Dining by Design: Barry Dixon shares early influences

I had the honor of interviewing one of the world's most talented and admired interior designers of our day, Barry Darr Dixon! His portfolio - in addition to his amazing interiors - boasts books, fabric, rugs, furniture, an amazing new home collection through Arteriors - [take a peek at that design process in this video], and soon to include paint. He is among the “legends” in the design world that we look to for inspiration and study.
Traditional Home, left photo: Matthew Benson
I literally had a smile on my face from the start of the interview to the very end - some two hours later! That is an awful lot to serve you in one sitting, so I've decided instead to slice it up into a few posts so that you have time to savour each segment as you would each course in a great meal. Where is the best place to start? Always, at the beginning; so I'll start with Barry's reflections, looking back on his early years.

“I grew up in a wonderful household, but a fairly formal one steeped in strict southern traditions – the way that you do things, the way that you set a table, the way napkins are folded. That was where I started and then I cross-pollinated with the dining experiences of living on every continent before I finished high school. There is a lot of cross-cultural pollination in our work and in our habits. Dining is one of those habits that you acquire through life; not only what you serve and what you put on the table but how it’s served and how you perceive those experiences along the way.”

Barry Dixon's upbringing, his travels and his impressive portfolio are far beyond where my years have taken me. I grew up in a small town; the biggest historical lesson happening there being one well-covered visit from President Jimmy Carter in 1977! Yet Barry has no air about him, no attitude and chatted with me as if we knew each other for years. As I reflected on our conversation, I thought a lot about the common descriptive always heard following Barry's name, "true Southern gentleman", and though true, I realized it is also too vague. Gentleman is only a label; a result of the character traits of gentleness, kindness and respect for others. Barry Dixon exudes all of these and treats everyone - and everything for that matter - with respect. It is from those admirable qualities that this, "southern gentleman" is born.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Barry Dixon was in the second grade when his father took a job that brought the family around the world. Tennessee and parts of Arkansas are the grounding places that he calls home though and he shared some childhood memories that have influenced the way he lives today. I love to hear the change in tone and inflection when I ask a question that clearly conjures up meaningful and special memories for someone. In Barry’s case, this was definitely when he spoke of his Grandmother Darr, his mother’s mother, and memories of spending time on his grandparents farm. His voice changed, with words coming faster and a bit louder; I could hear him reliving the experience as he narrated. I was telling Barry a bit about my upbringing – and well, the picnic table came up - and that triggered these sweet memories for him.

The "Nettie Darr" table [front] is a design in honor of Barry Dixon's Grandmother
Garden Dining Area at Barry Dixon's Home via
Reminiscient in feeling of sitting under the shade of the pecan trees
"I remember being a kid and going to spend the summer weeks with my grandparents in the South. I think about my grandmother Darr, my mother’s mother, during the waning halcyon days of the “cotton is king”, southern sensibility era. Everyone farmed, whether a family had another business or not, they still farmed. My mother’s family was involved with cotton gins but they also farmed cotton bean, tweed, that sort of thing."

via Traditional Home
An old coffee tin of Barry's Grandmother Darr, inspired one of his fabrics, Cacao Vine, for Vervain
"In those days, everything was about service and hospitality. Part of the charge of the matriarch of a large operation in the south then was meal preparation. Lunchtime would arrive and all the people that worked for you, both the fulltime people as well as the seasonal people, had to stop what they were doing and come in from the fields and be served what, from my grandmother’s perspective, was a gracious, wonderful lunch.

I remember there was a giant Pecan Grove on the side of the main house of my grandparents farm, there were orchards – it was a sustainable lifestyle, technically – with the animals, the cattle, the fresh eggs, fresh churned butter and all these wonderful things but it was a very Martha Stewart moment when lunchtime came around because she would - with the people that helped her – get right in there, with her sleeves rolled up. It didn’t matter how many people there were; if there were 10 people or 100 people coming in from the fields, she would have prepared it."

Pecan Grove via MS Design Maven
"The pecans were grown there as much for the pecans, as for the shade and the coolness they gave you. It was a wonderful cool area in that hot southern climate to feed your field hands and farm workers. And they would have three to five, six, seven tables lined up, all set with red and white checkered cloths, daisies and coffee pots on the table. There was no such thing as paper plates. Everything was real. Maybe everything didn’t match perfectly but it was set beautifully. Real porcelain, real glass, real everything!

