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Charleston Entertaining Holiday Tables

How to Create the Perfect Moody & Rich Holiday Table with Blake Sams!

December 23, 2018

We’re finally settled at home and are getting into the Christmas spirit.   December was an amazing month packed with our final weddings of the year, lots of travel and a few nights at home which were spent over the dinner table with friends.

Gregory Blake Sams is a well-regarded wedding planner and designer here in Charleston.   I was initially drawn to him because of his eye and style which I admire so much and am fortunate to call him a friend.  I love spending time with him not only because he makes me howl with laughter but because I always learn something new — whether he introduces me to a new china pattern,  plant, room arrangement or family history, he has an encyclopedic mind, is so talented and a treat to spend time with.

What a privilege it was to snap a few photographs of this holiday dinner party he set in his home.    I had to ask him how he did it — he makes it all look so easy !!   Read on to hear more about his inspiration! We’ll be trying to lay a similar table on Christmas day…

I love how rich and lush this table is; it mixes classic pieces with fresh, unexpected touches.   Tell us how it came to be!

I love playing with my grandmother’s china and silver and by layering unexpected pieces (like malachite), the table feels more current.   The theme was “lush” and “abundant” — it was intended to be a decadent night, and it was!   The holidays is the perfect time to spoil your loved ones, and we mixed in lots of fresh fruits (locally sourced and some from Trader Joe’s), with sensational, vibrant and fluffy flowers.

We started simply by rearranging some furniture —  we wanted the table to feel cozy and intimate, and a large green velvet sofa provided the perfect banquette.   We pulled a chocolate Belgian linen as a moody but neutral tablecloth and then gathered every silver candlestick in the house, along with several beautiful estate pieces from our friends at Croghan’s Jewel Box, as we felt the room should be lit only by candles.    The vintage malachite placemats pop well against the Ginori plates — a classic. We then layered in compotes and vessels full of fruits, berries, and exotic date palms. The central arrangement which stretches throughout has an ombre pattern which makes the table feel original.

What principals do you always follow when setting the table:

Set it, walk away, come back and take one thing away!

What are fun dinner party activities for the holidays ?

I am in love with these pass the parcel oranges — every layer reveals a fun present, joke or surprise…. The  perfect relief after a few heavy courses and a bit less expected than a cracker!

How do you mix florals and fruits, do you watch out for certain color combinations:

It’s always a balance of size, scale, and color.  For this arrangement, it was important to stay with those rich ruby tones, so the pop of orange citrus and date palms looked beautiful in the dark room. I always think it is important for fruit and flowers to be placed in a way that it would grow in nature.  Things that hang down should hang down etc.

Do you have a favorite holiday cocktail?

I consistently enjoy a Manhattan over the holidays! We always keep a well stocked bar here at the house and office so that every guest can have what he or she wishes!  We’re all about making people feeling their most happy and relaxed.

And we did! xxx!!!

Entertaining Home Living Martha's Vineyard Tables

An Approachable & Fun Fall Table

September 12, 2018

We are just back to the Vineyard after traveling down to New York this past weekend to photograph a huge wedding weekend.    It was a beautiful and joyful few days with the most loving (and in love) couple who have become fast friends.   I spent most of the day culling and editing, I like to get cracking as quickly as possible, and after a long evening run and a visit to the market, threw together this simple, easy table for our supper.

When we drove on to Martha’s Vineyard at the start of this month, it felt like entering a movie set:  sail boats drenched in the last light of day, balmy perfect weather, polished streets and old cars.   This time, we arrived to sixty degrees, pouring rain and whipping wind — and I loved it!!   We had a cozy stormy night with a hot soup and crusty bread with melted cheese — hit the spot.  The market is full of autumnal hues of dark burgundy, dirty pinks and mustard yellows.   Dahlias and sunflowers are in full swing.

