Holiday Tips from Premiere Party Planner Bronson van Wyck

Bronson van Wyck knows how to throw a good party.  When your clients include Chanel, The Obamas, Beyonce, and Madonna, it’s pretty much assured you are at the top of your game. Bronson’s event and party production company has thrown parties for some of the most high-profile celebrities, charities and society figures in the world.   So it was a bit of a coup that we were able to meet with Bronson when his busy schedule opened up between appointments and him putting the final touches on Pottery Barn’s Holiday Preview Party.  We sat down with the master party planner to discuss his tips on how to decorate for the holidays and his tips to alleviating holiday stress.

What are your top tips for styling a Christmas tree? From the height of the tree to the lights and the ornaments– what is your favorite way to decorate?

I like a tree that fills the whole space so aim for a foot below ceiling height so you just have room to add a topper. The top styling tip I have is to go overboard on the lights – you can never have too many. I typically quadruple the number of lights that I think I will need for a project.  To achieve the “wow factor” I individually wrap each branch rather than spiraling strands of lights conically. One additional tip I will give is not to be afraid of colored lights: amber, blue, and red are a few of my favorites.

When it comes to dressing your tree, think thematically. Do you love to sing carols as a family? Bedeck the branches with partridges, pears, turtle doves, and French hens for a 12 Days of Christmas tree!  Are you especially proud of your Scottish lineage? Create a cacophony of tartan ornaments. Let your imagination and your hot glue gun run wild.

The holiday season is upon us which means a slew of party invitations.  What would be the 2-3 things you think someone should do to ensure their party is a hit?

Here are my three tips to ensure a fantastic party:

  1. Welcome your guests with a warm hug and a stiff drink. Nothing gets people in the mood to mix and mingle quite like a dash of liquid courage.
  2. There’s a reason a host of holiday tunes mention a fire being so delightful – no one can resist a cozy atmosphere come wintertime. Create areas for guests to curl up and catch up by warming up your space with faux-fur throws and pillows.
  3. Keep the surprises coming! When planning events I try to have something new happen every twenty minutes. This could be as simple as changing the playlist or circulating a new round of appetizers or as exciting as arranging a special visit from some carolers or Santa and his reindeer. Guests should always be kept guessing.

The holidays are all about the “glow”.  Do you have tips for how our customers can create mood lighting in their homes for their holiday gatherings?

When it comes to lighting follow the rule of three. Have three times as many candles as you think you’ll need and three levels of lighting: above from a chandelier, at eye-level from taper candles, and from below with votives. For areas where children and pets are certain to be playing, I recommend picking up some flameless candles – all of the drama, none of the risk. If you have a dimmer in the room where your tree is, tis the season to use it. A bit of darkness will highlight your holiday showpiece and the strands of lights encircling the tree are all the illumination you need for a special seasonal shine. For added ambiance, I like to put all my Christmas tree lights on a dimmer too. That way you can adjust the intensity to fit the mood. You can have the lights on full blast when wrapping presents during the day but turn them down low when it’s time for an evening nightcap.

Do you have any tips, tricks or must-dos for hosting a kids table during a holiday party?

The holidays may be the one time of the year when it’s best for children and adults to commingle as much as possible during a party. That way little ones learn about family heritage and traditions as stories are traded around the dinner table and adults get to experience the magic and wonder of the holidays through the eyes of a child. During the cocktail hour, it’s always a good idea to have a dedicated activity for the kids that all ages can enjoy. At this party, we’re decorating cookies which are fun whether you’re 8 or 80. When it comes time for dinner, let the kids’ table double as a craft table. Everyone loves any homemade memento this time of year. Include red and green pens alongside their flatware and a personalized blank postcard book at each setting so kids can write wish lists for Santa, do some holiday doodling or create Christmas cards for mom and dad. Having something to keep their hands busy keeps younger guests from getting too antsy during drawn-out meals and acts as a built-in conversation starter for even the shyest of children when adults stop by to say hi.

We love adding a personal element to parties, so what would your recommendation to how to create an inexpensive but personalized element to our customer’s next soiree?

