My daughter’s first birthday party was held in our living room via Zoom. The COVID pandemic had just made its arrival known in the states, and everyone was in a semi-state of panic. What had begun as the joyous adventure of party planning quickly turned into a sad state of affairs. I still decorated; we had a smash cake and party hats, but I felt incomprehensibly sad for the experience our sweet girl had lost – that of a first birthday full of fun and friends and memories that we parents hope to give our children.
Flash forward three years, two more birthday parties for our daughter, and one new bouncing baby boy later. I was bound and determined to give my son not only the first birthday party that I’d dreamed of for my daughter, but the experience that I felt both of my children deserved.
Armed with the notion that this was quite likely one of my few remaining opportunities for a “precious” birthday party for our little boy (I know we will all too soon be embarking on an era of monsters, fire engines, and dinosaurs), I began searching for a theme. Who better to turn to than Margery Williams, author of our family’s favorite book? Enter The Velveteen Rabbit – the story of a stuffed rabbit’s quest to become real through the love of his owner. So deep is our love for this story that we created a gender-neutral Velveteen Rabbit nursery with plenty of vintage and farmhouse touches.
I’m a floral designer by trade and a homemaker by nature, so I really wanted to set the scene for sweet Charlie’s first birthday. After seeing a few bunnies dancing through our newly planted hydrangea bushes, I had a lightbulb moment: I’d incorporate hydrangea in hues of green, blue, and lavender into the party as a simple way to jeuje up the color palette, as I generally lean more towards neutral tablescapes and backdrops. From there, the location was a given- the side yard of our ca. 1917 historical fixer upper is laden with lovely greenery and hydrangea bushes. We’d host a simple lunch with games “among the bracken where [we] would be quite cosy…” The space was small, which I normally don’t mind (it’s easier to make a larger visual impact in a small space), but I was a bit concerned about fitting all of our guests. However, COVID outbreaks were again on the rise, so we knew we needed to keep it intimate – just family.
Now that I had selected the theme, color palette, and venue, I did some major research on invitations. I scoured the internet for anything bunny or velveteen rabbit themed, finally narrowing down my options to three stationers before settling on this lovely bunny themed suite by Freshmint Paperie. I was particularly drawn to the color palette, botanical elements, gingham pattern, and monogram. The invitation suite fit with all of my other choices thus far, but it didn’t feel overly-matching.
Having settled on a menu that encompassed a plucked-from-the-garden feel, I incorporated fruits and veggies that I could envision a bunny nibbling on in a garden as the heat of the day faded into a breezy summer evening. I chose items that were fresh, colorful, and hearty enough to withstand the warm summer sun: avocado chicken salad on golden, flakey fresh baked croissants; tri-colored rotini pasta salad with English cucumbers, cherub tomatoes, pepperoni, feta, and grilled chicken tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing; English cucumber finger sandwiches with garden herb cream cheese on pumpernickel squares; summer berry medley; ham and cheese heart sammies for the kiddos; and of course a semi-naked cake adorned with fresh berries from my dear friend Kadi of Kadi Bakes. Displayed on a chippy white dresser from one of my favorite small businesses, Faded Cottage, “The effect was charming.”
As a floral designer who specializes in weddings, none of the guests were surprised to see a number of DIY components that made an appearance at the party (I’m known for spotting something pretty and saying “I can make that,”). I knew I wanted to use my gilded mirrors as signage, so I DIY’d the beautiful script lettering using my Silhouette Cameo Pro. For a visual representation of Charlie’s first year, I printed milestone photos and attached them to the largest gold mirror with numbered heirloom wax seals from Greenhouse Wax Seals -one of the few items I actually purchased for the party. I also made a few custom birthday banners and a Pin the Tail on the Bunny Game using giftwrap from Rifle Paper Co and my Silhouette Cameo Pro.
I am an advocate of using items I already have in my inventory whenever possible (I’m nothing if not practical when necessary), so having a velveteen rabbit themed nursery made it easy to create the party of our dreams. Many of the decor items came directly from our nursery: for example, all of the statues, picture frames, the carrot patch sign, the DIY Velveteen Rabbit quote sign, and the sweet vintage stuffed bunny that looks exactly like The Velveteen Rabbit from the original book illustrations. The woven baskets and vintage crocks are items I keep in my home for storage and display purposes. The gold mirrors came directly from the studio where I design and arrange florals for my clients. All of the furniture pieces – including the guest book table, buffet, folding screen, dining chairs and antique church pew – have various purposes throughout my home. I was even able to source and forage all of the hydrangea from my neighbors’ yards (with their permission of course!).
The few other items I purchased were almost exclusively for the tablescape. I covered folding tables in a simple textured white tablecloth found at At Home (one of my favorite places for affordable, stylish home goods). I knew I was going to use our plain white dinner plates. I’ll proudly own that white is my favorite hue, but white plates on a white tablecloth was falling a bit flat, so I decided to incorporate linens and placemats with plenty of color and texture. I settled on a woven round placemat (also from At Home), which not only coordinated with the woven baskets I used to house the hydrangea, but also added a layer of texture to what was an otherwise plain affair. I think this choice in particular helped elevate the entire affair, creating a bit of a French Country vibe (which completely matches my home decor style).
Since I was already incorporating shades of blue into the party via hydrangea, I settled on scalloped chambray cloth napkins, casually knotted and resting on the side of each place setting. Our existing gold flatware and clear pressed glass goblets completed the practical components of each place setting, but I wasn’t done yet! I knew I needed a bit of pattern to elevate the whole tablescape, so I purchased an additional napkin – a luxurious disposable French ticking striped number from Amazon- and laid them horizontally across each plate.
The final touch? With a theme like The Velveteen Rabbit, I knew I had to include a velvet element in the event design. So I sat down and sketched out an inscription from The Velveteen Rabbit. “All things that are real were imagined first.” I turned to Velvet Raptor to make my custom vision a reality. They printed a sweet little card in grey velvet, a memento for our guests to thank them for being a part of Charlie’s life. I laid them on top of each place setting.
My original plan was to lay my foraged hydrangea along the center of each table as a garland, flanked by taper candles in vintage brass candlesticks. But in addition to feeling a little excessive for a toddler’s birthday party, there just wasn’t enough space. So I placed the hydrangea in woven baskets and scattered them in groups around the yard to accentuate the pretty vignettes I’d set up for the occasion. While I was initially disappointed that I had to change my plans last minute, I think the effect was slightly more charming; I made a bigger impact in multiple different spaces, and it didn’t feel quite as “extra.” Plus, it took a lot less time to set up, as I was able to arrange all the florals in the days leading up to the party (a large garland install like the one I was planning would have taken at least 45 minutes to an hour).
A vintage hardback copy of The Velveteen Rabbit served as a guest book, a keepsake for our sweet boy to remind Charlie of the all the people who love and adore him.
At the end of the day I felt that I created an elegant and fun first birthday party for our sweet boy, one that our family will remember for years to come.