I have been collecting colored candlesticks since I arrived.    I usually favor ivory but I love these salty gray blues which mirror the sea right behind the stone wall at the edge of the garden.    This is just a a simple set of five vases with mixed wild flowers, four candle sticks, a handful of votives, white plates and floral napkins — but a moment to pull together and endlessly romantic as the candle light flickers next to the rich, vibrant flowers.   Big, squishy pillows make the rustic chairs more tolerable for late evening chats, and there are a few spare wool blankets off to the side as the night air is a bit nippy (and I tend to run cold).

We drank a full-bodied chardonnay and a bottle of light red wine, perfect for the transition into fall, and had leftover soup, garlic bread and a salad full of vegetables from the farms.    Xx!

Beach Entertaining Family Living Martha's Vineyard Style

Romance by the Sea

August 30, 2018

I love this dock, and being by the sea, in all weather.   We have spent many summer nights here gazing at the stars and cozy freezing nights snuggled up under what feels like a thousand blankets with friends drinking red wine in late fall.    Once, a great friend’s bracelet slipped through the crack and her boyfriend went diving for it in the icy sea — we all had in nervous giggles as he got down to his underwear and jumped in, thankful it wasn’t us — heroic if you ask me, and yes he found it!

When we have family in the house, and our son has gone to bed, it’s a lovely way to unwind for a bit just the two of us.    I love slipping into something a little more special, and I have always had a place in my heart for a good wrap dressThis one feels particularly amazing on, feminine, classic and great for both day and night (although I would favor it for an all-season date dress).    I was so pleased that I stumbled across the coolest little shop in Edgartown, Slate, where I found this new brand I hadn’t seen before.

Slipping into something special made the evening feel more note-worthy and romantic, I highly recommend!  Other little things we did to enhance the atmosphere were to stop by our favorite gourmet market on the way home and pick up some local cheeses (a lavender and espresso rubbed cows cheese was the highlight), with some incredible French style fresh bread to enjoy them with.  We brought mini votives with us (that were admittedly hard to keep alight), as well as cushions and blankets that we allowed us to stay out talking and enjoy the twilight in comfort – we were rewarded with a wonderful moonrise and the gentle sound of lapping waves.   Hard to beat if you ask me and a must-do for the coming holiday weekend. Xx 

Entertaining France Style Tables

Setting the Table from Start to Finish

July 10, 2018

By now you know that I love a pretty table, especially one adorned with lots of flowers and candles.   I thought it might be a fun change of pace to talk about how I think about setting the table, and at the bottom, there’s a video of the entire process of getting ready for the evening with friends.Setting the table from Start to Finish - et voila!

We were so lucky to be able to pick up fresh flowers and produce from the market in St. Tropez on Saturdays and Tuesdays.   Peonies were in full swing, which is such a treat.   I visit the wholesale florist a lot at home in Charleston but there’s nothing quite like walking into a bustling market.   I kept the arrangements very simple (and usually do so).   I had some left over chicken wire which I curled up and submerged in the vessels.   Chicken wire is a great trick to support each stem (especially as the vase is shallow here and the peony is top-heavy), and to allow space between each flowerhead, thereby using less per-arrangement and also enabling them to stay still!   These peonies were this open the day that I bought them and still lasted nearly a week — miraculous!  I ended up putting the lavender in the bathrooms rather than on the table.   I don’t love to use too many strong scents when setting the table.

Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy CuneoSetting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy CuneoSetting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo

I rarely place a napkin on top of a plate in day to day practice but these puppies are so enormous and the monogram suits this fold.    These napkins are vintage French linens which have been hand dyed in this amazing French blue… they make my heart sing!  The tablecloth is the same, and is a slightly different shade but the thick weight of the linen is so beautiful and it was a pleasure setting the table with them on top of these Chinese plates which I picked up at the brocante.    Now to the arrangement of the fork, knife and spoon. Typically I place my spoon outside the knife, even if it’s for dessert but we had English guests and this is how they do it… makes sense as it’s the last to be used!

Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo - top up!

