Garden party

To throw the perfect summer party, come up with a theme and then wow with the details. (Sweet Tea Photography, Baltimore Sun / June 27, 2014)

Featured in SceneOn sunny Saturday in mid-May, Caitlin Moran kicked off summer early, with friends, cocktails, and a busy grill.

Moran, an Annapolis-based stylist and editorial director of the lifestyle website The Glitter Guide, is an expert party hostess – so even her backyard barbecues are handled with extra care and extra flair. At her party in May, she served sparkling sangria and instead of standard-issue burgers on the grill, she created a make-your-own gourmet pizza bar, with a variety of cheeses, meats, and fresh vegetables available as toppings.

Summertime is prime entertaining time – and an ideal time to host a party at home. According to global market research firm Mintel, in 2012, nearly a third of Americans hosted a summertime party celebrating Memorial Day, Labor Day or the Fourth of July. Those three holidays are summer's big party days but Marylanders celebrate warm weather and relaxed schedules all season long.

Casual backyard get-togethers are fun but Moran promises that establishing a trendy theme and paying attention to details can take house parties to the next level.

Starting with the menu, even simple twists can elevate a party from standard to special, says Moran.

"Having a theme is a nice way to make it special," she advises. "Even if it is just 'gourmet burger night' vs. burgers and dogs." Seasonal menu items – anything with herbs and fresh vegetables – are especially appropriate.

Hiring a food truck is another fun and trendy take on the backyard barbecue, says Baltimore event planner and interior designer Stephanie Bradshaw.

"We have a lot of food trucks coming to parties after weddings," she says. "But you can also just have the truck drive up to your house at the party."

Bradshaw likes the idea of keeping summertime menus simple and easy for hosts.

"It's trending to have less complicated food in the summer," she notes. "You don't want to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I cater everything! You have less stress!"

She also recommends adding sparkle with a fun – and easy to follow – dress code. "I think that dress codes are fun – like caftans or all white."

"Mad Men" actress Christina Hendricks made headlines this spring when she announced plans to celebrate her birthday in Palm Springs with a "caftans and casseroles" party. The flowy gowns have become popular among entertaining and lifestyle bloggers, who tout the dresses' retro cool style – and practical summertime comfort.

Charming, theme-oriented home accessories are another easy way to highlight a party. For a carnival or circus-themed event, New York-based event planner Jung Lee suggests playing on the bright colors and patterns of the Big Top, with items like striped and polka dotted straws and mix-and-match glassware.

She fills the glasses with crushed ice and red wine syrup for an adult spin on a snowball – a favorite summertime, carnival treat.

Amy Fresty and Ellen Lunay, the owners of Here., an Annapolis pop-up shop with a constantly evolving theme (think "Lazy Days of Summer" and "Flirting with Spring"), host a launch party each time their store opens in a new location. Like Jung, they say that details make the party.

"Create a logo, use it on the invitation and print up a menu, even if it's just casual finger food," suggests Fresty, saying that Pinterest is a great source of graphic design inspiration.

Especially for casual summer events, Fresty insists that paying attention to a few important details can have more impact than, "going overboard at the party store with the matchy-matchy plates, cups, napkins and table décor. Choose a color story instead," she recommends. "Keep it understated."

Moran agrees with the Here. approach to color. "Come up with a color palette, even for a barbecue," she advises. "Use it throughout the event on things like cups and flowers. Even if you just tie pieces of ribbon around a wine glass – it takes five minutes but people love it."

Moran also enjoys hosting summertime parties that focus on seasonal activities, like flower arranging or planting herbs.

"For a shower or girls' night, it's fun to create a planted pot herb garden," she says. "You can put pots out and get herbs from Home Depot. It's just a fun activity that's practical and affordable. You can paint the pots, too, mixing the DIY trend into entertaining."