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Kristi Bender in her Los Angeles home
Designer Kristi Bender invites guest into her Los Angeles home for a summer birthday bash. (above)

A few months ago I got a save the date for a June birthday party for friend and talented designer Kristi Bender.  The save the date came from Kristi's husband film producer Chris Bender.  I immediately marked my calendar and replied I would attend.  How much fun, I thought.  Who doesn't love a fun birthday party?

Well on the first weekend in June, I put on my dancing shoes, a gold sparkling belt, a little black dress and headed over...was so excited because although I have been friends with Kristi for a few years now, I had never been to her house.

When I arrived at the Bender's Tudor house here in Los Angeles, I knew right away that Kristi had used her magic to create an enchanting evening.  They say the devil is in the details...and in this case, Kristi welcomed guests into her beautiful home with all of the perfectly exquisite fresh details meticulously in place.

Kristi  Bender is a partner at Wendy Schwartz Design, a very hip design firm here in Los Angeles. Kristi lives and breathes design on a daily basis. What I saw first hand on this early June evening at Kristi's house, is that she has a truly innate knack for making spaces beautiful, inviting, whimsical and intriguing. Kristi, who is friendly, natural and warm herself, somehow imbues that same spirit into the environments she creates.  This design skill set along with business acumen means that Kristi (along with her business partner Wendy) is making her mark as part of  the new guard of this country's tastemakers.

Let's just put it this way, I totally lost it in the middle of the party.  Instead of chatting with people like a normal person, I kept saying to my friends HW and AG, that I didn't want the party to end and kept commenting on how much fun I was having.  I was definitely not living in the moment only because all I could think of was, "How can I get Kristi to throw a party like this every weekend?"

Anyhooooo, Kristi is so sweet, that after a good shameless beg on my party, she sent over some stunning pictures taken by her friend and photographer Corey Sanders.

Kristi was also kind enough to share some of her style and party planning secrets with COCOCOZY readers.

So without further ado, here are the details on style maven Kristi Bender's Backyard Birthday Bash.


table with glasses of water with fresh strawberries on the rim, orange lanterns and a sign that says "Summer Starts Here"

COCO: For you and your husband, what was your goal for the tone of the party going into it?

KRISTI BENDER (KRISTI): My birthday falls at the start of June and since I can remember, everybody on my birthday weekend is ready to start their summer! So we decided to keep it casual, chic and embrace the start of summer with a backyard dance party.

Backyard driveway and garage converted into a chic lounge space with white tables and cushions
Kristi converted her backyard driveway and garage into a chic lounge space. (above)

COCO: Love some of the decor details like the colorful streamers. I heard whispers at the party that you made these yourself. Do you mind sharing how?

KRISTI: When looking for party inspiration on Pinterest, I came across this amazing display which was used as one couple's wedding backdrop. It provided color, texture, movement and above all, a great cover up to my not so pretty garage doors! What you need...long wooden dowels from any hardware store, a hot glue gun, good scissors, a combination of inexpensive and fancy crepe paper, gold metallic curtains to affix to back then to sprinkle a bit throughout. And finally, a good amount of time. My fringe crepe curtain took roughly 8 hours...for 10 feet of crepe wonder!

Orange den with  orange sofa, large mirror, small accent tables and photo wall that overlooks the backyard
Kristi's husband who she fondly just calls "Bender" created a photo wall in their den that overlooks the backyard...a great conversation piece for guests. (above and below)

COCO: You could have just made the nearly 100 guests go around the side of the house to get into the party...but you opened up your entire house to your guests...why?

KRISTI: We wanted our guests to feel welcome, part of our family from the minute they arrived. Even though there were quite a lot of people, we wanted it to feel intimate, comfortable and a place for people to smile and have fun.

people mingling in front of the photo wall

table with four glasses of "Kristi's Bender"
In addition to a full bar complete with bartenders and all,  the bartenders created and offered guests a delicious signature drink of the night called the "Kristi's Bender" made with fresh juices and a bit of alcohol.  The drinks not only matched the orange and gold decor of the night but  Kristi hand made the gold pom poms on each drink - these little drink baubles were perhaps one of my favorite touches of the whole evening. (above and below)

two women enjoying 'Kristi's Bender"

Wendy Schwartz at the birthday bash
Kristi's friend and business partner, designer Wendy Schwartz enjoys a chat at the birthday bash. (above)

KRISTI: I loved seeing all of my guests utilizing the entire house. By opening all of the French doors, stringing lights and putting loungey furniture in an otherwise ugly driveway and covering the yard with a dance floor, the inside and outside of our Tudor was completely utilized.

dancing in the backyard
Kristi and her guests danced the night away on a white dance floor in the middle of her backyard! (above and below)

COCO: I noticed a lot of people who are parents there at the party kicking up their heels and having a total blast without their kids!

