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A Holiday Affair

By Laura Hine

Photography by Anthony Tahlier


Lake Forest’s Ellie Nottoli throws a stunning party to celebrate the season of friends.

If you throw a cocktail party this holiday season—and that’s an idea we’re strongly encouraging—chances are your gathering will bring together people from different areas of your life, some of whom are strangers to each other but dear to you. According to Lake Forest’s Ellie Nottoli, the founder of Ellie Styled and the talent responsible for the gorgeous party on these pages, the trick to an evening where everyone mingles and the laughter flows is to start with a great concept, provide amazing food and drink, and then mix in a few clever details and surprises. 

“For this party, we knew we didn’t want the expected big floral centerpiece,” says Nottoli about her collaboration with floral designer Alison Buck.

“We have some unexpected elements, like the slipper orchid on the bar and a kumquat tree, which is actually a lime tree that we hot-glued kumquats on,” Buck adds. It’s those little elements that are the genius of Nottoli’s parties (which are lively, relaxed and stylish); she’s someone who cares about every detail, but she’s never ostentatious or stuffy.

Nottoli’s go-to source for the meats and cheeses that make up her charcuterie board is Caputo Cheese Market ( in Lake Forest.

“People know me because I grew up in the area, and while I was a stay-at-home mom [she has two stepchildren and three children with her now ex-husband], I loved to entertain. Dinner parties, communions, birthday parties—there was always something,” Nottoli says. After her divorce, she worked in retail at a posh Lake Forest store and started to help clients with styling, which became event planning, and now it’s a full-time job and thriving business. “I love when clients have a clear vision of their passions and we can work together to make their event the party of their dreams,” she says.

For this holiday cocktail party, the starting idea was the beautiful home, which was designed by Lake Forest’s Kim Kisselle and reflects the owners’ love of a modern, clean setting. “The vignettes we chose, the bar cart and even my outfits were festive, but also a little on-edge,” Nottoli says. For many of the larger events that Nottoli styles, hosts ask her to don a party frock and stay on-site throughout the night. “Clients will ask me to interact so I can bring guests over to the charcuterie board and explain the cheeses,” she says. “I can talk to the guy in the corner and tell him the secret of the kumquat tree so he has something to share.” It also lets her make sure things are running smoothly and troubleshoot as needed.

“The day of a party is magical,” she says. “All those details you’ve been talking about for months with your clients and vendors are suddenly coming together.” And whether it’s a wedding, an 80th birthday party or a baby shower, Nottoli keeps in mind what the party is really all about. “Hosts don’t want to just call a caterer,” she says. “What they want is to make their evening special, whether it’s making guests feel warm and embraced or making sure it’s a crazy party. I’m honored to get to pull together a team and make that happen.”

Main Image: Miraflores high-neck dress, $1,595, by Galvan London at Frances Heffernan; rose-cut diamond earrings on wires, $4,500, and ruby slab ring, $3,250, both by Therese Crowe, Lake Forest. 

“We often do multiple cakes or cake tables for parties or weddings. There’s something so special about a couple sharing a cake that was designed to perfectly complement the soiree. For this party, we did vanilla cakes with vanilla buttercream. The stunning black frosting is made with natural activated charcoal to create that stark and impressive hue, and then we drip it with copper color for an amazing contrast.” –Candice Hunsinger, founder and head baker, Cacao Sweets & Treats, Grayslake,