If having a good time is an art form, then Courtney Paddock and Haley Webster are masters of the craft. Courtney, with her company Little Coterie, dreams up fab fetes for everything from showers to corporate events. Haley, who goes by Three Smudges, crafts gorgeous photos, because if there aren’t pictures, did it ever really happen? So when we heard that Courtney was throwing a vintage Americana July 4th blowout and Haley would be documenting it, we wanted a front-row seat on the action. 

After meeting through a mutual friend 4 years ago, the Houstonians’ collaboration kicked off when they began working on a series of Cinco de Mayo images, tequila drinks included, of course. It definitely helped that they’re both moms (5 kids under 5 between them!) who are experts at making everything work in, shall we say, often-interrupted time frames. They let us in on their July 4th soiree and all their pro party tricks.

Haley snaps Courtney’s pie prep.

Courtney’s Party Tips: After throwing elaborate parties for her friends in L.A. for years Courtney knew it was her calling, and once her second child was born, she decided to do it full time, leaving her corporate sales job. “I say every party is my favorite party,” Courtney laughs. “I just love the adrenaline. ”

Watermelons flank a vintage sparkler can filled with drink stirrers.

Find Vintage Pieces: “I have always loved old things,” Courtney sighs, “so another thing that gives me a huge rush is going to flea markets. They don’t make stuff the way they used to.” Courtney finds unique treasures you won’t see anywhere else and weaves them into her parties, like these vintage sparkler cans filled with monogrammed drink stirrers at the bar.

Don’t Use Disposable:I want real plates and forks,” Courtney says, “which is environmentally friendly!” Courtney’s a fan of re-using items from party to party and holiday to holiday, pointing out that alot of the items for a Memorial Day event would also work perfectly for the 4th. 

A jug band sets the vintage Americana tone for the evening.

Budget Entertainment Wisely: When you’re thinking about hiring a band or a DJ, get creative. “I hired the jug band for an hour while the guests were arriving,” Courtney says, and that was enough time to set the tone for the whole event.

Haley’s Photo Tips: Haley’s first career was as a teacher, and though she loved it, it was only after she was able to harness her creative energy into photography in 2009 that she started to feel like everything was clicking in the right way. “My whole schtick,” Haley says, “is to provide people with beautiful images that were real moments with their kids, that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.” Having established a successful beachhead in stunning family photography, Haley’s adding lifestyle images to her impressive roster. And, really, once you’ve wrangled terrible 2-year-olds for portraits, anything else is probably cake.

Use Groups of 3 or 4: “More people is less visually interesting… too much going on to focus,” explains Haley. “I prefer when people don’t know and try to avoid when people are eating, no one likes open mouth shots or chewing food shots.” Except when there’s a pie-eating contest involved!!!

A watermelon margarita in the wild.

Take a Bite: “Best to go for fun and not too staged,” Haley advises, when it comes to food and drinks. “Don’t center everything so perfectly. Food—take a bite! Drinks—actually have ice in the glass and sweat rings on the table. Make the scene look like people have actually been there.”

Avoid Flash: “Best way to capture ambience is avoid using a flash if you can,” Haley explains. “Flash tends to ruin the moment, and you lose the natural look that time of day can give you.”

No flash is an ambience booster.

Don’t want to arrive at a great party empty-handed? To shop all of dearduck’s July 4th goodies—including perfect hostess gifts— just download the dearduck app and look for our July 4th event.

Photos by Haley Webster/Three Smudges.  Many thanks to all the folks who made this party possible: Lettrefina, HHDesignhouse, Emerson Sloan, Kuhl LinscombLil Franz and Thompson and Knight, LLP.

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