Gothic vessels: Trade out regular stems and cups for goblets ($68 each;juliska.com; or try thrift stores) and inexpensive glass lab vessels, like cylinders and flasks (from $2.45;pelletlab.com) that are food- and heat-safe. Fill a few with dry ice to turn your house into a mad scientist’s laboratory.
Tabletop creativity: Buy fabric and make it into a tablecloth by hemming the edges, or asking your dry cleaner to do so. Houndstooth plays into the Victorian theme while still feeling modern. (Try fabric.com, hartsfabric.com, or spoonflower.com for inspiration.)
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DIY lanterns: These take their cue from Edward Gorey illustrations and can be hung indoors or out. Decoupage tissue-paper lanterns (from $2.30;lunabazaar.com) with downloaded clip art. Project by the Curiosity Shoppe’s Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom (curiosityshoppeonline.com).
Halloween greenery: For an easy display, find mossy branches in the yard or at a florist and lash them together. Drop in orchids and, for spook factor, fake blackbirds.
8 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
More chic Halloween party ideas
For another take on a spooky, grown-up fete that friends will love, we got ideas from Yifat Oren, the L.A. event planner behind the weddings of Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman. “I’m a bigger fan of haunted—ghosts, cobwebs, ghouls—than I am of gore. The occult is scary to me too. That’s why a good psychic or a Ouija board is always a hit at a Halloween party,” Oren says.
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Swap orange for white to create a sleek black-and-white color scheme. Scatter pale pumpkins on a buffet table, then add candy apples for a blood red accent.
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Halloween is not the time for flowers. Instead, fill vases with spray-painted black branches or order dark resin branches ($10;jamaligarden.com).
11 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
Candy apples are a classic Halloween dessert. To give them a creepy elegance, put them on a mirrored tray. For extra credit, and spookiness, cover with spun sugar to give them a webby look.
12 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
Use drippy black tapers with these mercury-glass candleholders (from $17;potterybarn.com) or a simple black candelabra.
13 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
For a Gothic-looking cheese platter, arrange ashy cheeses (like goat) on a tray with dark grapes and quince paste. Also serve Sunset's meatball sliders (omit the basil) with “bloody” ketchup—just add a few drops of dark food coloring to your favorite brand.
14 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
Garnish a classic Belvedere martini with black olives instead of green ones. If you stuff them with pimentos, they’ll look like eyeballs. Alternatively, serve sangria in a punch bowl (a splash of dry ice will make it smoke) and rim glasses with black sugar, which you can find online.
15 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
If you plan to throw an annual Halloween party, buy one pricier item a year, like this skeleton drink dispenser ($148 for stand and dispenser;potterybarn.com). Tip: Vampire teeth ice cubes (Fred & Friends vampire tray; $8;amazon.com) made with grape juice will look like bleeding fangs when served in a light-colored drink.
16 of 17Photo by Annabelle Breakey
Stamp cream-colored cocktail napkins with a spiderweb design ($13 for stamp;paper-source.com).
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Create a spooky vibe
Danger zone: Fake cobwebs “make your house look a little dirty and haunted,” says Oren. A mass of them strung across a staircase or bedroom door is a clever way to let guests know the area’s off-limits.
Haunted mansion: Replace your artwork for the night with these lenticular portraits (Colonel Whiplash; $15;kmart.com), which appear to move as you walk by.
Spooky switch: Swap your regular lightbulbs for red ones, available at most hardware stores.
Refresh your playlist: “If I hear ‘Thriller’ at another Halloween party, I don’t know what I’ll do,” says Oren, who asked L.A. DJ Patrick Belton to put together a playlist that’s “a little groovy, a little indie, with a bit of goth.” Her five favorites:
“Voodoo” by Godsmack
“Little Ghost” by The White Stripes
“Season of the Witch” by Karen Elson
“Blood” by Band of Skulls
“I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins