In the hubbub of life, the grind of the everyday, adults’ birthdays tend to be forgotten (or willfully ignored!), but a decade well-lived is cause for reflection and celebration. It’s a reason to gather friends close — and family closer — and raise a glass in appreciation of time passed and anticipation of what’s to come.
Premier New York City-based event production company, NYLUX Events, has become a go-to planner and producer of birthday celebrations and is joining us to share their top tips for making a milestone birthday special. NYLUX CEO, Andrea Adelstein, says, “Milestones are my favorite type of event to plan because there are fewer pre-determined ceremonies to be accommodated (like those at a wedding or Mitzvah event) and fewer players involved. The vision of the birthday celebrant can really come through. You get to have a clear understanding of who they are and what they want.”
While a soirée for someone turning 30 might look completely different than for a celebrant turning 70, there are elements similar to each. Getting these details right make a milestone event more exciting and memorable for the guest-of-honor and attendees alike.
1) Determine a Theme
As you start planning — which luckily, unlike a wedding, only needs to begin about 4-6 months in advance, according to Adelstein — one of your first choices will be the theme of the event. A birthday celebration should reflect the personality and interests of the person being féted. An obvious theme could be related to a specific decade, like when the celebrant was born or just a time period (like the roaring 20’s) that he or she thinks would be fun. Favorite themes focus on a single strong interest or a collection of interests which clearly represent the celebrant.
The event motif will help guide everything from invitations to decor to venue selection. Adelstein says, “The theme and venue work in tandem. We helped plan a rock n’ roll themed event which clearly called for a hip venue like a cool downtown restaurant or a club — we definitely didn’t want anything stodgy.” NYLUX also recently produced an event for a contemporary art collector and the Brooklyn Museum was the ideal venue . Another celebrant (turning 90!) was a lifelong New Yorker so his event was perfectly placed at the iconic Central Park Boathouse in a nod to the history of the city and the man.
“One of our favorite clients— a foodie from Tuscany who brought a group of friends to New York City for a 4-day whirlwind of events — offered a quintessential city experience to guests beginning with a formal birthday celebration at Craft restaurant. The multi-day celebration continued with museum tours, a viewing of “Beautiful” on Broadway, and ended with a farewell brunch with a buyout of an iconic New York City diner.”
2) Incorporate Personality into Décor
Ironically as people age, they often become more playful — and more confident about expressing themselves. For one man turning 60, Adelstein describes a Moroccan party that mixed the celebrant’s love of Moroccan decor (complete with hookahs) and items branded with playful taglines like, “The Man. The Myth. The Terrible Golfer.” and “Vintage Dude: Aged 60 Years.”
For their art-loving client, NYLUX wove theming into every part of the decor — from the Jasper Johns’ “Zero Nine” inspired menu design (customized to emphasize the “6” and “0”) to the “walking art” of models dressed as Magritte’s “The Son of Man” and Lichtenstein’s pop comic-style girls. They made the theme even more personal with a giant Chuck Close-style collage of 300 family photos that combined into an image of the birthday celebrant’s face. “Guests loved spending time looking through and pointing at specific photos,” says Adelstein.
At the Boathouse event, each table setting featured a teaser card titled, “The Story of Sheldon” which included bullet points about the 90-year-old. Guests learned tidbits about everything from how he brought Suzuki violin teaching method to the United States to the many famous contemporary dance companies he helped to launch and the fun fact that he has owned three dogs — all named “Figaro.”
3) Provide Personal Messages that Don’t Stop the Fun
We all know the moment — when the music stops and someone clinks a fork against the side of a glass and it’s time to stop eating/dancing/conversation to listen to a cavalcade of sometimes entertaining, more often boring, speeches. It’s important to toast the guest-of-honor, but there’s an art to doing it in a way that doesn’t stop the flow of the party. Adelstein sits down with her clients and discusses the best way to honor the celebrant within the context of the event. Always, the goal is to make sure the speeches entertain rather than drag. The key is to figure out a flow that enhances the party and doesn’t feel disruptive.
She says, “Don’t cluster speeches into one part of the evening. Instead, have someone speak during the cocktail hour then another at dinner and another between dance sets.” Adelstein advises avoiding too many speakers and says that she asks guests to keep their words under three minutes. She says that grouping guests together is another strategy for brevity. Kids or college or work friends are natural groupings. Adelstein always asks for copies of speeches in advance, which helps ensure succinctness but also allows her to hold onto it for the guest so it’s one less thing they have to manage. Once in a while, it’s also necessary to weigh in on the speech content.
Always looking for other options besides speeches for imparting well wishes. Adelstein tells of one such event: “For one man, I spoke to his old assistant and she reached out to have dance companies pen letters about him. We read a few aloud and gave the rest to him bound in a beautiful book to take home as a collection.”
4) Book Creative Entertainment
While weddings often feature a live band and Mitzvah celebrations rock with a DJ, when it comes to entertainment for milestone birthdays, there’s no predetermined prescription. You’re only limited by your imagination and your budget!
For example, for the “Rock n’ Roll” themed event, Adelstein enlisted a cover bar band from the Village who played background music while hidden behind a curtain during cocktails. Then the drapes opened to reveal the group fully spotlighted and rocking out as a signal that the dance floor was open for business. Another celebrant brought in a band from Jamaica (where they have a home) before a DJ took over for the last hour, giving it the feel of an after-party during the event. In one huge Hampton’s backyard, an entire carnival was staged — complete with games and rides. Yet another birthday boy hired a comedian for a hysterical roast.
Less traditional forms of entertainment abound as well. NYLUX has arranged for caricature artists, fake-tattoo artists, and even a balloon artist who created a Basquiat-style canvas of balloons during the event — it was performance turned decor for the rest of the party.
5) Offer a Sweet Ending
A parting gift is a matter of preference. “Not everyone does them,” says Adelstein. If you have a photo booth, guests will leave with fun snaps of the night. But, if you want to give them something extra, it’s great to tie it to the theme and incorporate something the birthday celebrant loves. For example, at the art-themed birthday party, guests were sent home with chic Lichtenstein “Drowning Girl” paperweights.
“In general, though, I like to sway people towards food items — it’s always nice to have a treat on the way home,” says Adelstein. She adds that it’s best to keep it small because people don’t want to be weighed down by carrying a bunch of things at the end of the evening. Some examples from NYLUX-planned birthday parties include the birthday boy’s favorite Levain cookies (with personal branding from the party, of course), water bottles with a clever “hangover kit”, and retro candy bars from the appropriate era. Adelstein has even set up parting hot coffee paired with fresh-baked, still-hot cookies, at the exit and an ice cream truck next to the valet station.
“It’s a privilege to celebrate milestone birthdays with clients. Celebrating the best times in our clients lives has become more significant over the years – and we should continue to commemorate every moment,” says Adelstein. Whatever year is being celebrated with whichever theme, decor, and entertainment, she says, “The most important thing to remember is to bring to life a celebration that’s representative of the guest of honor.”
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