There was fried chicken for 100 people, hand pan-fried and creamed potatoes served in blue willow out on those red and white checkered table cloths. There were green beans, cold salads and ambrosia with coconut and mandarin oranges. I can remember there would be an array of desserts and cobblers in long dishes and so people would know what type of cobbler it was – if somebody wanted strawberry rhubarb and someone else wanted plum or peach - my grandmother would cut little fruits and leaves on the lattice top of the three-layer cobblers so people would know before cutting into it. Homemade whipped cream, homemade ice cream, churned right there in the backyard when it was really hot.

I can still see what it looked like; I can still smell it. People nowadays would cater an event like this but not in those days. That was hospitality and that was important! You weren’t inside the house in a formal dining room but what a rich dining experience. The same thing you’d see on the cover of any gourmet magazine now; that is what they served farm hands back in the day.

On the other side of the family, I can remember bells underneath the tables that you stepped on and then service just appeared magically and all that. But on my mother’s side, it was just a different side of that same thing. They were both wonderful and beautiful and steeped in history . They were both hospitable and colored the way I live today, and I live between the two.

Formal guests that you don’t know so well love being treated with a familial essence and yet, you’re most informal, familiar guests – long-term friends and family – love a little bit of thought, formality and consideration put in to their dining experience. If it’s just getting up for coffee and yogurt and granola in the morning, I put everything out. I have flowers. I don’t serve anything in other than a serving dish or some little vessel that is special because they are worth it, they merit consideration; they are the ones you love."

What did Barry carry forward from these experiences?  There is a quote that came to mind for him, "treat your family like guests and your guests like family", a hospitality his grandparents always extended. "Whether on a formal or informal level, I always try to think that way", and that is a philsophy I think he extends to others all the time; it is not exclusive to the dining experience. What early experiences have influenced the way you host, serve and share dining moments?

As I listened to Barry share these special and intimate details of his family life, I couldn’t help but wish we were sitting with a pile of his family photo albums in front of us but through his telling of his story and the pure joy in his voice, a clear picture was formed in my mind. I felt like I was sitting in the Pecan Grove having lunch there too. I hope this journal entry left you feeling the same!

I have so much more on the menu from my conversation with Barry Dixon, but let's savor this and I'll share more with you in the next post! Until then, who else is in the mood for apple cobbler or a slice of pecan pie?

Dining by Design with Courtney Price

Courtney Price is a Dallas designer and artist. Active in social media, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Courtney through twitter chats and conversations. Most recently, she was an invited guest host on my #customwrkrmchat, where she shared her much-more-exciting honor, as one of only a handfull of interior designers – 19 to be exact – invited by Brizo to enjoy 3-days of networking and front-row attendance at the Jason Wu showing during New York Fashion Week! 
Courtney Price with Judd Lord, Brizo
via Jayme Thornton Photography 
There are a few things about Courtney that struck me immediately: elegance, calm and wisdom. It was no surprise then, when I learned that Courtney infuses a wholistic approach in both her personal life and her design work. Courtney’s business tagline, “fine living expresses itself with subtlety and intuition,” represents this approach perfectly. Her personal commitment to wellness and nutrition fuel her days and are inevitably integrated into all she does. An accomplished artist and painter, with a background and passion for culinary arts, she infuses a sense of style and beauty to interior spaces that is truly unique and, particularly when it comes to dining and kitchen spaces, has a keen sense of how to marry aesthetics and function to allow for both, work and entertaining.

Sarah Sarna, a residential interior designer based in Manhattan, spent some time with Courtney at the Brizo event said to me,
Courtney understands that the art of hosting is making guests feel comfortable. As an interior designer she has gorgeous taste, beauty, and a killer eye. In addition to these wonderful gifts, what makes her a standout in interior design and as a hostess in her home is her effortless focus on those she's with rather than on herself.”
That is exactly the type of person worth listening to when thinking about dining by design! So let me share some of Courtney's thoughts, as she shared with me:

Tell me about your experience as a cook and your passion for culinary arts?
I can hold my own in the kitchen. I helped teach the French-menu class at a culinary school, and attended classes at another culinary school more recently. My husband and I are always trying something new. We like to make nutritious food gourmet and beautiful, but of course we also have our comfort-food moments and our splurges. Whenever we have an exceptional meal out of town or at a great restaurant, I try to recreate it at home.
What Courtney is pinning in her culinary delights [aka Yum] board is definitely worth a visit, as it illustrates her desire to create foods far more beautiful than the I'm-of-Irish-descent style of cooking that comes out of my kitchen. It really leaves me wishing I was a lot closer to Texas!

