A 2018 Salonniere 100 honoree, Bunny Williams is one of the rare designers whose name has become synonymous with a lifestyle—one that’s all about easy elegance, gorgeous interiors and gardens, and a certain sense of graciousness. Though Bunny is an icon, she’s not at all remote. Clients can go on for days about her approachable warmth, a side of her personality that not only comes through in her refined interiors but also through her dazzling gatherings (frequently co-hosted by her wonderful husband, the antiques dealer John Rosselli). From garden soirées to stylish buffets, a Bunny Williams party is one to be remembered. Pour yourself a Garden Party, and get ready to drink in the knowledge of one of our favorite party hosts.
We’ve always loved seeing your gorgeous interiors, and we recognize your style immediately for its elegance and unmistakable warmth. How do you approach the design of a room so it feels inviting?
I think of comfort first. Then I aim to show my clients how easy it is to live with beautiful things. I want to create spaces they’ll never want to leave. There is always room for extra guests, lots of laughter, and of course for pets.
Do you entertain often at home?
Yes. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than having friends and family together in your home. I’d rather order in Chinese food and serve it on pretty plates than go to a restaurant.
What’s the best party you’ve ever hosted and why?
My 40th birthday party—only women were invited. David Easton showed up in drag!
Do you prefer sit-down dinner parties or more informal cocktail parties?
My favorite way to entertain is a seated dinner with a buffet where guests can help themselves and then return to the table where there is a place card for each guest.
How do you and John approach entertaining as a couple?
Divide and conquer. John is in charge of the kitchen. I set the table.
In an essay with House Beautiful, you revealed that John handles the cooking when you entertain. What are his favorite dishes to create?
Sometimes simpler is better—there’s nothing finer than John’s macaroni and cheese, lasagna, or shepherd’s pie.
One of the biggest challenges for any host is figuring out how to make room for guests at a gathering. Do you have any suggestions for maximizing space—or perhaps seating arrangements that work well for parties?
If you’re serving a meal, there doesn’t need to be a table, but make sure you have enough places for everyone to sit to eat their food. No one should have to stand or sit on the floor. When people are eating off their lap, serve food that can be eaten with just a fork.
You’re known for your exceptional garden. Do you incorporate elements from your garden when you entertain?
Absolutely! There’s nothing like freshly cut flowers to make a table come alive. Just be sure to keep your arrangement low so that your guests can see one another. I sometimes just place pots of succulents or low plants on the table.
What are your tips for creating a stylish table setting?
Think past flowers. I like to use objects from around the house on the table—little carved creatures, my collection of rabbits and hurricane lanterns, etc.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest mistake a host can make when entertaining?
Don’t go overboard! Only plan a party that works for your space and budget. A host should never seem stressed and should be able to enjoy the party along with everyone invited.
Going back to the garden: We’re heading right into the outdoor entertaining season. What are some great ways to turn outdoor areas into lovely settings for entertaining?
As in your living room, arrange outdoor furniture for conversation. And comfortable chairs are a must. Picnics are another great way to entertain, especially with families. I like to spread the straw rugs John and I found in Morocco over the grass in our meadow and scatter a few cushions and folding chairs around. A basket with packed sandwiches, potato chips, and brownies will make for a great afternoon!
You and John are great collectors of antiques. Where are your favorite places to go on the hunt?
We shop wherever we are, but John and I love to shop at tag sales near our home in Connecticut. Other favorites include the Millerton Antiques Center and Scott Antiques Market in Atlanta.
You also have mentioned your great love of books and you’re an author yourself. What books do you always turn to when looking for inspiration?
I own thousands of books, but still there is nothing I’d rather receive than a new design book. A few of my favorites include Colefax and Fowler: The Best in Interior Decoration by Chester Jones, David Adler Architect: The Elements of Style by Richard Guy Wilson, et al., and Roomscapes: The Decorative Architecture of Renzo Mongiardino by Renzo Mongiardino, Fiorenzo Cattaneo ed.
What are you looking forward to most this summer?
Spending time in my garden.
Whether it’s browsing through certain Instagram accounts or visiting a favorite museum, we always love to find out where our favorite designers go for inspiration. Where do you turn for inspiration?
Nothing is as enlightening and educational as travel. I have been continually inspired by visiting houses, gardens, and museums around the world. I’m also loving Cabana magazine!
Playing Favorites With Bunny Williams
Florist: Plaza Flowers
Caterer: Glorious Food
Dinnerware: My Bunny Williams collection for Ballard Designs
Glassware: William Yeoward
Flatware: Alain San Jonis
Powder room candle: The Timeless Candle in my Bunny Williams Home Collection
Powder room soap: Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia Soap
Hostess gift: The Amala Bone Candle Safe in my Bunny Williams Home Collection
To read about how other designers and style icons entertain, click here.
Photo sources: Bunny Williams, One Kings Lane
Click here to read about Brie Dyas, the author of this story.