This rust-tinted time of year, when it’s chilly enough to light a fire – yet not so cold that you can’t brave the garden – is the ideal time to host a party, according to designer Bell Hutley.
Whether you’re throwing a bonfire night barbecue or an autumnal Sunday lunch, she suggests bringing the inside out and the outside in.
The rustic mood of autumn suits a low-key, informal party, adds interiors expert Lisa Mehydene, founder of edit58.com, which means you don’t have to spend a fortune: think warming mugs of soup, or souped-up hot dogs eaten outside.
All ages enjoy high jinks in autumn, continues George Whitefield of children’s entertainers Sharky & George – a few games are obligatory, even if it’s a bit wet. “The cosy feeling you get when you come inside makes it all worth it,” he says.
Go for a muted, earthy look, suggests Hutley, using chestnut reds, purples, ivy greens, yellows and maroon – and don’t try to make it too perfect. “When things are a little rough around the edges, guests feel more at ease,” she says. Layering is a good way to achieve this rustic autumnal look, adds Mehydene.
“Go for an olive-green or burnt-orange gingham tablecloth, layered up with mismatched earthenware pottery,” she says. Small fruit bowls filled with golden artichokes, pomegranates and pears will add a sense of harvest festival, Mehydene adds. “It’s got to feel as abundant as possible.”
For place settings, she makes place cards using manilla tags tied around cinnamon sticks, and places them on rattan mats; Hutley, meanwhile, uses her own range of Harlequin placemats, earthy brown cutlery and napkins for a more vampish look.
The trend for coloured glasses continues; Hutley found dark-emerald wine glasses at Kempton market and bought deep-pink tumblers at Mario Luca Giusti in Florence (available on trouva.com); Habitat’s Congo range, available in autumnal oranges and greens, is an affordable alternative (habitat.co.uk).
To complete the seasonal look, serve food on wooden boards and decorate your cheeseboard with grapes, shards of dark chocolate and orange peel. Then light the candles: Mehydene uses tall coloured candlesticks – dark green or olive – while Hutley floats tea lights in glass jars with a single flower. “It’s a subtle detail but has a beautiful impact,” she says.
Don’t go too wild with your arrangements, advises Hutley; a few small posies down the table work will be softer than a decadent centrepiece. She likes to use jam jars and milk bottles filled with small arrangements of seasonal blooms, herbs and seed heads. “Anything still in the garden could make it onto my table; hydrangeas, late roses, and vines and medlar as well as rose hips and rowan berries,” she says.
If your arrangements clash, all the better, adds floral designer Willow Crossley, who includes bright stripy dahlias and berries in her arrangements at this time of year. “Even though it’s not summer you can still use a lot of colour,” she says. Her new range of handblown glass vases are available at willowcrossley.com, while the new avocado vase, which allows guests to observe the seed as it matures, is available now at ilexstudio.com.
An autumnal wreath will immediately show guests that this is a serious party, says Mehydene. She also lines her garden path with piles of squashes and dresses the front windowsill with lanterns, as a prelude to what is happening inside. Hutley positions Moroccan lamps on either side of the front door and welcomes guests with a thimble of Somerset cider brandy. “It’s a delicious way to get the party moving,” she says.
Ideally your house should smell of autumn, too, adds Mehydene; you can buy seasonal scented candles or alternatively serve apple cider, which will leave the whole place smelling of cinnamon. “Don’t forget to dim the lights, light some candles and move your cosiest rugs to the hallway,” she continues. “Walking into the house should feel as if you’re stepping inside the cottage in The Holiday.”
Sundowners by a brazier or firepit provide an atmospheric start to an autumn party, says Hutley – just make sure there are a few blankets and somewhere dry to sit. Jack o’lanterns or a few hurricane lights will add a twinkling ambience, she continues, as will festoon lighting.
If you’re too busy in the kitchen, however, to get your guests outside before dinner, you haven’t missed out – retreat into the garden for pudding instead, Mehydene suggests. “At a party recently we sat on benches covered in sheepskin and roasted pears in foil on the fire,” she says. “It was a great way of mixing the party up and getting everyone involved – serve some whisky or brandy to make it extra cosy.”
Rather than spending a fortune on fireworks, make the fire the focus of your autumn party, suggests Whitefield – even if it’s just a cheap firepit from the internet. “Children don’t want to stand around staring at a posh display for 20 minutes; they’re happy with a few rockets and some sparklers and then you can all toast s’mores on the fire,” he says.
A pre or post-dinner game will get everyone warmed up; Whitefield suggests glow-in-the-dark ultimate Frisbee. “Mark out the pitch with glow sticks and get everyone to wear head torches,” he says. Glow-in-the-dark Aerobies cost £13.99 on amazon.co.uk.
Traditional games such as 40 40 and kick the can work excellently by torchlight, he says, and around Hallowe’en a spooky pumpkin trail or ghostly game of hide and seek will go down well with younger children.
“You don’t need to be too organised; the fun is being up late and out in the cold – and you can always revive chilly guests with a mug of hot chocolate.”