Traditional Southern

Emily was a bride-to-be who had a very specific vision for her traditional, southern-inspired church wedding which was to be held in a quaint colonial church built in 1734. She wanted her flowers to look as if they had been foraged the morning of the wedding from a romantic white garden. Emily's dream bouquet included French garden and cluster roses, Queen Anne's lace, and herbaceous materials typically found in Virginia gardens. They had to be loose and carefree yet exude a subtle elegance that matched the 18th century surroundings.  As we sat with her over a cup of coffee, we created sketches.Those sketches were transformed into the bouquets and church flowers shown here. On the day of her July wedding Emily exclaimed, "Rob and Joseph you totally got my vision!" We helped her dream become a reality.

Decorating With Memories

Joseph and I typically do housework early in the morning. Today in preparation for Thanksgiving I decided to dust the built-in-shelves in our dining room while I savored a couple cups of coffee (it was luxurious to have the Wednesday before the holiday off). Before removing the items from the shelves, I always snap a picture of each shelf with my phone to assure that I replace the items to their previous arrangement. Invariably, I change some of their placement and end up liking the new arrangement even better! As I was going through my picture taking and dusting ritual, it dawned on me that we have decorated these shelves very near our dining table with memories. Among our collection of Chinese Imari plates and bowls, a lone English Staffordshire dog, a primitive Mexican Santo, Indian artifacts from the farm my mom grew up on, and many beautiful antique books. We have placed photographs and objects that evoke memories of very special people. There is a dapper picture of my Grandad John and Grandmother “E” sitting on my Swedish great-grandparents stoop in Fairfield, Connecticut. My grandfather is sporting fabulous two-toned brogues which are seemingly very out of character for my fruit-grower/farmer grandfather! There is another picture of him as a 13-year-old boy with his new sled and beloved Boston Terrier, Buster. Below that picture is his wooden top that he used to spin for me and my sister when we were little. Near that sits a beautiful, demure picture of my grandmother as a Winchester, Virginia Apple Blossom Princess --she was representing Vermont in the early 1930s. Along with my family photos is a fun picture of Joseph’s Mexican-American maternal grandparents, Magdalena and Eligio in El Paso, Texas looking very much like the typical all-American 1940s bobbysoxers. Close to that is their very glamourous wedding photo in which they look like movie stars. (Joseph’s grandfather is a dead ringer for a young Ricardo Montalban.) There is also a gorgeous, very stately early 20th century photo of Joseph’s great grandparents and their wedding party. Keeping watch over all of these memories and our dining room is one my most treasured (if not my most treasured possession). It is a lovely vintage Royal Copley head vase of a very regal, turban wearing African woman. The story behind this piece could have come straight from Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help. I was given this vase when I was four—an odd gift for a toddler right? Well, it was a gift that has truly shaped the person I am today.  Mary Townes a lovely, strong African American woman who had worked for my grandparents for years, was elderly. She was heading back to her North Carolina home place (“to die” as my grandmother would later say). She wanted me to always remember her, so she gave me this beautiful vase which I assume had been in her humble home. My mom taught me not to be a racist by saying, “How would you feel if someone said or did that to Mary Townes?” My mom also kept the vase safe for years and typically arranged beautiful daffodils in it every spring. When I was in my mid to late 20’s, she brought “Mary Townes” as we now called the vase, to me. It has held a place of honor in my home ever since.  Not only has this vase served as a memory of a dear member of our family, but it has been a reminder to me that love and friendship have no color and know no race boundaries. As we sit down to dinner on Thanksgiving our multicultural built-in-shelves will populate our dining room with far more people than the eight of us who will be seated around the table. During the upcoming Christmas season, I would strongly suggest pulling out those old photos. Revisit all of those great memories and perhaps a few bittersweet ones. Find a few exceptional photographs and place them in a place of honor amongst your holiday décor. Decorating with memories will enhance your home/holiday and remind you of what is truly important. I typically resist saying that I am “blessed” because it seems so trite these days, but the photos and mementos we have placed in our dining room and throughout our home serve as reminders of how we have been blessed with a rich cultural heritage.  