I love transferring all the drinks (water, wine) that we’re bringing to the table into glass carafes — simple, pretty and an instant upgrade.   It’s also helpful if you’re like us and you’re drinking rosé from the box…which is far more normal in France… 🙂Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo

These etched glasses are a favorite, sadly they’re not available anymore but I absolutely love this set and have it at home (in full).  Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo - Candles!

I try to stagger plates/flowers so that the flowers never block a view.  I would prefer candlelight in front of each place vs. flowers as it’s more flattering.  I try to be aware of the view, and try to think about the table from the guest’s perspective. Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy CuneoSetting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo

Now to getting dressed up for dinner, and to an onslaught of photographs of this dress!   I wore a dress and sweater to dinner most nights, and always changed out of my clothes from the day.    Some nights were more casual and I particularly love how this one (and it comes in blue, too) can dress up or down and still feels feminine and comfortable.  It also breathes so well in the heat.   And, cheers to these earrings which I wore a million times….!

Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy CuneoSetting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo - Love these earrings! Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo Setting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy CuneoSetting the table from Start to Finish - Lucy Cuneo

See the video below !! XX


Entertaining France

Slipping into French Routines: 4 Habits to Bring Home

July 9, 2018

Habits to bring home from France - Playtime with the little man!

We are rattling up the hill in a twenty year old Land Rover, my childhood car.   The late afternoon sun bathes my bare legs and the warm wind whips through the open window.   My son is in his car seat in the back, happily eating a basket of freshly picked blackberries.   The juice dribbles down his chin and arms, one of which he is swinging in the air to the raspy music which comes in and out through the thick haze of white noise; it’s a good song and he’s repeating some of the words.  

Next to him sits a wooden crate with tonight’s dinner in it, fresh from the market: pasta, vegetables to grill, a bottle of cold salmon pink rosé, arugula, avocado, tomatoes and milk.     There’s enough time for a play in the garden before I prepare his dinner, which he will eat outside, followed by a hot bubbly bath and a few books before bed.   The sun sets late here and he will fall asleep in the last bit of light.   With the onset of evening, the mood will shift.   Music is on, perhaps a bath before dinner?  I will slip into something more special, add a spritz of perfume, a swipe of lipstick and a pair of sparkly earrings.    The table is set, the candles are lit.   Evenings are for the adults, and will carry on far too late…

Habits to bring home - Always making the effort to dress up in the eveningsHabits to bring home - Make every evening special

1/2/3/4/5/6  and not pictured but used very often, see here.

Habits to bring home - Candles as always!

Perfume, earrings and a quick change for dinner.   Not every night was this dressed up, but it was fun on occasion.  Here I am wearing a fun sparkly number from  Cabana Vintage and my favorite new strappy heels which are on sale:

Habits to bring home - Lucy Cuneo

I am taking note of our rhythms here and marking the small habits to bring home:

A Morning Bath.   There are no showers to speak of.   It is surprisingly relaxing and energizing at the same time.

Simple, fresh meals, exceptional ingredients.   Croissants and fresh melon for breakfast.   Cheese and baguette and tomato salad for lunch.  Bread always picked up and eaten on the same day.  A slew of little salads, grilled vegetables, local sausages or fish for dinner, topped off with the most delicious gelato, a different flavor each night — pure pleasure!

Disconnecting.   With very little service, and inconsistent wifi (especially because we had lots of unseasonal storms), we found ourselves on our phones less and focusing more.   My husband doesn’t have an issue with this at home but I do.   I couldn’t believe how often my phone went without charge, and how my anxiety level dropped.   More time to take in the view,  exercise,  and most importantly, spend time with friends and family.

