Ever since we moved to our rental mansion in the Swedish countryside, and we saw the line of dead trees on the long driveway leading to the house, I have wanted to host a Halloween party (I love posting photos of the driveway on my Instagram account @Skimbaco). The trees, the country setting outside the city, and the hundreds of years old mansion itself offer the best kind of setting for a haunted house themed party. I wanted to create an experience to remember, and make the house as spooky as possible, but without excess Halloween themed decorations. Halloween isn’t a popular holiday in Sweden and finding decorations was tricky, and I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money ordering everything from outside Sweden. Instead I decided to be resourceful, and I think the result turned out much better than I could have created with products directly from stores.
Preparing for the party was as much fun as the party itself, and I think I can again and again prove myself that the few hour party doesn’t have to be the only part of the party that’s fun. We made the preparations as much fun as the party itself. We shopped at flea markets for a few months to find items like lanterns, graveyard candle holders, serving trays and old test tubes. We emptied a collection of wine bottles, and spray-painted them black and decorated with sheet music and feathers to make matching candle sticks on a very low budget. We also made Papier Mâché pumpkins and lanterns for outside from jelly jars. It was a lot of fun to make all of these small details that ultimately created the party. Well, the Papier Mâché pumpkins took way longer to make than I had anticipated, but other than that, we had a lot of fun. (I shared some of the before and after photos from the process at my @katjapresnal Instagram account, where I share more personal images, and pictures from my home, family and the food I eat.)
The guests were welcomed to the haunted mansion by very simple decorations in the front – vintage graveyard lanterns on the front lawn, a few punkins for color, and lanterns in different sizes. I also spray-painted some branches black for no other season but I just think they are cool. A skull mask, and some spider web and our front door was done. The house itself really was the main attraction. Starting from the lights on the doorway.
We didn’t even rake the leaves – the more abandoned and haunted the house looked, the better!
Welcome to our borrowed house
We pompously call our front room of the house “the lobby” and welcomed our guests in just for the front room when they arrived. I set up a table for four only to give the illusion of us intruding the haunted house that belonged to four ghosts. I found old nightgowns and just added those as chair covers, covered a vintage sofa with a sheet, and set the table with vintage dishes and real silver silverware to give the sense that time had stopped in this house a long time ago. On the fireplace mantle I made a very simple “balloon inside a sheet” ghost with some black light lamps. On the mantle was also set the projector – we projected a movie to a white curtain in the window, and it was visible both inside and outside. I originally wanted a scary black and white movie, but we had trouble connecting the laptop to the projector so we ended up going with the best option we could think of: a Harry Potter movie. The projector we have is one of those super cheap ones and since we projected it so far the quality of it was pretty bad – meaning that it worked perfectly giving eerie moving images on the wall. This and the black and white photo show both added so much to the decorations and cost nothing – perfect for expats like us.
A mouse was already nibbling the blue cheese, the stuffed peppers were marinated in olive oil to give them slimy look, and they looked like little hearts that had stopped beating and were ready for eating. On the side table I served hot apple cider with a “poison” bottle on the side so everyone could fix a hot cup to take outside for the ghost hunt in the yard.
The dining room door was locked and it had a note that we shall not enter until we had calmed down the ghosts and lighten up a light for them, and found treasures to calm the spirits, and more importantly: we had to find the key to the dining room door.
Haunt for dinner party access
In the yard we set up a graveyard – and a spot to light the sparkling fire to soothe the souls of the ghosts roaming the haunted house.
The yard was set up with scary mice tea party (it looked scarier in the dark) eating bones (we had ribs that week… and just double boiled the bones for totally disgusting Halloween decor). Christmas lights on the ground, and the lanterns in the trees lit the path to discovering the small details in the yard. And the dining room key? Found from a bucket full of cold spaghetti after multiple tries.
We almost went overboard spray-painting this year. The jelly jars with copper accents were some of my favorite easy DIY decorations in the yard.
We actually made our great room the large dining room and set up a table under the priest painting that was found in the second floor of the house.
For the table setting I layered black table clothes with red table runners. I washed the table runners and realized they were actually spookier when not ironed and I just crumbled them on the table. For some reason the black and red combination looked very 80’s to me, and I didn’t want the look be too perfected to give the 80’s feel so the messy table cloth gave the desired spookiness instead.
I used vintage classical sheet music under the plates, and cheap IKEA dishes mixed with flea market finds offered an inexpensive solution for dishes. Paper plates are not an option at our house, and I did have cloth napkins too, but on the last minute bought some Marimekko paper napkins to make the clean up easier – I was leaving to Italy just a few days after the party.
We dimmed the lights in the dining room and used candles to light the room. The wine bottle candle holders turned out great, and we also spray-painted wooden candle holders found from flea markets black for added candle lighting.
Oh, and the food… glorious food. I think it would deserve a post of it’s own, but I am not sharing any recipes this year, unfortunately. I served tortilla soup – the “gut soup” was perfectly gross looking combined of course nachos, quesadillas and green guacamole. The dessert was disgusting red velvet cake with mushrooms growing on the top.
The dance party room
We emptied the actual dining room – for a scary dance party. The ultimate Halloween music playlist was playing the entire evening, but we also set up a dance floor for haunted jams.
The party was so much fun that I actually didn’t end up taking many photos during the party. Taking photos is such a big part of my work, that when I have time off and enjoy the company of friends and family, I unfortunately sometimes forget to capture the best moments of my life because I want to live them, instead of working the camera. I hope you will remember to take more pictures of your Halloween and when you do – share them on Instagram and use #skimbaco!
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