Raised on a farm in Arkansas as a scion of one of New York City’s founding Dutch families, Bronson van Wyck has been throwing maximalist parties for as long as he can remember. After graduating from Yale, he worked for Ambassador Pamela Harriman in Paris, and in 1999 launched the Van Wyck & Van Wyck hospitality company with his mother, Mary Lynn. Since then he’s become the go-to event designer to the A-list, from Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna to Diddy, but this down-to-earth Southern soul believes anyone can host a night to remember. In his new book, “Born To Party, Forced To Work: 21st Century Hospitality,” the New York transplant offers an insider’s take on some of history’s most memorable soirees, along with a few of his own events, sprinkled with gorgeous photos of his divine visions. Van Wyck shares with Alexa a few tricks of his trade for the everyday host.
What makes for a truly memorable party at home?
One of the most important but most forgotten tips is to make sure you aren’t so tied up with your hosting duties that you forget to make time for your guests. It’s essential to have face time with everyone attending your party. This can come in the form of greeting guests at the door, passing out canapes or refilling drinks.
What are your go-to tips on how to best entertain at home?
I always like to welcome guests with a shot of tequila — nothing gets the party going like a little liquid courage. Beyond that, I keep salty snacks stocked around the room. A few of my favorites are candied bacon, homemade kettle chips and spiced nuts. Salt makes you thirsty. If you’re thirsty, you drink more, and when you drink more … you never know where the night could go.
How do you create an enticing ambience?
Have a library in Spotify or Pandora of play-lists for a variety of moods. Music sets the tone for the night. Then keep the surprises coming! I try to have something new happen every 20 minutes. This could be as simple as changing the playlist or circulating a new round of appetizers, or as exciting as arranging a special musical performance. Guests should always be kept guessing.
Are there any new trends in entertaining you’re seeing — or starting?
In decor, we are doing lots of events where we layer color and prints to complement each other. We use color theory to inform these combinations by, for example, using a tiny bit of red next to something blue. The red makes the blue look bluer, and the blue makes the red look redder. On flowers, I’m inspired by 16th- and 17th-century Dutch still lifes, where each exquisite blossom is carefully chosen in order to create a true composition. And for food, it’s all about the high-low combo. Offer up proteins straight from the cutting board, serve fried chicken on silver platters and sliced steak on beautiful china, and hand out hot frites seasoned with sea salt right out of the oil.
Photos from his famed functions
What about cocktails?
Libation with a side of education! The food truck phenomenon has come and gone — so think about a specialty tasting bar. Serve flights of different mezcals so guests can learn which they like, for example, or ice-cold vodka infused with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
How do you optimize the glow of your guests?
The best way to light people is through a simple Rule of Three: three sources from three directions in three colors. Light from above, light from below, light from the side. Overhead lighting, such as that from a chandelier; gentle side lighting, such as light from sconces; and light from below to lift and firm. Votive candles are the simplest way to get this final effect, and they’re practically free, so I always light more than I need and then take some away.
When the night grows long, how do you kick your guests out?
You should never stop the party when it’s in full swing. Guests are always going to remember the first and last thing that happened to them, so you don’t want their lasting impression of the evening to be you yelling at them. To keep people on your good side but get them out of the house, suggest a group outing to your favorite bar for some dancing or a diner for a late-night snack. Call some Ubers, and once everyone is loaded in the cars, no one will be too upset if you suddenly say you’re too tired to go.
How do you face the clean up?
Don’t try and be a hero and do it all at once. At the end of the night, blow out the candles, rinse off the dishes and load the dishwasher. Everything else can wait until the morning. If you’re moving furniture or keepsakes to accommodate guests, always take a picture before doing so. You’ll save yourself hours of wondering if everything is just right.
More photos from Bronson’s elaborate soirees