KRISTI: A lot of my friends are parents and we get to know each other at school or playdates or bday parties. But having a drink and a dance and a conversation w/o interruption is how these friendships have evolved into something more special and meaningful. Having my daughters there for the first 30 minutes [was a major party highlight]...I remember being at my mom's 40th and wanted my girls to have a memory of mine. But it was an adult affair, so 30 minutes was all they got.

giant balloons with streamers attached

COCO: Loved the giant balloons over the dance floor? Where did you find them?

KRISTI: I heard about these balloons and had to have them for two reasons. First, balloons was a big part of my upbringing as my mom and her best friend had a balloon decorating business in the 80s. That was my high school weekend job. Moreover, these balloons took my fringe concept over the top! Jihan of Geronimo Balloons has a studio downtown or can come to set up.

backyard converted into a dance floor with lights, streamers, dj and tall green hedges.
Kristi Bender's backyard dance floor all ready to go with lights, streamers and a dj - all in a beautiful setting surrounded by lush green tall hedges! (above)

people mingling at the birthday party

COCO: Food - was this catered?

KRISTI: My childhood friend Carin organized the food. She did a beautiful job...pasta salad from my cousin Carmine's restaurant, desserts from a neighbor and friend, HJ Paik, and charcuterie from Carin's fiancé Mark McGrath's market in OC called A Market.

people mingling at the birthday bash

 hors d'oeuvres, cheeses and vegetables spreads with votive candles
A gorgeous selection of  hors d'oeuvres, cheeses and vegetables were arranged on a long table filled with shimmering votive candles. (above)

late night snacks from a slam truck
The late night nosh offering was a slam dunk! (above)

COCO: All of a sudden there was a hot dog stand at the party with a huge line...who were they?

KRISTI: Bender [Chris] was adamant that we have a late night food surprise so when we saw this nitrate free, grass-fed tongue and cheek named sausage and frank cart at a park party recently, we decided that would be a great twist to our "start of summer" 40th bash! Let's Be Frank was a hit!

birthday cake on display on a table
One of Kristi's party tips is to put birthday cake and desserts on display...helps create a festive mood and invites guests to get going on the sweets. (above and below)

close up of birthday cake surrounded by candles in mercury candlesticks

Chris Bender delivers a huge birthday cake to his wife Kristi
Chris Bender delivers a huge birthday cake to his wife Kristi...time for birthday wishes! (above)

COCO: What was one of the best moments for you during the night?

KRISTI: Having all of my old and new friends and neighbors aside me when I blew out the cake candles...I remember thinking to myself "what more could I wish for?"


Kristi thank you and your husband so much for inviting me to the party!  I was so happy to be there celebrating your special day!  I can't thank you enough for sharing all of the details with me here on COCOCOZY.  By the way, when is the next party?  (oops...there I go...not living in the moment again...I know...should just be gracious and say thank you...instead I'm thinking when can I go to another fun party and have a great time...)

Readers, what do you think of this birthday backyard bash?  What do you see here that you like the most?  Any tips you might take away?  Any decor tips you have used at your own parties that you'd like to share?

Happy happy Monday!


P.S.  Tomorrow, will be doing a COCOCOZY Throw giveaway for you readers. It is my own little day of giving! This is the first time ever I am doing a giveaway here on the blog with my own home furnishings collection! So make sure to stay tuned!

P.P.S.  Thanks to photographer Corey Sanders for sending over the fabulous party photos!

P.P.P.S. Added some new finds this weekend to COCOCOZY Pinterest should you want to follow along there...including a really cool must have summer watch!

Photos: Corey Sanders
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Write by: AN - Monday, June 11, 2012


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