Halloween, the holiday built around the twin pleasures of playing dress-up and eating too much candy, is obviously a hit with children.But send invitations to your grown-up friends and you'll probably find they haven't outgrown the urge to don costumes and celebrate in spooky style.
Want to host a party that merges Halloween fun with grown-up sophistication? Turning your home into a haunted mansion is surprisingly easy, says interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of Flynnside Out Productions.
"Stay away from anything cute," Flynn says, "and instead opt for creepy-chic."
Here Flynn and two other design experts - Jon Call of Mr. Call Designs and the latest "HGTV Star" winner, Tiffany Brooks - offer decorating advice for a stylish and affordable Halloween party.
Cheesecloth evokes ancient mummies, while burlap brings to mind scarecrows. Both fabrics are inexpensive and lightweight, but sturdy - perfect for Halloween party tablecloths. These solid-color pieces also have a more adult feel than the whimsical prints on Halloween tablecloths or napkins designed for kids.
Call likes using large sheets of brown craft paper on buffet tables or as a runner down the center of a Halloween dining table. Cluster small gourds (the darker and more oddly shaped, the better) along the runner, he says, then add a few large candles.
Easily and inexpensively, "you've knocked out a table that's great for any fall holiday," Call says.
All three designers suggest using a muted palette of grays, browns and black. Brooks suggests spray-painting pumpkins glossy gray to create a glamorous centerpiece.
Use orange only as an accent, Flynn says, perhaps adding a few orange napkins to an otherwise black and gray table setting.
You can also create a dramatic scene by spray-painting empty wine bottles in a matte black, he says, then replacing the labels with your own creations: Using scrapbooking labels or cardstock and a Sharpie, come up with creepy names to put on the bottles.
Flynn also suggests buying inexpensive wooden birdhouses or cheap Christmas village houses, then spraying them with dark gray or black paint to create a mini-ghost town for display on your buffet table or bar.
Take down any cheerful artwork and replace it with old portraits from thrift shops or flea markets. Halloween stores sell deliberately creepy portraits made for this purpose, but it's more fun to hunt down real paintings, says Flynn. Brooks agrees that this easy decorating move can transform the feel of a room, especially if the room will be lit only by candles. (She plans to shut off her electricity entirely during a Halloween party this year, filling each room with just enough black pillar candles to provide dim, flickering light.)
Once you've hung your new gallery of portraits, Flynn suggests taping tiny pieces of black construction paper over the eyeballs in the pictures for a haunted mansion feel.ERIOUS THINGS
Flynn also recommends trolling thrift shops and flea markets for items that evoke dusty, dated Victorian style, or midcentury pieces that seem lifted from a '60s Hitchcock movie.
Fill old apothecary jars and other glass containers with water tinted with yellow and green food coloring to suggest formaldehyde. Then drop anything - tiny plastic animals, seed pods, bits of moss - into the colorful liquid. Or create terrariums by filling glass vases with twigs, moss, and tiny plastic bugs and snakes.
Seek out second-hand treasures: real or fake taxidermy, stone bust bookends, antique dolls and toys, and vintage books and laboratory or surgical equipment.
If you're lucky, you might even come across some old mannequin heads. What was once a wig display can serve as an eye-popping Halloween centerpiece.
Other inexpensive additions to your party space: Fill vases with bare branches spray-painted black, tying a few small bats from a craft store to the limbs.
Flynn also suggests slipping belts around the backs of chairs to suggest that dinner guests may not escape the table easily.
And Brooks recommends using a hodgepodge of mismatched and even scratched dishes from thrift shops (cleaned well, of course) to give your table an off-kilter, haunted house feel.
A finishing touch to inspire Halloween guests: "One of my neighbors here is an actor," says Brooks, who lives in Antioch, Ill. "So she's going to come in as a guest and get the conversation going in a creepy direction."
Chances are you know at least one person who would take on the role of spooky storyteller or mystery visitor, adding a layer of theater to the party.