Place a tall glass upside down in the center to make your gumballs go farther.
Nostalgic Popcorn Cart--Featuring a red & yellow striped top, the old-fashioned metal ice cream and popcorn cart embodies the nostalgic excitement, smells and tastes of visiting a carnival as a child back in the good ol' days.
Height and Symmetry:
Add height to a table setting or vignette with a floral composition or spray display. You can also provide symmetry and balance by including a matching or similar arrangement.
We’ve selected the fairytale effect of glitterball sprays in 6 shades, anchored with 2 wine bottles in vibrant orange and blue. This is also an effective way to dramatically fill a small space, such as a bathroom counter.
Bar & Beverages:
Every guest will visit or socialize near the bar, which makes it an ideal location to develop a mini scene in keeping with your theme. Incorporate a background, bar supplies, tabletop decoration, hors d'oeuvres, birthday greetings, garnishes and favors to create an attractive gathering spot that is also functional.
Background: You can use solid color or printed scene bulletin board rolls of paper on a wall for an instant background, such as underwater, jungle or sky and clouds. Another option is to hang sheers, fabric, tulle or a bamboo shade, along with potted plants, especially if there is no wall, or if you would like to hide the area behind the bar.
We've chosen a printed sky and clouds bulletin board paper for an outdoor carnival-like scene, then added chevron-patterned pennants and frosty Popsicle string lights.
Birthday Greeting: We've used LED "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" string lights along the front of the bar as our birthday greeting, but you may also use a paper banner or theme-related photo and/or placecard holders with mini happy birthday signs.
Photo holders are also a cute addition to announce your signature drink for the occasion.
Bar Supplies: Decorative bar supplies are an easy way to add noticeable details to your fete and may be relative to the style (whimsical), theme (carnival) or event (birthday). We've selected multi-color dot & stripe beverage napkins, balloon picks and red & white swirl straws.
When possible, cute containers and vases for bar supplies and garnishes add a nice touch. We've emptied our straws into a scallop-edge pail with multi-colored rick rack trim threaded through the holes, bunched our balloon picks into an amber bud vase, and stored our supply of lime and cherry garnishes in mini enamel wheelbarrows.
Depending upon space, you may also want to offer nuts, hors d'oeuvres, and party favors at the bar. We added a whimsical, leopard base and peppermint top cake stand for our chili corn cupcake bites and a giant martini glass for metallic party bead necklace favors in assorted colors.
Beverages: A designated pre-mixed "signature" drink makes an easy decision for the guest and easy serving for the host. And as an extra birthday tribute, name your signature drink for your guest of honor. We also like to rim the cocktail and/or martini glasses with multi-colored, rainbow sprinkles (nonpareils) for another measure of whimsy.
Skewer olives, maraschino cherries and other garnishes with entertaining food picks or toothpick flags. For our dinner tablescape, we're serving pale yellow lemonade as a base for bright red & white straws with colorful cluster balloon picks inserted.
Food & Hors d'oeuvre:
Passing hors d'oeuvres on trays not only adds a touch of elegance for the special occasion, but also introduces another smidgen of excitement as guests await each tray of intricately assembled appetizers.
In addition to wowing the crowd with your detailed bites, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce another birthday-themed surprise to each guest as the tray is passed. Choose small and sturdy accents as serving tray centerpieces for hors d'oeuvres to charm your guests over the duration of the party.
With a little more thought, you can find just the right appetizer or hors d’oeuvre to capture the spirit of your event. Then, add birthday and whimsical food picks or color toothpick flags instead of plain toothpicks; we've used balloon and balloon dog pics for our food bites.
Savory Chili Corn Cupcakes with sour cream frosting looks just like a mini cupcake, and we’ve topped it with a balloon dog pick for a carnival twist. Find recipes for chili corn cupcakes, sausage ball lollipops, cream cheesy gifts and party pizza hats here.
Include unique condiment containers, serving dishes, utensils and salt & pepper shakers at a buffet, food or dinner table. We’ve added two enamel wheelbarrows in hot pink and red with cupcake handled spreaders to our birthday dinner table parade.
Naturally, you will coordinate the overall look of your tablescape when placing elements, pattern and color, but we also like to consider each guest’s point of view. When serving dinner, the small details at each place setting will go a long way to creating a memorable experience for everyone.
We've individualized each of our place settings with different color combinations of napkins, napkin rings, balloon dog picks and printed placecard names. Some details to consider:
Use a charger, dinner plate or placemat as a frame
Add a theme or color beverage napkin in the center
Center an hors d'oeuvre or apertif
Party beads as napkin rings are a subtle surprise to wear at dinner
Placecard holders (even if you don't use them, you should have a seating plan, see here)
Print names in theme-related font and color
Use border, shape and color where appropriate; we cut our placecards with scallop-edge borders to match the cake stand
Instill a little excitement and anticipation as your guests and birthday boy or girl arrive with a lively front entrance greeting. It doesn't take much, and a festive detail out front will go a long way to setting the atmosphere. Some ideas for the entry include:
Criss-cross colored or chevron patterned pennants
Dangle ceiling swirls
Hang a Happy Birthday banner
At night, string Popsicle or cupcake string lights
Add a birthday greeting yard stake
Or, depending upon space, location and visibility, position the yard stake in a potted plant outside the front door or in the foyer. We've added "Happy B'day" signs to the cabin windows of a Ferris Wheel yard spinner.
Ideally, your party area should be just large enough to accommodate your guests to encourage mingling and conversation while discouraging sitting. You can use a variety of lighting sources to designate your party area indoors and outside.
Generally, overhead lights are too bright, unless they are on a dimmer. Some effective indirect lighting for parties include:
Paper lanterns with battery lights
Votive candles and holders are attractive, easy, portable, and inexpensive, and you can never have too many. You may want to use battery-powered tealights or votives to eliminate any risk of fire. String lights along the bar, balcony railings, around a doorway and on the mantel make a cheerful theme-inspired decoration for a day or night.
Use white glow sticks to temporarily light outdoor walkways and steps.
Decorate your guests with brightly colored metallic beads and pearl bead necklaces. Party beads encourage creativity, laughter, and fun while relaxing the mood.
Place multi-colored beads in a bowl or giant martini glass on the bar and let guests help themselves. Liven up the party, by passing a tray of party beads in between hors d'oeuvres.
For a birthday dinner party surprise, loop a strand of beads several times around a rolled up dinner napkin to make a colorful napkin ring to wear at dinner.
Find unique candles to add a twist to this birthday tradition. From tall, skinny tapers to an elaborate lotus flower candle that opens lighting 14 separate candles, while spinning and playing happy birthday.
In addition to the spinning musical flower candle, find a wide selection in our birthday candle section, including:
Instead of making or buying a cake, put your candles in hors d'oeuvres or special bite-size sweets, such as petit fours. Another fun option is to serve Jell-O shots with your unique candles in each one.
Jazz up the bathroom, bar, buffet, serving table, counter tops and dinner table with theme-related table scatter or confetti. Just a sprinkle here and there is an easy way to add subtle details and lift spirits.
Spread happy thoughts by scattering birthday confetti, diamonds, autumn leaves, hibiscus blooms, or ice rocks sparingly throughout the party area. And, if you are mailing invitations or thank you notes, add just a pinch of fun and festivity in each envelope.