1 DAY before the party...
1. Give your cheese plate a proper platform. Pick up a piece of slate at any home-improvement or tile store. Wash and air-dry it, then attach stick-on felt to the back (to keep it from scratching your tabletop). For a darker finish, coat it with olive oil. And don't forget chalk for labeling each cheese.
2. Revamp a tablecloth with stamps. Press a few onto the cloth using fabric paint, which stays soft and flexible. After it dries (in four to five hours), the cloth can be laundered normally. Just iron it on the reverse side.
3. Upgrade plastic chargers. Give them some character with spray paint. (Paint designed for plastics sticks better.) Go with bright, metallic or even DIY patterns, like stripes or plaid.
4 HOURS before the party...
1. Make custom coasters for guests to take home. Start with plain coasters (stone or ceramic work best) or spare tiles. Size your photos to the coasters' dimensions and print on photo-transfer paper. Soak in cool water for a few minutes, until the paper backing separates from the images, then carefully slide the images onto moistened coasters. Let dry for about 15 to 30 minutes, then finish with a clear, gloss-finish acrylic spray. After that dries (30 to 45 minutes), they're ready to use.
2. Put a new twist on votive-candle arrangements. Make your next arrangement a little organic: Hollow out veggies and put candles inside. Try peppers, squash and artichokes, which are especially sturdy and will last all party long. Be sure to trim a bit off of the bottom to create a flat base.
3. Create wineglass markers with flowers. Attach a flower (cut with a 2-inch stem) to the bottom of each glass with floral putty. Chrysanthemums are ideal -- they're hearty and grow in so many colors that distinguishing glasses is easy.
1 HOUR before the party...
1. Switch to lower-wattage bulbs for instant mood lighting. Go as low as 25 watts for white bulbs, and keep a stash of 25- to 40-watt pastel-colored bulbs on hand for parties. They make everything -- and everyone -- look peachy and fresh. (Your guests might even thank you!)
2. Nix the trip to the flower shop. Just fill vases and other clear containers with water, then mix in food coloring. The bright hues will make an instant impact, and the containers' varied shapes and sizes will add visual interest.
3. Bring back doily decorations. Newsflash: Grandma's doilies are chic again. Place under clear glass plates for fast, unexpected elegance.