Living Entertaining:

Springing Up at Pottery Barn

Photography by Seth Smoot

In partnership with Pottery Barn

Working together with Pottery Barn and their impeccable creative team for the spring 2018 catalog could most definitely be described as the biggest “pinch me” moment of my career. As I would later learn, the Pottery Barn catalog is the single most read and circulated catalog in existence. I would like to share a bit of my journey with you.

About a year and a half ago I went to a dinner introducing a new designer collaboration for the brand. Unbeknownst to me, I was seated next to the lead designer at Pottery Barn. While there are a lot of moments in our lives in which we push ourselves to network and put our best foot forward, never knowing if a meeting will materialize into an opportunity, this was not consciously one of those moments. This fortuitous circumstance did not take shape because I was selling EyeSwoon but because of an honest and sincere connection I shared with Monica Bhargava.

As the two of us sat beside one another at the family-style dinner, we immediately found common ground as we chatted design choices, (we were both undergoing a renovation), and family life, (we have children who are precisely the same age). We stayed in touch, interacted over social media, and BOOM, an opportunity to style the catalog was born. An enormous opportunity came my way when the potential for opportunity wasn’t even on my radar in the first place. I mean…I told you this was a “pinch me” moment!

Jumping right in, first up was a kickoff call with the brand, in which approximately 50 billion, (give or take), creative directors and art directors, PR and marketing teams, and designers each shared a bit about the collection. I was asked to design a tablescape — linens, plates, glassware, and all — from the “Better Basics” collection. I was to choose an overall color palette, design the menu, (both the recipe and the physical form), and conceive of name cards, and even concoct a spring cocktail and playlist! The pressure was on, in the best of ways. It was all-encompassing Pottery Barn entertaining through the eyes of EyeSwoon. MAJOR.

I approached this creative endeavor just as I would any design project, by initially putting together a Pinterest board to gather my ideas. I then created mood boards including flowers, food, and Pottery Barn product and delivered them to the brand to be certain we were aligned in our vision. The overarching theme was “building a better basic”, and in fact, this idea is a cornerstone of my design. When planning gatherings, we must invest in quality products that act as a sophisticated blank canvas for our creativity.

As I was concepting the vision for the scape, I was thinking a lot about seasonality, as I always do. The biggest challenge – while the catalog is for spring, it is released in winter. So how would I bridge the two seasons? I began by exploring the nature of each.

There is a hushed elegance about winter. The season embraces simplicity and comfort and prompts us to stay in as opposed to going out. Meanwhile, spring is when nature reawakens with the greens and veggies pushing their way through the thawing earth. In spring there is a renewed sense of life all around us, and a desire to be healthy.

Ah, but of course — the idea of a better basic was the through line. I decided to keep the look modern and minimal, timeless with a focus on quality. Teeter-tottering on the cusp of the two seasons offered a wonderful opportunity to highlight clean basics that were relaxed yet elegant. Atop this crisp backdrop, I would bring in spring in the form of the bright, natural hues of the vegetables like asparagus and radish, colorful carrots, and a creamy zucchini and avocado soup. Pops of blue and yellow in the linens, florals, and watercolor menu similarly offered a nod to the season ahead, and the loose vines and artichokes were meant to feel unfussy, relaxed, and accessible.

In multiple calls with the creative team, we chatted though my vision and eventually made final choices together in the most beautiful collaborative spirit. I was asked to come to Napa for the photo shoot – and this is where the fun really began. You know how earlier, I talked about the way I approached the beginning stages of the project? That was at home, with my small team of two ladies. While I am so proud of the product we put forth as we are on set shooting, we are always working on a limited budget and getting scrappy, routinely hanging sheets from the windows to block light and employing whatever crafty solution we need to deliver stunning images.

HOWEVER, this was the polar opposite. I was soaking up all of the Californian vitamin D as we were on a mega set of 30 + people. The creative director, Matthew Jernigan, and I found common ground as we were both Victor Calderone fans in the late ‘90s – always comes back to the DJ hubby! Anyway, the amazing stylist and prop team came to me and asked, “Athena, is this how you wanted the flowers? Let me show you what we have.” They proceeded to take me to a double garage filled with greens and blooms galore. And then the props! Oh, MY PROPS, were they plentiful. I kid you not, truckloads of likely 200 perfectly-labeled crates! Meanwhile, the kitchen staff of three were churning out my recipes and asking me to taste things and show them how I wanted my dishes styled.

I felt proud and humbled to be the expert leading the charge – and I stepped into my role gleefully, without the self-judgment and doubt that used to plague me.

I also got a chance to work with amazing photographer Seth Smoot, whom I had been dying to partner with for years, since I began my career on set with his talented wife, prop stylist Kendra Smoot. Seth had calm energy and captured everything with grace while making me feel completely comfortable behind his lens. We had two nonstop days with a mega-aggressive shot list, but it all felt so laid-back and fun, also thanks in part to my campy crew of Courtney Lake and Jess Haro, who were my two point of contacts throughout the entire process.

And the work? Beautiful beyond my imagination. This group was a well-oiled machine. I had honestly never experienced a production team of this magnitude. I could not believe they were all there to help execute my vision. In that moment, it felt clear I had found my footing in the nebulous lifestyle “influencer” space. I felt proud and humbled to be the expert leading the charge – and I stepped into my role gleefully, without the self-judgment and doubt that used to plague me.

I am honored to share my recipes, tablescape, a super delish spring cocktail, spring playlist and most of all, my entertaining tips, including my take on investing in better basics! Hop over to the Pottery Barn blog for recipes and more.

Entertaining Tips

Begin with Better Basics

Quality, timeless white plates provide a pristine canvas for your creativity. I use mine not just for entertaining but every day, multiple times per day.

Consider Your Composition

Layers, texture, contrast, height, and negative space are the building blocks of your composition, whether you’re designing a tablescape or a plate of food. Consider each element.

Simple Snips

Foolproof dish decor — clip herbs or florals from the surrounding area, tie them up with twine, and place one bundle upon each plate at the table.

Go Beyond Blooms

Rather than relying solely on florals as the centerpiece for your scape, place greenery from your garden down the length of the table and use sculptural, in-season produce as decor.

Painterly Touch

Add a handmade touch to the table with your menu treatment. Torn and individually watercolored edges make the recipe list look both effortless and elevated.

Light the Way

Mood lighting is a must! The more candles, the merrier. Here we employed a variety of heights to add a sense of drama and romance.

Roasted Asparagus and Radishes With Mustard-tarragon Vinaigrette

Athena Calderone, Cook Beautiful


serves 4 to 6

  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed and halved, quartered if large
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound/455 g), trimmed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 3 tablespoons
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 4 to 5 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves removed


Preheat the oven to 425˚F (220˚C).

Spread the radishes on a baking sheet and the asparagus on a second baking sheet. Drizzle both with oil and season with salt and pepper, tossing to evenly coat the vegetables. Spread the vegetables in an even, single layer.

Roast the radishes for 10 minutes. Give them a shake, then add the pan of asparagus to the oven.

Roast until both the radishes and asparagus are lightly golden and tender, 12 to 14 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, whisk together the vinegar and mustard, then slowly whisk in the 3 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the radishes and asparagus to a serving platter. Lightly drizzle with the vinaigrette and sprinkle with tarragon. Serve immediately with extra vinaigrette on the side.

More Recipes from this Swoon

Recipes Cocktails:

Chamomile Gin Sour

Share this Swoon   –  

Necessary Objects

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