Athena Calderone, the multi-hyphenate designer, lifestyle expert, and cookbook author with an Instagram-famous kitchen (admire the photo evidence, above), not only has a knack for every home-related skill, but she also makes it look easy. So when we wanted tips for how to host elegant summer celebrations that are as effortless as possible, we knew exactly who to ask. Especially during a summer when socializing may feel more tiring, yet everyone is eager to reunite, ideas that take the stress out of hosting have never felt more welcome. From easy grilling ideas to DIY cocktails, here's how Athena Calderone throws a simple summer party.
Athena Calderone / Sarah Elliot
A Make-Ahead Menu
Calderone's first words of advice when it comes to planning a summer menu: "Keep it simple!" Stick with fresh, in-season ingredients and side dishes that can be prepped ahead. "Chop ingredients and make dressings or finishing sauces in advance," she recommends.
To keep the party outdoors and avoid turning on the oven, a grilled main course is the answer. "Hands down, my favorite summer grilling hack is to lay a seasonal white fish on a bed of lemons. Delicate fish can often be challenging to grill, but by slicing lemons and placing them directly onto your grill grates, you eliminate the mess while infusing that citrusy flavor into the fish."
For the side: "Serve with a raw summer salad of mixed cherry and sun gold tomatoes, red onion, fresh herbs, and raw shucked corn. One dish that does it all!"
Athena Calderone / Sarah Elliot
Letting guests craft their own cocktails not only gives them something to do, but they can customize the flavor and alcohol, or make it a mocktail. "I often make a simple syrup and squeeze in some fresh lemon or limes," says Calderone. "I have always been a fan of bourbon, but this year I began utilizing it to make bright and zippy cocktails. It is a wonderfully unexpected way to approach bourbon, especially if you aren't typically a bourbon drinker. Recently, I created a Chamomile Honey Whiskey Sour with Basil Hayden that is simple yet sophisticated, and perfect for summer gatherings." At the drink station, provide a suggested cocktail recipe on a chalkboard or letter board, along with the necessary supplies and ingredients, then step back and let your guests get creative.
Naturally Beautiful Decor
"Choose a focal point for inspiration and allow that to be your guide to easy, seasonal elements for the table." If the gathering is in your backyard, let the surrounding environment serve as inspiration. Place cut branches in a large vase to serve as a centerpiece, snip flowers for bud vases, or rearrange potted plants as decor. You'll be able to skip a trip to the store, while staying on budget.
Bug-Repelling Place Settings
Mosquitoes have the power to ruin an otherwise laidback get-together. Luckily, Calderone has a tip that's both effective and evokes the senses. "A great summer trick to keep the bugs away at any al fresco dinner is to grab some twine and create a fresh lavender and sage bundle placed directly on each guest's plate." The light scent will waft around the table all evening, helping to deter bugs. If these plants aren't already sprouting in your windowsill herb garden, you can likely find them for less than $5 a piece at your local grocery store or plant nursery.