“A GREAT PARTY is really all about your guests’ comfort,” says Chris Madden. “Just think about who’s coming and how you can make the event as enjoyable as possible for them, and you’ll be all set.” That’s exactly how the interior designer, who also has her own line of furnishings and accessories at JCPenney, went about planning the “welcome to summer” pool party she hosted at the home she shares with her husband, Kevin, in New York’s Westchester County. Since her design business keeps her busy and often away from home, Chris’s goal for the party was simple: create a magical atmosphere (and great food) with minimal effort. She let the poolside setting dictate her decorating scheme, choosing colors and accessories with marine-inspired motifs, and brought some of her favorite indoor furnishings out, to add elegance to the outdoor space. She also took the “fl oor plan” of the party into account. “It’s really important for people to be able to move freely,” says Chris. “If you have just one table with all the food and drinks, that’s where everyone will stand.” To make it easier for guests to circulate around the narrow patio area, Chris created four distinct zones: an inviting covered cabana at the far end of the pool; a cold-drink station opposite the entry to the patio; a drying-off area with terry cloth–covered chaises; and a lush buffet on a table set inside a blooming rose arbor. She chose a menu that could be prepared in advance and that would showcase the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season—elegant-buteasy sandwiches for lunch, cookies and fruit tartlets for dessert, and sparkling lemonade to drink.

Finally, to effortlessly create a memorable atmosphere, Chris hung inexpensive paper lanterns from the limbs of an old dogwood tree, brought her favorite indoor dishes and glassware out for the event, and added arrangements of garden-fresh fl owers to every table. “It was easy, and everyone had a good time,” she says. “Now that’s a perfect party!”

FAST FOOD: Chris keeps the fare simple with an array of sandwiches—tomato and mozzarella for the adults, star-shaped PB&J for the kids

DIVIDE AND CONQUER
In a large outdoor area, creating several “mingling stations” can lend a more intimate feel

“Summer is so fleeting,” says Chris. “We do everything we can to make the most of it.”

IT’S A WASH
An outdoor shower that hooks up to a garden hose gets a privacyand- style makeover with a plain wooden trellis covered in a cheerful printed fabric

GOOD IDEAS FOR PERFECT PARTIES

  1. “Start with the theme of the party,” says Chris. “That will help you pick a menu.”
  2. “Arrange food on plates and stands of different heights to make it easier for guests to serve themselves.”
  3. “If it’s an outdoor party, have a bad-weather contingency plan. You’ll need indoor alternatives to any activities you’d planned.”

COLD COMFORT
Placing the bar far from the entrance to the party improves traffic flow

OUTDOOR DECOR
Paper lanterns strung from tree limbs add to the festive ambience