How to Build a Party Closet: 5 Essential Items for Elegant Entertaining

pottery barn caterer dinnerware

A well-stocked party closet has large quantities of neutral dishes and glassware.

Thanks to a million photos on Pinterest, you might think that throwing a good party is all about extreme crafting and food styling. But step away from the org porn for a minute, because I’m going to blow your mind: The truth is that the art of entertaining lies in making your event appear effortless, not in creating a theme worthy of a 1990s Vegas hotel. To host a fabulous gathering, you only need to break down things to their most essential elements.

About a decade ago, when my sister and I and our friends began getting married and having babies, my mom came up with the term “party closet.” She’d always loved to entertain, but she then found herself regularly hosting showers and cocktail parties. Though she’d typically rent plates and glasses for larger events, she realized that it would be more cost-effective and time-efficient to simply gather her own gear. And lo, the party closet was born. (Her stash lives on a small set of shelves in a designated corner of her regular clothes closet.)

Now my sister and I have done same. Whether it’s dinner for 15 or cocktails for 50, we’ve found that being prepared allows us to focus on the food and the friends instead of fussing about how we’re going to get it all on the table. And since we made a pact to stock up on essential items that look really similar, we can each easily triple our headcount, without worrying about storage space. With that in mind, I highly recommend finding a friend or family member with whom you can do the same.

Below is a list of the five essentials you’ll need to start building your own party closet. I suggest investing in at least 24 pieces of the individual dishes and glasses, but tailor that to your own needs based on how frequently you entertain, and for how many.

ikea svalka glassware

1. Simple stemware

Start with a plain red or white glass — which can hold wine, water, or even cocktails. I recommend the Svalka line from IKEA. It’s versatile, can be stored in the case it’s sold in, and comes at a price point that can’t be beat. For less than $5 for a set of six, there’s no excuse to ever use plastic cups again.

2. White plates

Always classic, white dish ware allows you to work with just about any scheme for your event, whether it’s a birthday party, baby shower, or anniversary dinner. Pottery Barn sells this caterer dinnerware (at top) in sets of four or 12 per item. Bowls aren’t necessary for getting started, but dinner and salad plates (the latter can double as dessert plates) should be in everyone’s set up. I also recommend checking out local discount stores (Think T.J.Maxx, the Christmas Tree Shops), which may also have a good selection and at better prices. The drawback is that you might not be able to find the same pattern again if you determine you need more pieces; however, if you keep your choices as simple as possible, adding new pieces — even if they aren’t a perfect match — will be no big deal.

cuatro platter set

3. White platters

Along with white plates, a good party closet needs a series of coordinating platters in various sizes. Again, they don’t need to be exactly the same pattern, but choosing a consistent, neutral color is the way to go. The Cuatro platter collection from CB2 has simple lines, is well-priced, and will serve up anything from appetizers to entrees to desserts.

ikea fornuft flatware

4. Flatware

In general, I avoid using plastic ware, which is bad for the environment and a definite no for more elegant affairs. But flatware can be pricey. I again recommend IKEA; their Fornuft flatware is under $10 for four 5-piece place settings and is the best option I’ve found to date.

ws hotel tablecloth

5. White table linens

A solid base layer for your table is important no matter what. I’ve found that I never can have too many white tablecloths, but you should plan to have at least two on hand, like this one from Williams-Sonoma’s hotel linen collection.

Worried that all this white-on-white will look too plain and boring? Don’t fret — remember that these are just your base items. Add colorful table runners, bright napkins, tons of flowers, and friends, and your party is guaranteed to be beautiful and fun. With these essentials in your closet, you’ll be able to entertain more frequently, and with less effort. And isn’t creating room for the good times what life is all about?

Sarah O'Neill Fernandez is a blogger, designer, and owner of Chateau and Bungalow, a home design blog and bricks-and-mortar retail boutique located in Newport, R.I. She lives in Middletown, R.I. with her family and a pretty awesome new kitchen.

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