Consummate hosts reveal their secrets to entertaining
Entertaining can be daunting. In fact, many regard it with high anxiety. Yet, according to experts, the key to successful entertaining is a relaxed host—and the key to a relaxed host is careful planning. “Entertaining is a perfect time to practice and develop a sense of style,” declared Letitia Baldrige, doyenne of social graces. To that end, we posed a series of questions to three local party-givers extraordinaire: Carolyne Roehm, Sharon resident, author, entertainer, designer, columnist; Bob Winston, who with John David Hunter resides in Roxbury and owns the Tulip Tree Collection in Washington Depot; and Florence de Dampierre, Litchfield resident, home-furnishings historian, interior designer, lecturer, and author of several books on home furnishings, interior design, and French Chic style.
Here’s what they had to say:
What are your three absolutes for a perfect party?
Carolyne Roehm: Good food, beautiful flowers, and fun guests.
Bob Winston: Preparation, preparation, preparation.
Florence de Dampierre: A great group of friends and guests, a good venue, wonderful food and alcohol.
As you begin to think about summer entertaining, is there anything markedly different from the way you entertained in past summers?
BW: Yes, less need for help, more relaxed meals, serving food from a buffet, then sitting down to a beautiful table.
FdeD: Even more ingredients will come from my garden and from my little greenhouse.
What are you most comfortable wearing at your own parties?
CR: Cotton slacks or skirt with a shirt and ballerina flats and my plastic jewelry from Angela Caputi that I purchase in Florence.
BW: The occasion determines the dress code but we dress comfortably.
FdeD: As a hostess it is important to strike the right note. You do not want to attract too much attention to yourself.
What number of guests are you most comfortable having?
CR: I prefer six to eight. With more than that I am too busy and cannot focus and enjoy everyone as I would like.
BW: We like to have sit-down dinners for eight to ten and buffets for up to 20.
FdeD: Nine or ten at our pool house.
What is your summer beverage of choice to serve these days?
CR: Having spent so much time in Italy this last year, I love a good Prosecco.
BW: There is always a full assortment of beverages here, but my famous Bloody (or Virgin) Mary is a favorite. It has no horseradish, lots of fresh lemon juice, and the rest of the usual ingredients.
FdeD: For summer lunches I love iced green tea with lime, fresh ginger, and fresh mint from the garden.
Can you suggest any local resources that you enjoy using for rentals, catering, food, flowers, invitations, entertainment?
CR: I have a large supply of things so I do not rent unless it is a very big party. I am my own source since I grow my own flowers, have a large garden, and bring things up from the city.
BW: We almost always do our own menu planning and cooking. We have never hired entertainment, as the reason we gather friends together is to converse. We play or put together a selection of music appropriate for the group we are having and we love to create our own centerpieces, floral or otherwise. When invitations are appropriate, we use D.K. Schulman in New Preston, and we love the excellent cheeses and desserts at The Pantry in Washington Depot.
FdeD: I always cook most of the food. But if we need additions, like cookies or desserts, I use The Dutch Epicure or Hannah’s Bakery in Litchfield. For breads, I shop at Bantam Bakery. I buy Morosani grass-fed beef and fish at Tilden Seafood in Litchfield. Flowers are from my garden, or Stop & Shop. I use Taylor Rentals in Torrington for tents, tables, chairs; David Grossman for music (he plays at the Mayflower); and D.K. Schulman in New Preston for invitations and thank-you notes.
What is your favorite farm stand for summer ingredients?
CR: Paley’s in Sharon, and McEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton.
BW: Hands down, Painter Ridge Farm in Washington.
FdeD: My family and I make an outing of shopping together at the Saturday farmer’s market in Litchfield. I also love March Farms in Bethlehem for tomatoes and corn, and milk and ice cream from Litchfield’s Arethusa Farm.
How do you deal with an unexpected guest?
CR: I don’t worry about it. We always cook too much food, and I think one just has to go with the flow and pull up another chair.
BW: It’s no problem if we are having a buffet. If there is room, we squeeze in another place setting.
FdeD: It’s fine with me if the guest is a friend, but if a guest brings extra people without warning, I think it is rude.
How do you feel about host/hostess gifts, and what is the best one you ever received? Gave?
CR: Please do not bring anything that I can’t eat, drink, read, or listen to—and please do not bring me scented candles unless they’re Cire Trudon’s “Ernesto.” I give the above, or I will make a picture book of the event.
BW: Our least favorite is unarranged flowers because you have to do something with them while other guests are arriving. It is always nice to get (and give) some kind of food stuff. Often, we will give our host something they have admired from our store.
FdeD: Fresh flowers are the worst. A plant is more practical and for me, chocolates are always the best gift. Whatever I bring, I do so with a wonderful, fun presentation.
How do you encourage conversation among guests?
CR: I always make sure some of the guests have the gift of gab.
BW: We’ve never had guests that aren’t conversant.
FdeD: I go out of my way to make each of my guests shine.
How do you thank your host after a great gathering?
CR: A picture book or a note.
BW: With a phone call; or with someone we don’t know well, a note.
FdeD: I think it is nice to call. This way, you get to gossip about the event.
Who might be your favorite dinner party guests, living or dead?
CR: Ones who can make me laugh. And ones who will eat anything!
BW: Marella Agnelli, Oscar Wilde, Catherine the Great, Mel Brooks, the current Pope, and Barbara Walters.
FdeD: I like to have people who sing for their supper, people who are great conversationalists. A great group would be Thomas Jefferson, Albert Schweitzer, Marie Curie, and Edith Wharton.
How do you unwind after a successful event?
CR: I have another glass of wine or Prosecco with my feet up.
BW: We have a glass of wine and a post-mortem.
FdeD: I take my dogs out for a walk, and if it’s not too late, I do this with my daughter, Valentina.