Perfect Parties in Public: An Interview With Jordan Ferney

Garden Party

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Dinner on a public pier, complete with linens and flowers: unforgettable!

Throwing a party at home with limited funds and limited space can be a challenge, but if you start to think of your whole town and beyond as a potential venue, the idea becomes both a lot more feasible and a lot more fun. San Francisco-based party planner and blogger Jordan Ferney has hosted many memorable bashes on city land, so we asked her a few questions in search of some tips and inspiration.

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A table straight out of a ballroom wedding, set up on the waterfront

With a lot of creativity and a flair for the unexpected, Jordan creates memorable parties in the most unexpected locales; she loads them up with personal, thoughtful details and devises activities that involve guests directly in the celebration. Our favorites: an elegant table set with candles, flowers, and rented linens on a public pier (by day a favorite spot with fishermen!); a treasure hunt designed for guests in Zipcar Mini Coopers, with clues leading them to fun spots all over town, culminating in a "color fight" with Indian Holi colors in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The fleet of Zipcars gathered for a group photo of the party guests

Jordan's blog, Oh Happy Day!, abounds with ideas for this kind of creative entertaining in public places. Best of all, none of the ideas require a big budget, just a big investment of left brain love. Here's what Jordan has to say on the subject:

How do you come up with your party ideas?

Sometimes from things I see in stores, like if I find a big bolt of checkered fabric at a thrift store for really cheap, then I plan a picnic party, or if a dollar store has cheap magnifying glasses, then—ta-da!—a detective party. Other times inspiration will come from things I see online, though I've learned to try not to reference those things because everyone seems to use the internet and you see the same ideas rehashed over and over. (I'm looking at you, mustaches.) The "party on the pier" idea came from when I would go running down there, and I saw the fisherman with their tables set up and thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if I could do a party down there."

Can you offer any tips for making these outside-the-box parties work on a limited budget?

Pretty much all my ideas happen on a limited budget. That is why I have to be creative, because I can't afford to just rent out the tower of the De Young. If there are a lot of people coming, then usually I ask friends to bring food—or with the Scavenger Hunt in the Mini Coopers, we asked people to contribute to the Zipcar fund so one person wouldn't have to carry the burden of the cost. Even a normal party gets expensive by the time you buy all the food and décor. I've learned that if you focus the budget on one spectacular thing: furniture rental or décor or food, and then ask others to pitch in on what you are lacking, usually you can keep the party costs very low.

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"Color fight" at Crissy Field

How do you recommend tackling the logistical issues of hosting a party in a public space? Ever find yourself wading through red tape for permits and so on?

I've found if the party is small enough and I'm not breaking any blaring rules (i.e.: no fires, no open containers, don't leave any litter, etc) then I'm okay. I have never gotten permits and no one has ever bothered me. But then again this is San Francisco, and people will forgive a lot of things. It's the whole "beg forgiveness rather than ask permission" philosophy.

What are a few lessons you’ve learned from your experience hosting these parties in unexpected places? Things to plan ahead, crucial supplies, etc?

For dinner parties the biggest challenge is keeping the food warm. I use Ikea thermoses and these hot liquid dispensers from Target. Individual casseroles in Ramekins taken directly from the oven, wrapped in tin foil and then put in a cooler right before we leave has worked well. For lights I always use LED votives so you get the candlelight effect and don't have to worry about lighting anything on fire.

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Dinner on a rooftop just requires a few extra hands and maybe some borrowed chairs

In your opinion, what are the most important details that really make a party feel special? (Handmade invites? Location?)

I always try to do something unexpected or some sort of surprise. Those are the things you remember the next morning and years later. I'm also a big believer in making special invitations. I've never done any scientific study or anything, but I've found if I make really special invitations there is a higher party attendance rate.

What’s your dream public party location and/or theme?

Hmmm. That's a good question. I like anyplace with a view or else a place with atmosphere. Maybe a party in a Chinatown alleyway? Like on a Sunday evening when it gets deserted. We could serve take-out Chinese food and have custom fortune cookies made.

Thanks, Jordan! We'll be checking our mail for a Chinese menu invitation!

For more inspiration from Jordan Ferney, click over to her blog, Oh Happy Day!

(Images: Jordan Ferney)

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