From ice skating at Central Park’s Wollman Rink to browsing the creative window displays along Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, there’s nothing like the holidays in New York City. And this year, there’s a new must-do in town: The Sugarplum Pop-Up in the Cognac Room of the fabulous St. Regis New York. Designed by effervescent event maestro Rebecca Gardner, Sugarplum Pop-Up is a festive fantasy land of chic confections and eclectic gifts. There are Swiss chalets made of candy, darling little sugar mice, whimsical accoutrements for cocktail hour, and even a compliments service, where you can hire a Sugarplum “elf” to flatter the recipient of your choice with a shower of praise. Pour yourself an Old Fashioned, wrap yourself in a vintage stole, and listen in as one of our favorite merrymakers shares the inspiration behind her fanciful Sugarplum Pop-Up and offers up her best holiday entertaining tips.
We’re crazy about the Sugarplum Pop-Up! The details are so intricate and well thought out. How far in advance have you been planning the delightful concept?
About 34 years! The Sugarplum Pop-Up is my highly personal Christmas fantasy. I see the holidays as one big event, and these are the perfect elements to make that party beautiful, memorable and, most importantly, a screaming blast.
Why did you choose the St. Regis New York as the location for the Sugarplum Pop-Up? What do you love most about this iconic hotel?
The St. Regis New York is full of nostalgia and unabashed glamour. When the hotel opened in 1904, the New York Times reported that the “…chambermaids carried room keys on strings of pearls”. It looks like it smells of martinis and mink. I can’t think of a more romantic place to be in December.
We love the candy-house designs that are on display. What was the inspiration behind them—and for those interested in ordering one, what are the best ways to display these charming creations?
It’s a fun exercise in imagination to make your dream house sweet. Customers can order a bespoke candy house in the architectural style of their choice via our online shop. How about a Cotswold Cottage, Provençal Mas, or Swiss Chalet? Maybe you’re easy and want an Adobe in Marfa. They are all made in the perfect size to use as a centerpiece on your dining room table and look great with a sprinkle of popcorn snow.
Sugarplum Pop-Up also includes some very novel ideas for gifting! What are your top picks?
The Blushing Lightbulbs are the ultimate. Everyone wants one and they don’t even know it yet.
For someone who lives and breathes all things entertaining, how do you decorate and plan for your own parties?
When I’m in Savannah, I plan dinners on Saturday night so that I have all Friday night to shop and cook and piddle with the Supremes. It’s usually a cocktail buffet, and my friends perch with plates on big linen napkins in my courtyard. My New York kitchen is a postage stamp, so it’s not fun to cook. I order indulgent take-out and focus on the table. There is something about a tiny space that feels young and wild and Holly Golightly. Or it could be the bathtub filled with Champagne.
Rebecca mixes Paul Arnhold vases with handmade party crowns to create an unexpected holiday tableau.
We adore the way you incorporate vintage decor into your gatherings. What tips do you have for combining old and new?
I get a kick from turning tradition on its head—following and breaking the rules with equal abandon. For instance, serving fried chicken with sparkling sterling and starched napkins. They pair beautifully!
What three words describe your entertaining style?
Confident, whimsical, sincere.
Rebecca’s hand-embellished velvet Christmas stockings
Are there any special traditions that you do for the holidays?
My mother made such an effort during Christmas. We iced dozens of cookies for neighbors, lit hundreds of paper luminaries lining the sidewalk in front of our house, and sang carols enthusiastically with an anonymous Santa Claus who smelled of bourbon. I do all of this now, even if it kills me!
As a guest, what do you consider to be the mark of a great host?
A great host makes sure that every guest has a full glass and a new friend.
What books, Instagram accounts, or other sources do you turn to for inspiration?
I have a copy of Jeffrey Bilhuber’s book, The Way Home, on my desk. The corners are mangled and it’s covered in tiny pink Post-Its. It is a textbook on texture, color, authority, and irreverence. I open it whenever I’m stuck. I also love Tim Walker’s photographs, which will take your dreams to castles in the air, and The Faena Hotel for pure joie de vivre. On Instagram, I look to @happymenocalstudio to start my day with humor and beauty and @modaoperandi for finding unusual and wonderful things to wear.
A pink holiday tablescape designed by Rebecca with products from Sugarplum Pop-Up
What legendary party guests would you love to host in your home?
Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne would answer the door; Baz Luhrmann would set the table; Cleopatra would arrive in an Oriental rug; Winston Churchill would tell stories with a lit cigar; Cate Blanchett would serve Crêpes Suzette; Bruno Mars would lead karaoke in the living room; and Tina Barney would take the pictures.
What party do you wish you could go back in time to attend?
Fernanda Wanamaker Wetherill’s 1963 debutante party, under a pink pole tent in Southampton. It all ended in an infamous after-party “… where guests played ‘yacht’ by climbing on the mantel and trying to turn a decorative ship’s wheel fastened there.”
Available for purchase at Sugarplum Pop-Up is a dinner party planned by Rebecca and held in Brooke Astor’s famed New York library
What was your memorable gathering and why?
My most recent party is always my favorite.
Playing Favorites with Rebecca Gardner
Name your favorite…
Cocktail: Old Fashioned
Florist: L. Becker
Holiday centerpiece: Piles of citrus with waxy green leaves
Caterer: [Les Pages honoree] Peter Callahan
Dinnerware brand: Oriente by Ginori
Glassware/stemware brand: Caton wine glasses by St. Louis
Flatware brand: Antique English silver
Powder room candle: KRB Candle
Hostess gift to give: Blushing Lightbulbs
Hostess gift to receive: Compliments
On that note, allow us to say, “Rebecca, you’re fabulous!” Thanks for stopping by.
Sugarplum Pop-Up will be open in the Cognac Room at the St. Regis Hotel in New York through December 24. Can’t get there in person? Shop the Pop-Up online by clicking here and here.