Tara Guérard, the founder of Soirée, a Charleston event-planning company, will do anything to make a party stand out—even take tree branches from her neighbors to display seating cards. Here, more of her style ideas.
How would you describe your style?
I'm very Southern—I've lived in the South my entire life. I think my clients like the traditionalist in me. I have loads of new ideas, but I still keep values and rules in the back of my mind. I always ask myself, "What's proper, what's not?"
How do you make an outdoor party more glamorous?
I might put pink camellias—which are very Southern—in shimmery olive-green votive holders, so they really pop. How easy is that? Camellias are like the peonies of the South—they're very delicate, but also lush and sexy. But you can't handle the petals much or they'll get bruised.
Any ideas for seating cards?
I actually prefer assigning people to tables instead of to specific seats. Once, to create unusual seating cards, I had a calligrapher write everyone's name in chocolate-brown ink on octagonal chartreuse cards. We hung all the cards off of this homemade tree we created by cutting down old branches from people's yards, painting them brown and placing them in a big black terra-cotta urn.
Who are your favorite bag and clothing designers?
My friend Allison Abney makes the most fabulous little clutches for going out at night (from $150; 843-270-9781 or allisonabney.com). During the day, I've been carrying an obnoxious "Blondie" Gucci bag that I call the bling-bling bag. It's a black leather bowling bag with two big brass G's on the side. I love Gucci for evening wear, too. And Pucci is really exquisite these days. For classic stuff to wear to work, I buy BCBG and Banana Republic.
How do you add a personal touch to your parties at home?
I bring out ceramic goblets I made myself—they look like big cups on flared stems. No two are the exact same size or have the same glaze. I make them in a studio and gallery here called Charleston ClayWorks (285 Meeting St.; 843-853-3345)—it carries a lot of famous people's work from around the country, like Tom Coleman and Posey Bacopoulos. I'm one of the few hobbyists there; most of the other potters are real artisans.
What do you think are the best outdoor dining chairs?
When I'm using a tent, I love ottoman seating. You can create ambiance using different fabric covers; pillows on the ground work too. Those clear plastic "Louis Ghost" chairs designed by Philippe Starck for Kartell are popular right now, but they're really uncomfortable. I always mix indoor and outdoor chairs in the yard when I'm entertaining at home. I have some old Chippendale chairs that were handed down to me that I like to use. We also have wrought-iron chairs and a table that are always in the garden—I mean, we're Southern, you know?
How do you personalize a client's party?
One couple planning a wedding was really obsessed with wine, so we copied a wine label—everything from the shape to the fonts—for their save-the-date cards and invitations. On the bottom, I even added, "Bottled in California & North Carolina" because that's where the bride and groom were from.
What's a favorite summer cocktail?
I love passing a special drink to guests as they arrive. One of my favorites is low-country lemonade—pink lemonade, peach schnapps and crushed ice, topped with fresh mint—yummy! I like to serve it in a tall, thin zombie glass. I also love to do drinks with peaches. Georgia is known as the Peach State, but we actually grow more peaches here in South Carolina. Once I did a kind of dessert and drink in one: homemade peach sorbet in a trumpet flute of Champagne, served with a long iced-tea spoon.
Any favorite party innovations?
Charleston is on the ocean, so we serve a lot of seafood that you eat with your hands. This week, people at my company thought of hollowing out a lemon and filling it with a tiny folded linen napkin. You wet the napkin, then microwave it for about 30 seconds, and you can use it as a hot towel. God, we're clever!
How do you light parties?
I can't stand bright overhead lighting. The key for any party is to have a dimmer switch for just about every fixture, which creates a relaxed atmosphere. You can buy an attachment to make any light into a dimmer at any hardware store or Home Depot or Lowe's. Sometimes we rent antique fixtures for events and hang them inside a tent. Many antiques stores or consignment stores will let you rent a chandelier for 20 percent of the cost. Although, if you break it, you have to buy it—so don't break it!
What's your favorite hostess gift to give or receive?
I'm a linen whore. I love when someone gives me a set of fun cocktail napkins, and I'll sometimes give them to guests as a take-home gift. I just bought some antique Italian cocktail napkins at a great shop here in Charleston called Elizabeth Stuart Design (314 King St.; 843-577-6272), which is really eclectic—it has vintage and new furniture, kitchenware and jewelry. The napkins were very simple, with stitching around the edges. They came in mossy green, silver-blue and white, and I had them embroidered with my guests' names.