Interior designer Nate Berkus knows how to make a backyard bash as memorable for grown-ups as it is for the kids. Real Simple tagged along on an outdoor party he helped his longtime assistant, Kelly Engstrom, host. Try his high-style, low-effort ideas to elevate your own summer parties.

By Betsy Goldberg
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Pool surrounded by palms
Credit: Anna Wolf
Set Up a Self-Serve Drink Station
Credit: Anna Wolf

Set Up a Self-Serve Drink Station

Nate likes to load a bar cart with boxed water and pitchers of cocktails. “It’s effortless,” says Kelly. “People can help themselves, so you don’t have to keep asking what they want to drink.”

To buy: Vintage wicker bar cart; for similar styles. Tiny ripple cups in Kraft, $5 for 10; Tiny taster spoons, $3 for 20;

Poolside accessories
Credit: Anna Wolf

Cater to Your Crowd

Set out pretty bins or baskets to corral used pool towels and a stash of extra sun hats and flip-flops. Have some lawn games available to keep little ones busy. “Vintage games are more charming and less cartoony than the usual ones,” says Nate. “These types of extras aren’t a necessity, but they make a get-together feel more special and not just your average ‘Hey, why don’t you guys swing by’ kind of thing.”

To buy: Nate Berkus Diamond Dot Stool, $70;, and Nate Berkus Painted Decorative Baskets, $20 each; Flea Market Wire Ball Bin, $39; Sydney Beach Towel in Black, $78; Fouta Beach Towel in Midnight, $48;

Table set for outdoor party
Credit: Anna Wolf

Mix the High and the Low

Pair melamine plates and plastic flatware with linen napkins, suggests Nate: “It’s a low-cost luxury that steps up your table.”

Guests at table, outdoor party
Credit: Anna Wolf

Top Your Table With Neutrals

“People often wear bright colors in the summer, and the food is colorful, too,” says Nate. “A table in a neutral palette is a nice, sophisticated counterpoint to that.”

To buy: Nate Berkus Fringe Table Runner, $25; Nate Berkus Patterned Ceramic Bowl, $20; Spritz Gold Cutlery, $5 for 60; Napkins made from Nate Berkus upholstery fabric in Calixto Paramount, $25 per yard; Black Creek Mercantile Ebonized Cutting Board, $235; for similar styles. Caprice stone melamine plates, $7 (8 in.) and $8 (10 in.); Caprice Stone Melamine Bowl, $7; Bambu Dinner Plates, $15 for 8; Lunea Melamine White Serving Bowl, $15; Burke Salad Servers, $25;

Fried Chicken Biscuits With Red Pepper Jelly
Credit: Anna Wolf

Choose Menu Items That Are Mobile

Grab-and-go foods like fried chicken sliders are a hit when kids are in attendance. “Not every parent is able to sit down and savor a sandwich,” says Nate, “so you keep guests happy if you serve things they can eat on a swing set or during pool duty.”