Habits to bring home - Local fresh produceHabits to bring home - Lucy Cuneo

Making the effort in the evening.    Whether it was cozied by the fire in an intimate group or a long, candlelit table in the balmy evening air, every night held a touch of magic.   Even our dinners for two were properly set up and enjoyed.   We celebrated one another’s company, phones were left behind and laughter-filled conversations ensued.   We dressed up, we danced, we drank too much and sometimes we cried.   The excitement of being in such a beautiful places with wonderful people was reason enough to make each night special but there’s also the subtle hint the way the houses are set up.   The kitchen and dining area, as well as the outside (which is where we ate every night save three) are at the center of the home.    The making of the meal is the event, the TV is outdated, upstairs and never even crossed our minds…

Habits to bring home - Always making the effort to dress up in the evenings

Will & I made a habit of eating very late, and always set the table, even for the two of us alone. 

Habits to bring home - Lucy Cuneo

Although eating outside was always first preference, even on cold evenings by the outdoor fire, there were some nights which were so rainy that eating in was necessary.    On this particular night, we candle-lit the whole room to create the ultimate cozy environment.   The flowers from the Saturday market in St. Tropez were a superb touch.  I will be sharing a dinner party playlist soon, too!! XX 

Entertaining Home Style

Pamper Yourself with India Hicks

May 17, 2018

How do I begin to express my admiration for India Hicks?    I have known about her for years and, like many of us, have avidly followed her design and lifestyle trendsetting ideas.  I am a sun lover and have fantasized about building a house in the tropics for years.   So, naturally, I’ve gazed endlessly at India’s Bahamian paradise of a home and have applauded her for being brave enough to build a beautiful and rich life on a tiny island; it takes courage to step away from the familiar.   From my perspective, India is a leader in showing how to celebrate her beautiful, extended family while growing an extraordinary career, from design to health awareness, and all the while reminding us to enjoy fun and play every day.   She is cool, she is beautiful, she is inclusive, and always seems unselfconsciously and fully herself — it makes her very easy to respect and a fantastic role model for us, her audience, and, of course, for her children.

I was deeply honored to be asked both to speak about India and to test out some of the products from her lifestyle line.  While the first request was easy – I can speak endlessly about her — I must confess to an initial hesitancy about the second.  As someone trying to develop my own commercial point of view, or “brand”, I’ve made a study of people who have introduced and promoted products as part of supporting their “brands” and, too often, the products are subpar, thereby detracting from the strength of their vision.  Not surprisingly, I should not have doubted for a second. The quality, love and care that India has put into her line — each and every product — is phenomenal:  The scents are delicious, the jewelry is so well made (the weight of the gold charms is exactly as it should be, the flexible chain length ideal), and the handbags are simply exquisite.

 Golden Fan Earrings Coral 

Hook Flamingo Bracelet 

 Golden Fan Earrings Desert Pink

Essential Chain, Gold

India Hicks x Figue 

( The tunic SO comfortable and cute for day or night, only available until the end of June!)

India has brought her exacting sensibility and lack of compromise to her line and has created an original mix of beautiful, high-quality products.  For example, she collaborated with one of my favorite design brands, Figue, to make this tunic pictured on me here (and by the way I am not taking it off so be prepared to see a lot of it!).  Additionally,  I hadn’t been swayed to switch from my perfume of choice since I was eleven until I tried India’s “English Rose” scent — even Will adores it.  Speaking of scent, her scented candles are equally delicious and I love every combination she has put together.  And, for constant inspiration, I would always highly recommend all of her beautiful books, also available through the shop.

Eau De Parfum English Rose (DELICIOUS)

 India Hicks Island Style

  India Hicks A Slice of England

 Candle Casuarina (divine!)

India has an Ambassador program which enables the entrepreneurial woman to build her own lifestyle business (via India’s brand, collection, tools and support).    And, she has set a challenge of raising $100,000 for charity in 100 days.   Will and I will be hosting a “Get Together/Give Together” event in July at our house in Charleston where you can come to buy her lovely products, knowing that a percentage of the sale proceeds will be given to a charity of our choice.  How cool is that??

Thank you India Hicks for sponsoring this post!! Proud to be part of the tribe!

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