Do you have any “rules” for entertaining and meal planning that will help readers?
It doesn't matter how many courses you serve but what does matter is that guests don't get overfed. Thanksgiving-day misery is never forgotten, and no matter how good your food was, it will not be remembered over a belly ache. It is always best to leave the guests craving just one more bite.
Remember that how you start the evening, is as important as the main course. Great bite size starters with drinks set the tone for the rest of the evening and working with fresh seasonal foods is critical.
hors d'oeuvre prepared by Courtney
Share the planning & hosting responsibility! My husband is in charge of all drinks and wine choices. Thank goodness; he is great at it and allows us both to give to and serve our guests as host and hostess. 
And finally, something someone suggested to me years ago – that I use religiously – is to maintain an entertaining book. I use it to log in guests and menus, which is useful to prevent serving the same meal twice and to keep notes about food allergies and aversions friends might have.

What makes a great dinner party?
Planning. Planning. Planning. It's all in the details from the drinks you serve, the cocktail food, the timing of the meal, the table setting and carefully chosen guests who will blend well. 
Can you share with us one of the most memorable dinner affairs you’ve been to?
The element of surprise can be powerful in setting the tone of the evening. I have a friend who is THE most creative entertainer. Her invitation told guests to wear all black, which they did. Just inside the front door of her house were two baskets with many same-size items rolled up, tied in orange ribbons for females and green for males. Upon arrival, each guest was to take one and put it on. Want to know what they were? ........ His/her naked aprons, all different! People laughed all night long at each other. The memories from the evening are absolutely hilarious. This friend always has something fun up her sleeve like that, she is brilliant.

What type of entertaining do you prefer?
If I am doing the entertaining, small is my preference, 6-8 people is a good size group. I am all about comfort. Guests should be relaxed and have fun. It doesn’t need to be elaborate; all that is needed is a group that brings a love of food, a positive attitude and a great sense of humor.
Conversation among guests is just as important as what you serve. You want to consider couples who enjoy each other and singles that are fun and upbeat. Guests don't all have to know each other in advance but I like to mix people who enjoy life, are positive and have a sense of humor.

I have observed that depending on the group, guests want to be involved. I had a fun group like this once, so I themed the evening as a summertime "white elephant" type party, where everyone brought a summer entertaining themed gift (capped off at a certain price point). The guests came with the cleverest gifts, all ready for a fun evening, and the gloves came off when everybody duked it out for the best gifts. People loved it. That concept can be done with any theme and can help break the ice if people do not all know each other.

If you could pick three people – however unlikely – you would love to have dinner with, who would they be?
Not that they need to be at the same table, but Ralph Lauren for his design inspiration, Barbara Barry for the same reason, Don Draper (the character) and maybe Sasha Baron Cohen, though he’d probably be better for a large group because who knows what character he would show up as. He would liven the party, for sure! 

Yeah, Courtney, I'm not sure how Sasha would work out considering he says of himself, "he would prefer to turn up to events as one of his characters, because he's an embarrassment when he arrives as himself." Hard to believe that arriving as Bruno could be better than his IRL persona! Could you imagine Bruno arriving for dinner in this sophisticated Barbara Barry space?
Barbara Barry

What do you consider the 3 “must-haves” a good host(ess) should never forget?
First, the root of all great party planning is considering each stage of the evening and each guest individually. Everyone should feel like the guest of honor. Second, careful organization and planning. It is important to have every detail possible ready in advance so you actually have time to spend enjoying your guests company. Finally, creativity for theme, food and table setting.
Larry Laslo
When you arrive at a dinner party, what is the first thing that you take note of?
The first thing I notice when I arrive for a party or dinner is the smell of a delicious dinner being cooked for me. What an honor that somebody has gone to the trouble to plan, shop, prepare and serve another. 

Growing up, dinner was a nightly formal affair for the entire family. We had formal food, formal table and had to dress for dinner, dog at MY feet. :) 
Dinner in today's world is more casual. Everything is. Times have changed and home trends have changed, phasing out the formal living rooms and formal dining rooms to create mixed use spaces such as library/dining rooms and open kitchens. These changes create different ways of eating together and entertaining that are refreshingly casual. I enjoy seeing how my friends incorporate this change in dining when invited to their homes.
Can you share some tips for table-setting, from your perspective as designer, guest and hostess? As for the table setting, it depends on the theme or the dinner menu, and I have no rules, it just depends on what you have. A table set in advance tells the guests that they matter, guests always notice. If you have nice silver, china or crystal, for goodness sake, USE IT! That "special day" may never come, every day is special. Use what you have and enjoy making it inviting.
A table does not have to be set expensively to be welcoming. If you don't have formal settings, no sweat, a thoughtfully planned table is the key. The energy one puts into it will always be felt.
Flowers should be low enough [or high enough in some cases] that guests can converse across the table and in my opinion, I don't care whether seating alternates boy/girl - I want seating to promote best conversation.
“People, Place or Palate”: which is required to make a great dinner party?
All of the above! Choose your guests carefully and plan it well enough to be able to spend time with them! Food should have the balance of being equally beautiful and delicious. Those who you share a meal with should positively fuel you as well.

