Ah, summer. There's something about these warm and languid days and nights that makes many of us want to throw together a little gathering.
Picking a cocktail party theme makes planning the menu and décor more fun. Here are just a few to get your creative wheels turning. Invite your favourite people, add some fairy lights and lanterns, and get the party started.
'60s SOUTH BEACH
Showtime's new "Magic City" TV series, set in mid-century Miami, is inspiration for party décor and music with a retro vibe, served with Cuban-influenced canapés.
At Pottery Barn, you'll find a collection of melamine plates, serveware and co-ordinating linens in muted vintage tropical prints.
Palm-leaf-patterned ceramic serveware in deep blues and olive greens are part of Cindy Crawford Style's Eden collection at JC Penney.
And even if you're land-bound, craft stores offer shells, coral and starfish you can add to baskets and trays filled with store-bought play sand to create table decor. Or place one dramatic tropical flower or frond in a tall slim vase.
Serve appetizers with Latin flair, such as Cuban shrimp skewers, mini empanadas and spicy popcorn. Play the Rat Pack music that was popular in the era at Miami's big hotels — Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr.
COCKTAILS IN CORTONA
You may not be under the Tuscan sun this summer, but you can still set a similar scene for your guests. Fill a large glass vase with water, lemons and sunflowers. Or take a cue from London-based stylist Sania Pell and fill clear vessels with untrimmed vegetables such as radishes, celery and carrots for a rustic look.
Pottery Barn has melamine versions of the iconic Talavera pottery, while Williams-Sonoma has unbreakable dishware in Mediterranean patterns.
Small bites are the way to go with any cocktail party; they're easy for guests to handle, and your food trays will be easier to refresh. For this one, consider tiny tomato tarts, a sampler of Italian ices, and shot glasses filled with cold soups like cucumber dill or tomato basil.
A city balcony's the perfect place for a chic, Asian-inspired cocktail party. Set up the Zen zone with baby conifer pots or moss nestled into interesting dishes. Wrap votives in origami paper.
Branchhome.com has Wasara's elegant bamboo and sugarcane-fiber disposable tableware that's great looking and eco-friendly.
CB2's Format orange enamel tray and an array of colorful, user-friendly, clothespin-style chopsticks would be stylish options.
Mini crabcakes, salmon satays and melon ball lollipops, along with bowls of Japanese crackers and wasabi nuts, will satisfy snacking guests.
Bring the woodsy cabin vibe home to the city or suburbia with a few playful accessories, and a comfort food menu. A few inexpensive bandanas, a plaid blanket, or an old quilt make colorful table coverings; a wind-downed branch or group of interesting rocks wrapped in lights would look wonderful as a rustic centerpiece.
Homegoods has a canoe-shaped condiment server complete with "paddle" spoons. You'll find patchwork-patterned acrylic plates here too, as well as co-ordinating drink pitchers and utensils.
Set out mini sliders, roasted vegetable skewers and paper cups filled with seasoned fries. Consider a flavoured water or gourmet soda bar; it's a unique idea for any cocktail soiree, and keeps things just as much fun for teetotallers or designated drivers.
www.potterybarn.com - Talavera collection, $18.50-$32.50;
www.williams-sonoma.com - La Med plates, $49.95-$59.95;
www.cb2.com - Format tray, $39.95; clothespin chopsticks, $3.95;
www.branchhome.com - Wasara party kit for 8, $44;
www.jcpenney.com - Eden serveware, $16-$40;
www.homegoods.com - Canoe condiment boat, $12.99; metal cutout lanterns, $12.99-$24.99.