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Decorating Tips For Holiday Parties: From Expert Jorge Perez

Dec. 8 2009, Published 7:29 a.m. ET

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Jorge Perez is known as an entertaining guru who’s mantra is "Your table is your label." Read on for entertaining tips we could all use! Any tips on how to throw a chic but recession friendly Holiday soiree? Including decorating, table settings, candles, food presentation, lights, etc.

Jorge – Here are some of my tips for pocket friendly yet wow holiday soirees.

1-When it comes to setting the décor and ambiance; candles are key elements to  achieve a cheap yet chic soiree. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and extremely versatile. Everyone looks better in candlelight-get lots! Add vibrant color to your space with ruby red decorative pillows and accents throughout. Include sprigs of fresh and fragrant pine adorned with colorful ornaments.

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2-The center stage of your gathering is always the table. It sets the tone for the festivities. Your table is the centerpiece. It should be beautiful yet comfortable as it’s a reflection of you. Your china and crystal play a critical role and should represent quality and enduring style, like Waterford and Wedgwood.

3-Don’t have a holiday china pattern? Wrap your place setting with a beautiful holiday ribbon adorned with a bow. Add a holiday ornament at each place setting as a gift for your guests to take home. Your table will look beautiful; simply unwrap and dinner begins!

4-For a unique, festive and fun centerpiece, I place a Santa Claus cookie jar in the center of the table and surround with candles and ornaments layered on holly sprigs. Always a crowd pleaser!

5- When setting the table be sure to allow enough space between each place setting. I recommend no less then 24 inches from the center of one plate to the center of the other. This will allow for lots of elbow room. Should you want to be “missy about manners”, your dinner plate should be one inch from the edge of the table.

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6-Repurpose! Your crystal pieces can be used in many different ways to show your sense of style and creativity. For example, pour popcorn out of a pitcher and mixed nuts or M&M’s of a posy/bud vase. Turn over any Waterford glass and it becomes an instant 3” pillar candleholder. By removing the back of your Waterford Crystal frames (any size), they make perfect serving or vanity trays.

7-For an additional fun, easy, inexpensive course, simply serve demi tasse (espresso) cups filled with warm chicken broth, and add a mini croissant. How far ahead of time should you plan a festive get together?

Jorge – Basic rule: the more formal the event the farther out you should plan. Allow extra time during the holidays since you are competing with many other functions/events. Stock up ahead on all your party needs as well. My good friend Karen Bussen suggests you should have a party pantry. What was your favorite party that you threw?

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Jorge - My last year’s Cuban New Year’s Eve bash was my favorite.  The table was dressed in silver and white by adding silver chargers, placemats & a matching runner over a white tablecloth.  It gave my white platinum-banded Wedgwood Vera Wang Grosgrain pattern a festive look. Nestled on each guests’ salad plate was a Times Square Holiday Heirloom ornament as their gift. I then tied silver ribbon to the stem of each champagne flute. On the runner I simply sprinkled silver balls in between white pillar candles.

I took my guests on a Cuban culinary journey. Everything from tostones (fried bananas) and white rice with frijoles negros (black beans) to bistec empanisado (breaded steak). Dessert was my favorite, tres leches (3 milks). The best tres leches is from Porto’s Bakery in Glendale California. Your favorite holiday party music?  Traditional or contemporary?

Jorge - I love it all. But remember it’s not about you it’s about your guests. Since we entertain all ages for the holidays, look at your guest’s age & style mix and then make your musical decision. You can never go wrong with the classics. I recommend picking up a great holiday compilation CD.

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Article continues below advertisement What are your favorite Holiday party recipes, which are easy on the wallet? and not too complicated for our amateur chefs?

Jorge –Don’t be a hero and try to make all new recipes. Go with what you know and try one or two new things. Remember, it is not just the recipe but how you present it that makes your gathering so memorable.

To start the evening, it’s wonderful to greet your guests with champagne the moment they walk in. I like to have a separate champagne station by the front door which includes an assortment of different champagne flutes on a silver tray (flea market find). By the way, I always serve my nuts warm-I mean it. Heat your mixed nuts in the microwave before serving. Your guests will be wowed!

I love butternut squash and impress my guests by serving it in Wedgwood fine bone china tea cups/saucers. Add some croutons or a dollop of crème fresh to complete the presentation! Cups/saucers are also perfect to serve ceviche, crab cocktail or even dessert. Don’t think of them for only coffee and tea anymore.

Dessert? Cleverly serve chocolate & strawberries by turning your footed cake plate UP SIDE DOWN! I serve poached pears in my martini glasses for dessert and garnish with gelato or ice cream, yum!

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Unlock that china cabinet and USE those wonderful treasures you have on display. They can be extremely versatile and say so much about you. Any creative ideas for invitations?

Jorge - Your invitation is a great vehicle to let your guests know the theme. It’s your first point of contact, your message and it begins to set the tone for your event.

Be creative. For a holiday celebration I may send the invitation in a small holiday gift wrapped box. Or for New Year’s I like to send a party pack with streamers, noisemakers, hats and confetti along with the invitation.  Your guests will be excited the moment they open your invite. The party is already a success. OR sometimes I just leave it to the professionals to do it for me. I love Ceci-New York, Luxury Invitation Design. What are some unique and chic gift ideas to bring a party hostess?

Jorge - Your host/hostess will always remember which bottle of wine you brought when you place a mini holiday ornament around the neck of the bottle. I love to buy them in sets as they provide more gifts.

For something different, gift the host/hostess with a set of their personal monogrammed stationary notes.

To make your gift even more unique & chic, show up with a pair of Waterford Robert Mondavi stems in their favorite wine varietal.

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Jorge's Final Tips-

Don’t forget to decorate your front entrance, it’s the best way to welcome everyone to your home. Often overlooked areas are your powder room, guest room and outdoor deck or patio.

Be courteous to your neighbors. Let them know you will be hosting a party and apologize ahead for any disturbance it may cause. (or just invite them!)

Don’t stress out. Set your table up to two days before your function and your flowers up to four days prior.

No matter how large or small your space, remember to always entertain with style. - Jorge



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