The Art of Entertaining

The Art of Entertaining

               The last Saturday in October Joseph and I were invited to an intimate Halloween party by a creative, artistic couple Lydia and Will, who are years younger than we are. Upon arrival we were shown around their charming post-war bungalow with great enthusiasm.  They have great taste, and the four of us share a love of all things vintage. As we made our way back to their kitchen, we were greeted by a lovely bar that they had set up for their guests. I immediately noticed the small details that indicated special effort had been made to make guests feel welcome—a lovely array of cocktail glasses were arranged on a silver tray, drink recipes (in an appropriately scary font) were posted, an attractive cloth tablecloth covered the table where tasty cocktail accompaniments were artfully arranged. Throughout the evening Lydia and Will attended to their guests; hot appetizers were passed at regular intervals throughout the evening as guests mingled and danced. Perhaps it was because I was contemplating this blog, but Saturday I was more aware than usual that this was a young couple who truly knew how to entertain.                Unfortunately, over the past few years I have, on more than one occasion, asked myself, “Is the art of entertaining dead?” I have attended far too many events where a sleeve of red solo cups is carelessly thrown on a table alongside of a bag of Doritos; those infractions are minor in comparison to the feeling I have gotten from some of my hosts and hostesses that having guests is a huge inconvenience.  I suppose I have a possibly over-romanticized version of entertaining from my 1960’s and 70’s childhood. When my parents had parties, my mom bought special food that we did not typically eat, used her best table linens, polished her silver trays, and hauled out my dad’s very special NFL low ball glasses and a set of mid century high ball glasses in a nifty carrier that they had received as wedding gift. Even if it was subliminal she wanted their guests to know that some special effort had gone into having them over--any inconvenience was her pleasure.                I guess my true “yardstick” of entertaining really comes from my paternal grandparents.  I distinctly remember near-legendary cocktail parties, dinner parties, bridge parties, luncheons, crab feasts, oyster roasts, shad plankings, and church picnics that they hosted in their home (which happens to be next door to Riverwood Cottage where Joseph and I live now).  Yes, for formal parties my grandmother had her treasured cutwork table cloths meticulously ironed, her Kirk Steiff silver was polished, and her best china was used, but the energy and fun of all parties went far beyond the trappings. There was always more than enough food and drink to feed and quench the thirst of an army, and like Lydia and Will, my grandparents truly enjoyed opening their home to their guests. When my grandfather passed away at 90, the funeral director, in his calm funeral director demeanor, pulled me aside and recounted memories of  the outstanding engagement party my grandparents had thrown (complete with lobsters flown in from Maine) for him  and his wife 50 plus years earlier! What a fabulous legacy!   Because of their enthusiasm for sharing their home and good times with others, my grandparents created memories that lasted a lifetime and even after their deaths these memories had become a source of comfort to me.  That is the art of entertaining! Give your guests your best, and create memories that last.                When Joseph and I have parties, we probably enjoy the planning and preparation more than the average hosts. We spend a great deal of time thinking about what food we will serve, what music we will play, what drinks we will mix among many other details. Our main goal is to always try to make our guests feel special and create a memorable time for them.  We always use glass cocktail and wine glasses, real plates, and silverware simply because we like to. We prepare and purchase an abundance of food (this is a genetic trait we inherited from both of our mothers who always make sure they have more than enough food anytime someone steps into their homes!) We like to place our food offerings throughout the party – not in just one location. Joseph always creates a fabulous playlist and dancing typically ensues. (My mom gave us a tea towel that aptly states “Our Kitchen is for Dancing!”—because it is!) Of course, we have plenty of beverages—usually a “fun” signature drink and wine but also plenty of water and sodas.  The art of entertaining goes beyond “real” glasses and plates, tablecloths, floral arrangements, and an abundance of food and drink. It is really about the joy of planning and then sharing time with people. Hints to bring the art of entertaining back to your next event: ·        Pay attention to details and your guests will notice! The small things matter! ·        Go to your local thrift store and buy some great vintage glasses (or buy some from our Etsy shop https://www.etsy.com/shop/RiverwoodCottage?ref=hdr_shop_menu ). If one gets broken, it is truly no big deal! ·        Serve your guests on real dishes—the ones you received for your wedding or a set of white plates you purchased at Dollar Tree! It is kind to the earth and real plates are not flimsy like disposable ones! ·        Give thought to the presentation of your food and drinks—It might sound trite but as every chef on the Food Network says, “We eat with our eyes first!” Its true! Think about color and your serving pieces! Be creative! ·        Buy fun cocktail napkins—have plenty around for your guests. ·        Play fantastic music—use Spotify (or some other online option) or play some great old vinyl.  Music is a MUST! ·        Provide abundant food, drinks, and ice. Nothing is worse than running out of food, drink, or ICE! ·        Think about your guests and how they will enjoy your party—for a sunny summer party have extra sunglasses (they can be from the Dollar Store) in a basket, provide bug spray wipes, and paper fans. For a winter party, build a cozy fire or serve a warm beverage! ·        Above all plan to have an amazing time—enjoy being a guest at your own party!