Abby Larson knows a thing or two about throwing a good party.
The founder of the popular wedding and lifestyle site Style Me Pretty has perfected the art of the get-together, whether it be a fabulous bridal shower or an intimate meal.
“The best dinner parties are truly so simple: it’s really good wine, great music and one dish that is going to ‘wow’ everybody,” Larson tells PEOPLE at the launch event for Style Me Pretty & Williams-Sonoma x Kate Spade New York Sadie Street Collection — a collection of pretty, polka-dot place settings, champagne flutes and highball glasses, among other things.
Though the winter months can seem dreary, Larson assures wary hosts that an Instagram-ready gathering is totally doable. Here, her tips for throwing the perfect dinner party that will delight both you and your guests.
Start with a simple base and add color with accessories.
Worried your white dishes won’t wow guests? Never fear, says Larson: basics are better.
“I think you can layer anything on top of a basic white plate and it’s going to look cute,” she tells PEOPLE. “I invested in wooden chargers from West Elm like six years ago and I use them in the winter and the fall. They are so beautiful, and it doesn’t matter what you layer on top. It still looks really rich and inviting and warm, which is what you want in the winter months.”
Larson also suggests dressing up your basics with daring salad plates. “I have six different sets of salad plates that are fun and cute, and you can layer.”
For those looking for a more affordable option, Larson suggests napkins, which she says can bring in much-needed depth.
“I usually tie a pretty velvet ribbon around the napkins and flatware just to add a little bit of luxury to it,” she advises. “There’s something distinctively different in winter entertaining versus summer entertaining, and it really comes out in color and texture and just creating that feel.”
Don’t be afraid to put your guests to work.
“I’ll always give people a job, even at formal dinner parties,” reveals the blogger.
Tasks can be as simple as re-filling drinks or helping toss the salad at the last minute, Larson says.
“Everybody has a job so they feel like they’re a part of the experience,” she explains.
Themes don’t have to be scary.
The word “theme” can incite images of Disney princesses or Halloween ghouls, but Larson insists they can be so much more.
“A theme can be a color palette,” Larson tells PEOPLE. “So if you have a black and white dinner party, you know that you’re buying things that are black and white — and maybe you have a pop of blush. It makes it incredibly easy to shop.”
Themes can also be centered around a food, which makes it easier to curate both the decor and the menu. Larson’s personal go-to is a taco night, with an upscale twist.
“We’ll have homemade tortillas, beautiful pulled pork and a creamed corn,” says Larson. “We’ll serve it on china, so it feels really special, but it’s still a really casual meal. And that theme makes it so easy to carry in through the florals and the colors that we choose.”
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Seat your guests for comfort, not conversation starters.
According to Larson, it’s best not to try to create new friendships or romances when crafting a seating arrangement.
“I am not the kind of person who seats people to engage in conversation specifically,” she shares. “I sort of seat people how I feel like they’re going to be the most comfortable and relaxed. For me, I like to sit next to my husband so I want that for my other friends.”
She extends this attitude toward crafting a guest list as well: “I try to keep it fun and interesting but also really intimate and ultimately have the goal of making everybody relaxed and comfortable.”
Perfect your playlist.
“I always have good music,” Larson says.
The perfect playlist takes time to curate, and Larson advises sticking to tunes you would normally listen too.
“I’m from Texas, so [I play] a lot of country,” she says. “I have a playlist that I’ve filled up over time. It has a lot of George Strait.”
Fresh flowers always make the table feel finished.
While Larson says your centerpiece doesn’t have to be flowers, going with fresh buds never fails to impress.
“If you’re gonna go for florals, keep them low but spread it out down the table,” she advises. “You can do like 10 different little bud vases with a single flower in each or you can use a longer rectangular piece. You want something that really draws the eye in.”