How would you describe your entertaining style?
Completely casual and simple. Over the years I’ve developed a formula that I stick to; I’m not big on reinventing the wheel for every dinner party. Handmade glossy white dinner plates from Alex Marshall Studio or black matte Coupe plates from Heath Ceramics (both made locally, and both bought from the seconds table), family silver, a Rough Linen tablecloth by local legend Tricia Rose, Henry Dean glasses. I have a collection of tiny glass vases from Astier Villatte in Paris, and I’ll line them up down the center of the table and fill them with sprigs of sage and herbs from my garden.
What do you worry about the most when entertaining?
I’m pretty relaxed. Honestly? The thing I worry about most is that people will stay too late. I’m an early-to-bed type of hostess.
Entertaining tips & tricks you can share to remain cool and collected when hosting?
Your guests do not expect perfection (and if they do, why are you inviting them over?), so don’t worry if your table doesn’t look like a Pinterest photo or if the meal is completely simple. The quality of the ingredients is more important than the preparation. Half an hour before guests arrive, set out a few easy hors d’oeuvres–a bowl of olives (make them seem fancier by adding a bit of lemon zest and a few sprigs of rosemary), a cheese or two, some marcona almonds. Set the table, light some incense (I like Campfire Incense from Juniper Ridge), dim the lights, get the music going. Five minutes before guests are due, run around the room lighting as many votive candles as you can (I put them everywhere; on top of cabinets, on side tables, on a book shelf). Even if the meal isn’t completely ready, you’ll look like you have things under control.
Favorite entertaining tools?
I’m a big fan of the salad course (just a simple salad with a good olive oil dressing) served after the main dish. I have an enormous handmade salad bowl I got at Divertimenti in London and a set of Muuto salad servers that one of our cofounders, Sarah Lonsdale, gave to me. I can make salad for a dozen people using this setup.
Splurge on…the first one or two bottles of wine; by the third bottle, people won’t notice what they’re drinking. Save on…I’m not big on expensive linen tablecloths and napkins (they’ll get stained anyways). I often use painter’s drop clothes as tablecloths, especially if we’re having a big dinner and pushing two long tables together to make a “banquet” table. Linen dish towels from Ikea can double as napkins and they’re about a dollar each.
Favorite decor choice or color palette for holiday tablescape?
Lately I’ve been sticking to boughs of branches–over Thanksgiving, it’s berries and anything with golden leaves. At Christmas, I like pine boughs everywhere. And I have a guilty secret: I bought some fake amaryllis from Pottery Barn a few years ago; I stash them in a pretty metal sap bucket with fresh pine boughs and you absolutely can’t tell they’re not real. I haul them out every Christmas.
What’s an old school entertaining rule that you stand by?
Assigned seating, even if your place cards are nothing more than a name neatly printed on a piece of butcher paper.
What’s been your most memorable or disastrous entertaining experience?
In the very early days of Remodelista, the four founding editors (myself included) invited NY architects Brian Messana and Toby O’Rorke, of Messana O’Rorke, to dinner when they were in the Bay Area. We were pretty starstruck; we had been stalking their work online and we wanted to impress them with our vast sophistication. I made a simple Provencal fish soup, but I used a low-sodium broth that ruined the dish completely. I had to throw it out and start all over again.
What’s the dish you can always count on to please guests?
Beef Bourguignon, made with good red wine.
If you could invite anyone to your dream dinner party, whom would you choose?
Nora Ephron, Lena Dunham, Roz Chast, P.D. James, Tina Fey. I guess it would be a ladies dinner.