Grab a glass of sangria and join us on the veranda, doll. We were just chatting with award-winning interior designer Charlotte Moss about her fabulous new book, Garden Inspirations. A warm and gracious hostess, Charlotte was waxing nostalgic about her long love of entertaining. It all started with the picnics of her Southern childhood – happy backyard cookouts where the whole family came together, cousins crabbed at the river and the pièce de la résistance for any meal was a German chocolate cake made from scratch.
Today, Charlotte enjoys entertaining at her verdant East Hampton estate where her style signature is a table set with linens and china that she has collected over decades of world travel and artfully arranged colorful blooms from her gardens. Let’s listen in as Charlotte shares the secrets of her entertaining style and reminds us to look to nature for indoor and outdoor entertaining inspiration.
How have your early memories of outdoor entertaining inspired your entertaining style?
Despite the shift in time, place and atmosphere, I still feel the same simple pleasure and sense of well-being that comes from dining outside. I love the spirit of experimentation, surprising my guests by hosting them in different parts of my home or garden and using what I have in new and unexpected ways. It says you care about your home and everyone invited there.
In Garden Inspirations, you write that the phrase “from scratch” was a favorite of your mother’s. And, indeed, when you bought your home, Boxwood Terrace, 26 years ago, you began the long process of creating your gardens from scratch. What advice would you give to the host who wants to create memorable outdoor occasions, but is starting with a blank slate?
Consider what you will need right away and make a really good friend with someone at your local nursery who can give you good advice for what will do well in your garden. If you don’t have time for a tree to grow, you buy a bigger tree. Over time, you create a plan – maybe a five year plan – for your garden and you inch toward how you want it to look. Most of all, read, read, read, read. In the meantime, white goes a long way. Take a table and drop a cloth on it that goes all the way to the ground and use big, white linen napkins. Scatter white candles, or maybe some big white candle globes. You can hang white lanterns or fairy lights from brackets or from a tree. For the flowers, I love to mix white with green roses or scabiosa. You can do little pots down the middle of the table, like a little garden, with votive candles nestled among them. Also, use what you have. Sometimes what we need is right there and it’s just a matter of repurposing it. If you have a big zinc tub, maybe you could fill it with white geraniums. Or maybe you could yank them out and use it for ice.
What is your favorite way to entertain outdoors?
I love a buffet. They give you the opportunity to put something on a plate exactly the way you want it to look. And your guests can help each other, which creates a really nice mood. If it’s not a sit-down dinner, you can give people small wicker trays for plates and flatware and they can just sit anywhere. Also, it’s important to have background music. If you’re doing fish on the grill, maybe some gentle reggae. For a summer barbecue, soft country – nothing too twangy. It fills the void when there are lulls in the conversation. I think people are less cocktail-driven so I usually serve wine. But I always have at least one liquor choice. Maybe an aged scotch or a martini. Or a gin and tonic. Yankees like whiskey, down South it’s always gin.
The book has gorgeous examples from gardens around the world. If you could throw a party in any garden, where would it be?
There are some really wonderful Italian gardens. They are just full of ruins and big, huge hedge follies and statues. I would serve enormous antipasti platters with meats and cheeses, cold chicken, cold pasta. And a giant Caprese salad. Nothing constructed, nothing composed, but everything in abundance and lots of wine.
In your book, you write that your gardens have become a part of every room of your home: that they create a path that leads the visitor from room to room. How do you bring the garden inside?
I think it’s really more organic. I’m always collecting, always on the hunt and every once in a while something happens. For example, in my office right now, I’m looking at a chalk painting that I found of statues in a Russian garden, and the tole pineapple that I commissioned in my home is a ubiquitous symbol of hospitality. I can’t imagine a Southern home without a pineapple lurking somewhere. Having pieces of your garden in your home expresses something about who you are. These are just the things I gravitate towards.
10 Tips for Entertaining the Charlotte Moss Way
1. Put every bit of yourself in the details, and plan every last detail yourself. You may have others help you execute, but never forget, it is your party.
2. Try something new as a centerpiece . . . or in your front hall. Use what you have in new and interesting ways. What do I mean? Look around at what you own—how can you use objects and accessories on the table? Be creative . . . but be beautiful. Experimenting elevates confidence.
3. Follow the golden rule on height (all guests should be able to see each other) and don’t use fragrance at the table. But, after that, the table is yours to design.
4. Place cards make it easy for everyone. Your guests should not have to work or agonize about where to sit. Give placement a lot of thought. Mix people up; don’t put two people together who know each other really well, unless that is the case all around. Give your guests a chance to get to know someone better. It shows that you thought about them.
5. Make a toast to welcome your guests. Plan it in advance and add humor—and brevity is always appreciated.
6. If it is a special occasion, make a commemorative photo book to send to guests afterward. It is so easy to do today with apps and websites like iBooks Author, blurb.com, and Artifact Uprising.
7. Use beautiful, crisp, clean, and neatly ironed linens. Good housekeeping is the foundation for everything. Everyone should have a set of large white linen napkins. They go with everything and are perfect for buffet dinners.
8. When it comes to food, don’t use your guests as guinea pigs. Try every recipe before you serve it to others. Who needs that anxiety?
9. Prepare to enjoy your own party. When you’re happy, your guests will be too. Take all the time you need to get ready for your own party; you will feel better and be more relaxed.
10. And, lastly, PRACTICE. Setting the table is everyday decorating. How can you expect to have successful dinner parties, luncheons, or tailgate picnics if you are not doing it every day for yourself and your family? You must first be hospitable to yourself.
We couldn’t agree more, Charlotte. Thanks for stopping by.