You don't need fancy dishes, special outdoor furniture, or elaborate landscaping to create an inviting setting for outdoor entertaining. A quick stop at the local import store yields the right ingredients to set the scene for a festive outdoor gathering.
And whether you're celebrating Mother's Day, a birthday, or just the arrival of spring, the first party on the porch is always memorable. If you don't already have a table on the porch or patio, pull out the kitchen table, a desk, or a folding table, and drape it with a colorful cloth.
For our porch party, we created a theme based on popular Asian-inspired foods. Bright blue take-out containers become vases for a mass of white carnations that hint at fluffy mounds of rice. Paired with a sushi tray candle arrangement, they form an upbeat centerpiece.
Think about a theme -- such as a color or a type of food -- then have some fun with it. Plain white dishes are a serene backdrop for accents such as lacquered chopsticks and decorative stone disks.
For these simple-to-make napkin rings, loop a piece of cord through a couple of decorative stone disks (available at beading supply stores), wrap around the napkin, and loosely tie around a pair of chopsticks or a fork.
Keep the tablecloth from blowing in the wind with corner weights (top right) that coordinate with the napkin rings. Tie a heavy stone disk onto a frog closure (found at sewing and crafts stores); stitch or glue the frog closure to a metal clip.
Votives and tea lights are an entertaining standby that you can give new vitality by placing them in unexpected containers. For example, set pretty blue tea lights in assorted white porcelain dipping dishes and arrange them on a wooden tray made for serving sushi.
Plant a container garden of paper "trees" (center left) to add decorative punch on a porch or patio. Fill buckets, planting pots, or even plastic wastebaskets with stones to anchor paper parasols. Choose a simple monochromatic scheme, such as this one. Or create a playful blooming arrangement by inserting multiple parasols of varying colors and sizes in a single container. If it's a bright day, guests can uproot the blooms to shade them while they stroll in the garden.
Create personalized party favors using small tins and origami paper. Start with tins or miniature paint cans (found at stores that specialize in storage and organization). Cut origami paper to fit around the outside and on the top, then use decoupage medium to adhere. Fill tins with bulk teas, and print and adhere labels created on a computer.