I picked a "Murder Mystery Party" theme for my fall open house this year. Why not join in the fun and throw a sensationally sinister Halloween dinner party of your own?
Line your walkway and flank your door with lanterns filled with flickering battery-operated candles. Surround the lanterns with clusters of leering jack-o-lanterns or ghoulish green pumpkins, then snake a few ribbons of honeysuckle vine around the whole presentation to make it look a bit wilder.
Hang a piece of creepy artwork on your door, like a photocopy of a cadaver from an old anatomy textbook or an old clock face ominously stuck at midnight.
For my fall open house this year, I hung a large round mirror from my door knocker. I secured some twisting, turning dead sticks behind the mirror so they branched out around it. Next, I tucked in some creepy faux black flowers that added just a bit of shimmer and sheen. I finished off the look by draping a few handfuls of Spanish moss over the tendrils of the sticks.
I had to break up the spooky scene with a bit of levity, so I added in a kooky black bird wearing a witch's hat.
In addition to dressing up my front entrance for the open house, I also tricked up the entrance of my courtyard. I topped a large black iron urn with an oversized lantern, then looped it with a few twists of honeysuckle vine.
I placed some sinister props inside the lantern, like a skull-and-crossbones glass and fun bottles with Halloween-themed novelty labels.
I love to serve drinks and appetizers in my foyer so guests have a chance to congregate before being ushered into the dining room. To turn your entry into a spooky reception area, set up a side table or butler's cart with crystal decanters holding spirits or a witches' brew in an elegant punch bowl. To shroud the room in a mysterious mist, add dry ice.
Fill tarnished silver trays with dark and sinister-looking appetizers, such as plumbs, blackberries, black grapes and figs. If you want to get really icky, put fake vermin like rubber bugs, snakes or a rat around the serving platter. How about a dismembered hand?
Whether or not you start your party in your foyer, make sure this all-important space reflects the spooky mood you created at your front door. For instance, work a lacy, pre-made spider web into the arms of your chandelier, then suspend little wire spiders from fishing string. Create a macabre display on an entry table: Prop a (fake!) skull atop a cake plate covered with a glass cloche, then elevate the stand on a stack of classic tales of horror, like "Frankenstein." Add in a greenish-gray pumpkin with a raven perched on top.
For my open house, I dressed up my screened porch for a Halloween party. I wove a little black magic into the displays in the hutch that stands guard on my porch year-round.
The bar service, complete with swizzle sticks marked with the skull and crossbones, will make you pause before mixing a drink.
I created a very zany centerpiece on the table on my porch. For years, I've been on the look for old mannequins I could use for Halloween party props, and I finally snared some. So guess what is the focal point of the sinister centerpiece? Dismembered mannequin arms and legs! Thanks to their sleek gray finish, the arms and legs sticking out of the urn at my table's center give the "bouquet" a whimsical -- not grotesque -- look. The mannequins are mixed in with twisty, turning branches, Spanish moss and glittered faux black flowers.
Meanwhile, bring out the silver, crystal and china and set the most opulent table you can imagine. Then, creep it up with a few terrifying touches.
Cover your candelabra with webs made of cheesecloth or scrim. Roost (fake) bats in your chandelier. Fill flower vases with blackened hydrangeas and carnations. Slip wart-covered rubber toads in the guests' water goblets. Let rubber bugs slither over the dinner plates.
The goal is for your tablescape to tell the story of a beautiful dinner party that was mysteriously interrupted -- and no one was left to tell the tale of unspeakable horror.
You simply can't have a Halloween dinner party without giving out goodies. Fill small fabric pouches from a craft store with wire spiders that guests can use to decorate their own homes.
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