I could not agree more, Courtney! Thank you for your insight and inspiration. I have always considered myself a good cook, however, you have just put me in my place! I think I just may have to take my culinary skills up a notch or two. We will continue to keep an eye on your website and Pinterest albums for ongoing inspiration. It is quickly noted that the dining room and entertaining ideas pinned as inspiration on your boards mirror all you shared with us today.
In a nutshell, what works well for current-day dining areas, according to Courtney Price Design? Dining spaces with round tables -great for intimate dinners with friends, areas where drama is created through strong contrast of  color, such as black and white, and/or the merging of masculine and feminine details; and casual spaces with elegance created from an eclectic mix of furniture, art and accessories.

How does your dining space rate when you look at it after reading this? Is it time to step out a bit in style and create some more interest? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Thanks for sharing a seat at the table!

Bon Appetit! ~ Sarah

It's Official: I've Got Too Much on My Plate!

Why do we do this to ourselves these days? So many of us are guilty of this; too few are expert at avoiding the issue. You know it. Too. Much.On.My.Plate! You have probably experience it yourself!

Business: appointments, fabrication, social media, content creation, communications, paperwork.... need I go on?

Personal: eat, sleep, meaningless conversations, fitness, fun.... why does it feel impossible to fit this all in?

So I admit it. I'm juggling and struggling, working on balance. In the meantime, while I'm off balance, I hope you'll cut me some slack!

I've got some great Dining by Design features coming your way and so much more; I just need three assistants, about 7.25 hours to everyday and a way to figure out how to get my kettlebell swings in while I sleep. Since I don't foresee any of that magically happening in the near future I must revert back to my earlier request.... slack, please!

How about you? Is there too much on your plate too? How do you fit it all in these days?

NEW BLOG: Everything You've heard about me is probably true.....

It was June 21, 2009. That was not the first time I thought it, but it was the first time I told my niece that I thought she should start a blog. It went something like this:

Me: “you have to check out this site! Every time I read it, I think, ‘Caitlin could totally do this’. She's hysterical - like you - brutally honest and obviously quite bright…..you get to be on stage in a way, just safely behind a computer”

Her: “If I do start my own page I'll dedicate it to my family for giving me enough dysfunction to support a lifetime of material... mwuahahh oh life. Thanks for making me laugh!”
Well, it’s 2012. She’s been busy so it took a while to truly consider an old Aunts advice, but guess what, folks? She’s finally done it. Damn funny and a fabulous writer - three years later, so what! It’s definitely been worth the wait!!

I introduce to you, my niece, Caitlin’s new BRAND NEW BLOG. Please read both posts; the first is hysterical and the second, well, incredibly heartfelt and, at least for me, an emotional joy to read. I promise you will enjoy them both.

Congrats, Cait; I love it and you!! You will rock the blog world, this I know!!

Dining by Design with Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Pull up a chair and dine with us, while we enjoy the company of Martyn Lawrence-Bullard. You know and remember, Martyn, right? He’s pretty unforgettable – one of the Million Dollar Decorators from the Bravo series – who happens to be quite the looker too! He was blessed with Hollywood-style glamour, in the league of Cary Grant, Marlon Brando and current-day eye catchers, Antonio Banderas, Enrique Iglesias and Colin Farrell. See what I mean? 

via BravoTV
It is only fitting that he run in the same circles too, right? Not! It isn’t luck or good looks that got Martyn to where he is today. Luck is often confused with opportunity. Martyn Lawrence Bullard was present for opportunities, some call that luck. Hard work and talent, not luck, is what is required to turn that into success.
via Architectural Digest
Recognized as one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers in the world, it is Martyn’s cup-runneth-over design talent and sincerity which has positioned him as a sought-after designer to some of the hottest celebrities we know today. As he told the gals over at The Skirted Roundtable,
"Cheryl Tiegs told me, 'I just clicked with you. I don’t know what it is but I felt I could trust you and together we could create something amazing' and that is something that I’ve taken with me for my entire career as the way forward."
It worked. He's been working with Cheryl for his entire career and has only added to his impressive roster since. In fact, he designed the home for one of my would-love-the-chance-to-dine-with mentions, Cher, along with Elton John, Tamara Mellon and a celebrity-client list that goes beyond impressive to a mouth-dropping WOW!  

via BravoTV
I was tickled pink when Martyn responded that he would love to be a part of my Dining by Design series, given his schedule. His work does not end with his celebrity client list. He is preparing for the 2nd season the Million Dollar Decorators, designing two fabric lines - his own collection and another collection for Schumacher - a furniture division and working on licensing partnerships that we are not even privy to yet!