I think the most meaningful way to decorate your home during the holidays is to weave in as many family heirlooms as possible. Comb through old albums and find your favorite pictures from holidays gone by. You can then place them on top of photos in frames you already own to scatter around your entertaining space. If your children are grown, go to the attic and find their favorite childhood teddy bears and tin toys to perch on top of cabinets and window sills for your very own Santa’s workshop. When setting a beautiful table, I don’t think you ever need to shop for much. The most memorable touches come from what you already have. Did your mother collect ornaments? Utilize some of her favorite baubles as centerpieces. You may not want to use something as precious your grandmother’s china for full table service but you can always mix and match a few key pieces with something less priceless.

While a red and green color palette will always hold a special place in most people’s hearts for Christmas, are there any other color combinations you are leaning towards for holiday decorating?

My favorite greenery of the season (or any time of year for that matter) is magnolia leaves.  They make fantastic garlands and wreaths, and the natural color combination of shiny emerald green and deep brown feels just right.  Mix in a hint of gold, and you’ve got the perfect mix for the holidays.

How do you handle the fact that everyone wants to gather in the kitchen at a party?  Any tips for how to get people to disperse and mingle?

People tend to congregate around the bar so be strategic when deciding where to place it. Take the drinks out of the kitchen and into the room where you want your guests to mingle. Another reason everyone gathers in the kitchen is that that is where you’re most likely to be. Hosting is rewarding but hard work. We all know that no matter how hard you prepare there is always going to be some 11th hour cooking crisis. Hiring an extra set of helping hands or making a plan to tag team last-minute preparations with your spouse or a close friend will help ensure that you get to spend quality time with your guests away from doing dishes and taking things out of the oven. It’s your party, and your guests are there to see you.

Do you have a go-to menu for quick holiday entertaining? 

If you’re short on time, skip a sit-down meal and go straight for snacks. With the right presentation, finger food that takes minimal preparation provides maximum impact. Fill silver bowls like the Antique Silver Sentiment Triple Snack Bowl with olives, candied nuts, cheese straws, or homemade potato chips. Never go wrong with a salty snack or two. For something a bit more substantial, I love a big charcuterie board. For a bit of dimension add in a tray like the Harrison Tiered Stand that is overflowing with apples, grapes, and figs. At the grocery store pick up bunches of seasonal vegetables that you can throw together for a colorful crudité platter that you can pair with premade dips. As long as they’re out of their container and in a bowl from your kitchen, no one will know they weren’t homemade.

Emily Post says you should never go to a party empty-handed.  What are your go-to host/hostess gifts that are not a bottle of wine?

In my mind, the most thoughtful thing you can do for a host is thinking about the morning after so I always bring a bottle of my signature Hellfire Bloody Mary Mix. Next day cleanup is made slightly more bearable when you have some hair of the dog that bit you. If you want to make your own, my favorite recipe for my favorite midday drink mix is to combine the following:

Hellfire Bloody Mary Mix

2¾ cups tomato juice
⅓ cup olive “juice” (strained from jarred green olives)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 T finely minced (hot whole sweet piquanté) Peppadew peppers
1 T finely minced garlic
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T packed light-brown sugar
2½ tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. finely minced fresh serrano or jalapeño peppers
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
½ tsp. celery salt

Having seen our 2018 Holiday assortment, are there any pieces you think you may want to gift yourself or others from Pottery Barn?

For my godson, I’ve had my eye on the life size Zebra from Pottery Barn Kids. When he tucks into bed at night, he will surely dream of adventures in the savanna with him by his side.

The red Mezze dinnerware is bright and happy for the season.  I love that it puts a bit of a twist on the traditional holiday look and I can keep using it during the year for other festive, celebratory gatherings.

In lieu of flowers or fruitcake, I like to gift fresh greenery to neighbors and colleagues.  The Magnolia Collection of wreaths and garlands are beautiful and lush, and the leaves dry nicely so they can keep well in chilly months. You can even send them early, before Thanksgiving so friends and family can enjoy them for the entire season.

Be sure to head to the Pottery Barn Instagram to see Bronson’s three tips for holiday entertaining and decorating!

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