Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to Party

You might be seeing a few images of my recent dinner party for twenty on the blogs.  What a party it was, in honor of Karena of The Arts by Karena blog!!!  I have not had so much fun in a long time!  This was a party with the stylish in mind: a cherished guest of honor, esteemed bloggers, some I have met and some I had not; personal friends, farmers market friends, an eclectic mix of people I thought would enjoy each other’s company and a good meal.   It was truly the party I have wanted for my family dinners for a decade: one which is unrushed, unfolds over many hours, with gorgeous decor and wonderful food and desserts.  I was lucky to welcome friends old and new, and just loved to see everyone making new connections and having great conversation.  But how does that happen?  To really make everyone comfortable and to facilitate a great party, what do you need?  You can see images of the party on several blogs, including Christina, the lovely Karena’s and the fabulous and chic Tamera’s, but here I’m going to give you a little behind the scenes.  I took a grand total of three images all night on my camera; thank you to Lorie, Leah of Nobili Antiques and Christina for these images.

A party starts with a good idea, or theme.  I wanted whimsy, I wanted chic. I wanted something sophisticated for this group of ladies, something Dior-esque, subtle grey and pink, maybe punch it up a little, and I started by focusing on this image of a vintage Dior dress:

 vintage dior

OK so now, back to reality.  I went to downtown LA with some grey Ikat or something graphic in mind for the table.  But I didn’t find any; there was none of the graphic chevron or Ikat to be seen; it was all too thin and cheap looking, even at the good stores; nothing that said YES.  But then, right in front of me, I saw some pretty pale pink silk.  That will do.  It’s not grey, but it’s good quality and much better than the cheap looking stuff.  Three yards came home with me and turned into three long runners.  Done.  I also used the runners and flowers the next day at my niece’s bridal shower.  Here you can also see the pale blush hydrangeas in footed vases.  Note.  And the burrata plates. Note. And tons and tons of votives.  Note.  Touches of gold on the glasses and plates.  I love white and gold plates because I can change the look of the party with an accent color and still use these plates.


Underneath the pink runners are cotton yardage, vintage French sheeting, pressed vintage linens which are draped to the floor on both sides, a layer of grey tulle and finally the pink runner.  All on top of some very old yet solid folding tables I have.  For seating, I used the cane chairs from the dining room and the garden chairs.  I have ten of those, and two years ago I had them “metallized” meaning the paint is baked on white.  It does not rust, does not budge.  It’s perfect and if you live in SoCal near the beach, it’s the only way to go for gates and chairs and tables and bars.  These seats were yellow vinyl in the ‘70’s and blue marine canvas in the 80’s and 90’s.  Now they are awning stripe and I take good care of them to keep them looking good.  They gave me the graphic touch I wanted.


For a party like this, I need impact.  I planted the terraces, driveway, entry and patio with all white flowers, with a few pink and white petunias for the Dior theme.  The white flowers show up great at night, and I love the simple green and white look.  I have planted dozens of pots with fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, mint, savory, lemon verbena, chives, curly and flat-leaf parsley, and sage; these smell great, went into the oven under the chicken quarters, into our salad for the party, can go into tisane, and also went into the vasques holding ice and wine and Perrier; herbs in the ice buckets look and smell great and prevent bottles from clinking.  You can never plant too many herbs in summer.  The rosemary topiaries are from Trader Joe’s ($7) and the rest came from the farmers market.  Terrier not included.


I got the pair of white hydrangeas for $20 each in LA.  Know your resources; drive an hour to save bucks and get exactly what you want, and this was exactly what I wanted.  Nothing else would do.  Along with the palest pink hydrangeas for the tables.


They went in the large urns flanking the doors to the living room.  The lanterns here are original to the house, circa 1923.  I knew this detail would not be lost on the guests; and it was noticed and photographed as I knew it would be.


We dined under the loggia.  Hello, are you building a home in Southern California?  You need one of these.  Ours is ideally situated away from the prevailing Westerly wind.  In the afternoon we get a breeze from the south, which dies down at 6pm.  The builder of our house had previously built a dozen homes in Laguna in the early 20’s and this was his crown jewel estate.  He knew what he was doing.  This is the prime party spot.  In the corner next to the house, I set my desk, which is a French pine bakers table, which held a cheese platter and desserts, as well as a statue original to the house and my favorite 19th C landscape painting by William Keith~ 

(image above via Greige) merci Christina!

This is the aftermath photo; the tulle blowing in the breeze on Sunday afternoon.


Not wanting to make any holes in the loggia, I used $20 of quarter-round painted to match the loggia.  Hung with cotton twine from above by me and my nephew. 240 yards of grey tulle were hung on that; at the last minute, because there is a Momma Bird in the near lantern here.  She was confused by the tulle, but she’s back there now on her nest.  This is also why I did not light the three lanterns above during the dinner.  We used votives, which you also see here along the stone wall behind the loggia.


The tulle blows around a lot during the day.


It’s super elegant to me, and this is something I have wanted to do in this space….for…forever.


It was totally worth it.  I got the tulle in downtown LA; 40 yards is $10.  But it blows all over. 


Catching on the smallest piece of ivy.


All over, I say.


Like a velvet octopus, it wraps itself around sets of glasses, plants and pots.  You wouldn’t think so, but it can pull over glasses.  So beware.


Before we dined, I wanted space for guests to visit; to facilitate conversation.  I hauled furniture out of the living room, and some other rooms.  My favorite white Bergeres came from a consignment long ago and are super comfortable.


Vuitton trunks and leopard ottomans my chic guests were sure to love….


Yes, everyone was very very comfy.  No wonder they didn’t mind waiting for dinner!  The leaded glass windows along the wall came from a nearby home dated 1923.  The new owners redid the house in Santa Fe style (!) but I bought all the windows for a song, one day to make a folly in my garden.


My latest and a few favorite cookbooks from Chino Farm sat on top of the trunks, for browsing.  I don’t know if anyone looked at these.


all I can say is that everyone was happy.  Everyone.


As for the food, we had spicy ahi and avocado etc for starters, then the burrata was plated and put on each place setting as guests were seated.  I used Gioia brand burrata; not a fan of the Trader Joe’s one since so many have asked me….sorry.  Track down the Gioia.  I took a bit of a gamble and made my own pasta.  This took a little time as it was six cups of flour and then eggs and water, salt and olive oil that needed to be worked together and kneaded.   If I had screwed it up it would be disaster.  But it was perfect.  I had so many guests come in the kitchen to see it being made, and a handful of helpers who just really wanted to know how this was done and help turn the crank and roll the pasta with me.  I see pasta lessons in the future for some of my friends, not to mention a lot of lunches after the Saturday market.

photo 1 (1)

I sent Linda out onto the patio carrying this elastic sheet of pre-cut pasta on her arms to assure guests the dinner was indeed under preparation. She’s just adjusting to the length of it here, but she paraded it well and everyone loved it!

photo 2 (1)

So many great friends, so many great memories….love that everyone had a great time and didn’t mind waiting for the food to eventually make its way out of the kitchen~IMG_7019

My Mom stayed up until midnight with the last guests, and she said it was the best party she’s been to in a long time….even if it was at her own house! Love you, Mom!!! I love to see her so happy, with a smile on her face and having such a great time all night; meanwhile, Dad went to bed.  He thinks I’m crazy.


After all this I went for a swim at 2am and cleaned the plates up.  We’ll be doing this again soon, and it’s going to be slightly different, and even better…

Entertain well and entertain often this summer, you won’t ever regret it!