It's not just a bunch of hocus pocus.
Halloween is the perfect time of year for a costume party, and one of the most celebrated in New York City is Bette Midler's annual Hulaween, a fundraiser for her charity the New York Restoration Project.
This year the theme is the “Witches Ball at the Haunted Hotel,” according to designer Douglas Little, who is lending his macabre aesthetic to the event for the sixth year.
We talked to Little about how he designed the space for Hulaween at the Waldorf Astoria, and how mere mortals can add some serious hocus pocus to their own All Hallows' Eve celebrations.
Little, who is also a judge on GSN's Window Warriors, has had a lifelong interest in the ghoulish and ghastly.
“When I was a kid, I had a poisonous garden and a carnivorous garden and I was interested in everything that went bump in the night,” he told Travel + Leisure. “As an adult, I was interested in how this could apply to the world on a day-to-day basis.”
Halloween may not be the “day-to-day,” but it is a time of year that his designs shine. If you're throwing an event this year, here's how to impress your guests.
Stick to a Theme
A party's theme doesn't have to be complicated, but it should be thorough.
Little says that at one of the most successful parties he's thrown at his home everything he served was in shades of black. “Even the flowers, even the candles,” he said. “And it is all pretty easy to pull together, as long as you stay focused on your color.”
At this year's Hulaween, Little took the witches theme to another level with life-size decorations.
“On the centerpiece for the table are a pair of legs coming out of the center of the table,” he said. “The legs have striped tights on them and pointy shoes and it literally looks like a witch has crashed into your table.”
Set a Mood
“When anyone is approaching doing a Halloween party, the whole thing is about the mood that you're creating,” said Little. “The best way to do that is always playing with light and color.”
Changing up the lighting—with dimmers or colored bulbs or even gauzy curtains hung over sconces—is an easy, effective and inexpensive way to create atmosphere.
And the same goes with colors, Little says.
“If you're talking about more of an adult-themed Halloween concepts, some of these more unusual color pallets—all black florals, all black candles” will really make a statement.
Pay Attention to Detail
“The challenge was the table decorations, the stage decorations, the backdrop, all of the decoration within the cocktail area,” said Little, who has a background in product design. “How do I interpret this theme? It has to have a sense of humor, a sense of whimsy. It really has to entertain the senses.”
Reinvent the Wheel
“When I first met with [Bette Midler] six years ago, she was so adamant with me about figuring out a new way to interpret Halloween,” said Little. “She really comes at things wanting to reinvent them...We've done some really marvelous and out-of-the-box concepts.”
For this year's witches theme, that's resulted in something like a “Hocus Pocus” meets Beetlejuice and Tim Burton mashup, said Little. “We said, ‘wouldn't it be interesting to unify the theme, and allow the audience to interpret witches in their own way?’”
Get a Little (or a Lot) Crazy
“Halloween is such an interesting holiday,” said Little. “It provides people this great moment of escape, a chance to play with the unconventional and subjects that are sometimes considered taboo.”
Bring It All Together
The way to drive a party home is with thoughtfulness.
“If you're really trying to take it to the next level, you need to think about how to thread it together: from the invitation to the minute your guests leave,” Little said. “At his all-shades-of-black party, he sent out invitations on black paper with backward lettering that had to be read with a mirror.
Considering guests' experience “from beginning to end,” he said, is how you can make “pure magic” happen.