Join us as we celebrate the über-talented artist and salonniere Cathy Graham, whose new book, Second Bloom: Cathy Graham’s Art of the Table, is, well, blooming with entertaining inspiration. While Cathy’s New York and Nantucket fêtes attract the most interesting folks from the worlds of art and media, it’s her tabletops—which showcase her extraordinary eye for detail and quirky sense of humor—that take center stage. Teeming with posies and whimsy, her colorful table settings are tableaux that would have inspired Jan Brueghel the Elder to take brush to canvas—and why wouldn’t they? Art is where it starts with Cathy. From the watercolor invitations she creates to plant the seed for what’s to come to the collage of curiosities and flowers she creates to garnish her table, her training as a painter and illustrator is the fairy dust she uses to enchant her guests. Pull up a garden stool and listen in as Cathy shares the secrets of her fanciful party style.
What three words describe your entertaining style?
Relaxed, fun, traditional.
What is your favorite way to entertain?
A dinner party at my home, in honor of someone else.
Famed floral designer and event planner Robert Isabell was your good friend and mentor. What did he teach you about floral design and parties?
One needs to consider not just the flowers, but the complete atmosphere. You need to engage all the senses.
You are known for your floral arrangements. What flowers or colors are you obsessed with right now?
I love coral, pink, pale yellow, and lime green.
You put flowers in the most beautiful little vases. What are some of your favorite creative vessels for flowers?
Vintage medicine bottles.
In addition to your gorgeous floral designs, your entertaining signature seems to be adding whimsical miniature objects to your tabletops. Where do you find them?
I troll eBay and Etsy late at night for vintage salesman samples to put on the table.
You’ve said you always like to mix in a touch of “bad taste” when hosting a party? Do tell…
I think it’s important to have an unexpected element. For example, I collect old cooking pamphlets from the 1920s to the 1950s, and I love to cut out the most revolting recipe, such as Calves Brain Pancake, and glue it to the reminder card where it says “expects you for dinner.”
Tell us about a party that absolutely swept you off your feet.
Robert Isabell’s décor for my 40th birthday at my home was so over the top, it is almost impossible to describe. There was a cat room, complete with fake fur tablecloths and a tail attached to every chair. The garden was tented with a Barbie theme, complete with a fuchsia sequined ceiling, red and white striped tent, Astro Turf, and Barbie chandeliers, with blond Barbie wigs for everyone to wear.
What is one entertaining rule that should never be broken?
Never switch name cards.
Your handmade cards are works of art. What can people do to make their holiday cards stand out?
Make them personal—handmade, with a collage.
Who are the three most interesting people you’ve ever met at a party?
Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, and Henri Samuel.
If you could host anyone at a dinner party, who would it be?
I would love to host Wes Andersen.
Do you have any hosting muses?
I am in complete awe of Deeda Blair and Louise Grunwald. They both have the most amazing style and intelligence. Both know how to make everyone feel special, and I am so lucky to have them as friends! Deeda Blair has the most ethereal, enchanting dining area with lovely Tole flowers that she commissioned from Vladimir Kanevsky. Everything is so exquisite, from the tablecloths to the chairs, which are not only beautiful, but also very comfortable. The food is beyond belief—it is something Deeda is passionate about, and it’s always original. And if that isn’t enough, her dinners are very small, with the most fascinating people as guests. Louise has a large round table with the most beautiful silver. She mixes fruit with flowers and has chocolates and candied ginger nuts in silver bowls. The dining room is sublime, with glorious chocolate-brown lacquered walls, and celadon taffeta curtains. In candlelight, the effect they create is such a treat to the senses. The food is also superb, with the most wonderful mix of people in attendance. Louise has a great sense of humor and is so brilliant at bringing people together.
Cathy Graham’s Star Turn
On a scale of one to four stars, with four stars being absolutely indispensable, how important are the following to an unforgettable evening?
Time to plan.
Fabulous, creative, and interesting people on the guest list.
Cathy at one of her parties with costume designer William Ivey Long
A gorgeous space, filled with chic and surprising conversation-starters.
Delicious, artfully presented food.
A collector’s item invitation to set the tone.
A lavish budget.
A signature cocktail.
A groovy playlist.
Playing Favorites with Cathy Graham
Plain white china from Tiffany’s.
I love Cath Kidston, but I’m looking for something new. Any suggestions?
Favorite table linens?
Cream-colored linen always works. I’m mad for linen with small prints from various fabric houses.
Favorite maker of place cards?
Crane & Co.
Favorite powder room soap?
Bergdorf Goodman has a wonderful selection. I always find something there.
Favorite floral combination?
Seasonal roses, dahlias, lady apples, rosemary, and sage.
Favorite hostess gift to give?
I have chocolates that look like pebbles and taste wonderful, which I like to give. They’re from Elements in Chicago. I like to put them in a box from Bell’occhio in San Francisco and finish them with a beautiful satin ribbon.
Well, that ties things up in a bow nicely, Cathy. Thanks so much for stopping by.