For many of us, summers are structured around big trips and occasions—the Tahoe wedding in June; the big birthday party in July; the Orcas Island trip in August. But before you spend another summer day anticipating the next big event, take some advice from Calli Swofford—owner of local home-goods mecca Miller Lane Mercantile—and make the most of the quieter times. “Our summers are so often dictated by those big moments, but it should really be about the ones in between, like an impromptu backyard gathering with friends for some snacks and wine,” she says—“those times when you say, ‘It’s summer and it’s beautiful outside and we don’t have plans; let’s invite someone over.’ ”

A few weeks ago, Swofford decided to host just such a get-together, and invited a few friends—including professional photographer Joslyn Griffin of One Lady Studio—to join her and her family for a casual backyard meal. Griffin arrived early to capture the easy-as-pie prep and afterward, we asked Swofford to share the details (and dishes) that made the night special. Here, her top tips for a foolproof summer soirée:

Pretty pops of blue—Calli Swofford’s favorite ceramic serving bowl, slender taper candles, and a cozy knitted blanket based on a painting by Hillery Sproatt—give this neutral tablescape a breezy vibe. Photo by Joslyn Griffin

Keep It Light

When setting her backyard table, Swofford kept the look loose and effortless, with sturdy Lithuanian linen runners and napkins and a charming trio of terra-cotta pots—borrowed from her front porch—planted with cheerful dahlias. “A lot of the pieces I’ve been buying [for the shop] for summer are really quite evergreen, like champagne flutes etched with botanical patterns,” she says. “They’re very fitting for summer, but you can pull them out any time of year.” The same goes for this table setting’s oak candleholders, which Swofford filled with pale-blue tapers that match a knitted blanket with a colorful design based on a painting by Hillery Sproatt. “Tapers are my go-to recommendation for a summer table,” Swofford says. “Something as simple as a colored candle can tie everything together. I have a little drawer in my house where I keep a couple different colors on hand.”

Keep It Simple

“My husband and I do a dinner club with two other couples, and one of the things we’ve learned is how important it is to plan a meal that allows you to do a lot of prep ahead of time,” Swofford says. “Otherwise, it takes away from being able to hang out with your guests and unwind—which is what you want the night to be about.”

For this dinner, Swofford chose three easy dishes from the cookbook Super Natural Simple by Heidi Swanson—a current favorite at Miller Lane—that required just 15 or so minutes of kitchen time once guests had arrived: a white-bean-and-beet dip that Swofford prepared earlier in the day and served with radishes and good, crusty bread; a salad brimming with fresh vegetables and homemade croutons, which she assembled before guests arrived and tossed with an orange-tahini dressing just before serving; and a pasta dish, which took just minutes to cook and assemble (with pre-prepped toppings including toasted nori and sesame seeds, and a pop of lemon zest and cayenne). “I love that this is a vegetable-based cookbook; everything in it is really fresh and so fitting for summer,” Swofford says. “Sometimes, I get over-eager at the farmer’s market because everything is so beautiful, and these recipes are great ways to ensure that nothing goes to waste.”

Delicate Sienna champagne flutes (available at Miller Lane Mercantile; $88 for a set of 6) feature botanical designs engraved into super-thin soda glass. Photo by Joslyn Griffin

Keep It Flowing

To fill her intricately engraved champagne flutes, Swofford chose a sparkling rosé (from local wine shop Mondo Vino) to match the evening’s light and summery vibe. Her advice: “Always have an extra bottle of chilled wine handy, because it’s really a buzzkill if everyone is hanging out and having a great time and all of a sudden, you’re out of wine.”

Keep It Going

“If the night is going well and you want your guests to linger, offering coffee or espresso is a nice reassurance that they’re not overstaying their welcome,” says Swofford, who garnished each of this evening’s espressos with a summery lemon slice. And while serving dessert isn’t a must, she says, it doesn’t hurt to keep a stash of good chocolates to pull out as the evening wanes. “It’s another nice gesture that says, ‘Stay and relax,’ ” she says.