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Originally published Friday, July 6, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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3 fun ideas for summer parties

If your focal point is not tall enough to command attention, put it on top of a riser, like a concrete capital, plant stand, a stack of bricks or cake plate.

Scripps Howard News Service

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Summer parties — filling your home with friends and family, eating and drinking and laughing until your sides hurt — can be addicting.

Catch the fever and open your doors to the joy of entertaining. Here are three gorgeous party themes to try.

1. Have a ball

Paper lanterns are an inexpensive decorating tool that packs lots of visual punch. I started experimenting with different ways to use lanterns for parties a few months ago, and hit on the idea of bringing them inside.

I hung a wide assortment of lanterns in the dining room, attaching them to bamboo poles inserted into huge temple urns. As I experimented with how to hang the lanterns from the bamboo poles, I started using fishing line so the lanterns would look like they were suspended in midair.

I wasn't crazy about the effect, so I traded the fishing line for ribbons, and my heart soared.

Since my dining room is painted Twilight Blue and I have lots of blue and white dishes and accents, I picked blue and white lanterns for my display. But you could pick any color scheme for your home and it would look fabulous.

The place settings on my blue and white table feature one of my favorite entertaining workhorses: white dishes. I love plain old white dishes because you can remake them over and over again by pairing them with different linens, accent dishes and table accessories.

Beneath the dishes, make a bright and breezy table topper out of outdoor fabric — if it gets dirty, it wipes up in a snap and launders like a dream.

2. Go green

Take a cue from the shades of green in your garden, and fill the center of a large, outdoor table with a lush centerpiece.

Start with a large-scale, visually bold accent that will serve as the hub of the centerpiece. I used a white temple jar, but you could try an urn, a birdbath, a garden statue — you name it.

If your focal point is not tall enough to command attention, put it on top of a riser, like a concrete capital, plant stand, a stack of bricks or cake plate.

Next, amass a collection of similar, but not matching, items to cluster around your centerpiece hub. I frequently look to fresh flowers when I want to create showy centerpieces, but recently I turned to ferns instead, using a mixture of live ferns and topiaries tucked into an array of green pots.

You can also surround the central object with pieces from one of your collections, like an assortment of wooden boxes. If you're having a birthday party, you could print snapshots of your guest of honor and insert them into wire picture holders placed around some central focal point (maybe a tower of beautiful cupcakes?).

With an elaborate centerpiece, go with simple place settings. I started with a perky green and white placemat, topped with majolica leaf plates, ideal for salad. A gold-rimmed bread plate layers in more color, and the place setting is finished off with playful ramekins to hold fresh fruit or mini-souffles.

3. Bring the outside in

A garden gazebo can transform your dining room to make it feel like a garden at dusk. Bring one inside, and suspend hurricane lanterns from the ceiling of the gazebo at all different heights, filling each with a candle so they twinkle like stars.

Put a dramatic silver candelabrum at the table's center, and cover it with flowers, keeping the arrangement high enough for guests to see under.

To add a bit of whimsy, use cutout paper butterflies perched on the rims of the wine glasses for place cards. A magical final touch for a memorable table!

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