This man has a lot on his plate - no pun intended! How he finds time to sleep is beyond me, so agreeing to be here with us today is a huge honor. He is every bit as gracious as he is successful! I know you are going to enjoy this personal peek.

Can you share with us one of the most memorable dinner affairs you’ve been to? 
I’ve been lucky to attend so many wonderful events and dinners, but surely dinners on the terrace at Elton John and David Furnish’s south of France villa have to be amongst my most favorite. Each meal is served with different china, glassware, and table scape- a visual treat, as much as a culinary one.

Martyn also cherish's his friendship and time spent with client-turned-friend [which seems to be the way it always works with Martyn], Ellen Pompeo, and has graciously shared a favorite summer recipe of his, he got from Ellen after enjoying it during dinner at her home.
What was dinner like for you at home while growing up?
Dinner was always a family affair and we were always seated together to share and enjoy the end of day conversation. Sunday lunch was always my favorite and a weekly treat. My parents loved to entertain and always did so with vigor and pride, setting beautiful tables and always serving fresh home-style fair.

Do you prefer to be the guest or the host?
I love the role of both, guest and host. As far as cooking, I prefer to be cooked for! I love to entertain. I am sadly not a good chef, but love to experiment. I do, however, adore setting tables and making dinner scapes.

 Weekly, I host a dinner of some sort, from pizza and movie night to a chic set dinner with all the trimmings. Comfort food is the fastest track to my heart so it’s my favorite to serve. I love fried chicken especially and of course, a traditional Sunday Roast Lunch. Yum!

What makes a great dinner party?
A combination of good food and good conversation is always the best recipe for a memorable dining experience. Fun loving guests with passion for life and all topics fresh and modern. No politics please! …And let’s not forget the wine! 

An eclectic mix of guests, with at least one new blood, makes for a great party. I adore small intimate dinners of 6 to 8 over larger affairs. That way you get to talk to all the guests and intermix fully. Laughter is what I hope for. Humor is everything and more delicious than any entrée.” Yes we eat for nourishment, but dining should also be an experience. Dining should be a complete pleasure. It’s the most intimate ritual that creates happiness and contentment.

Do you prefer formal and tie-required or barefoot-in-the-backyard?
I love both, depends on the venue, season and theme. I do adore a good dress up dinner though, especially themed dinners like Murder Night or Halloween.

No surprise, given his love of fashion! Dressing up provides the opportunity to go all out!! Did you know that Martyn co-owned a clothing store at the young age of 17? Yes, he and his sister opened a store, Temptation, which he decorated to the nines. In Martyn’s words, “our store sadly didn’t last that long but my passion for fashion hasn’t faded and my passion for interiors has actually turned out to shape my life and career”. That is for sure!

When you arrive at a dinner party, what is the first thing that you take note of?
The effort of the host to make everything a beautiful feast for the eye and the lighting, which is essential to create a mood. I believe that flowers and candles are vital, but don’t follow any rules.
I have many collections and love to use them on the table as decorative objects, from beads to sculptures to sea shells and coral. You should be adventurous and let your imagination guide your table theme. I love to mix table settings. I believe the table scape should show personality and honor your guests with the effort put into their creation.
What do you consider the 3 “must-haves” a good host(ess) should never forget?
Never forget candles, plenty of wine, and always, a sense of humor. He has said that everyone should, “make sure to take time out of everyday to laugh. Laughter cures all.” It is clear from watching Million Dollar Decorator and from seeing images like the one below, that Martyn is someone who truly lives this philosophy.
Some quick tips for creating a memorable dining experience?
  • There should be at least three courses to the meal; four if you want to add a palette cleanser. More than that is overkill.
  • Friends are always the vital ingredient to a successful party. The palate, the place…vital too, of course, but secondary to the people you invite.
  • Music always, but carefully selected. It should never be too loud or too fast. Ambient, sexy and mood enhancing: Billy holiday, Marvin Gaye, Robyn Thicke, Adele.
  • Flowers [or centerpiece] are a must. Only one color per container and what’s fresh and in season always looks the best.
  • Dessert? Always! From fresh berries with sorbet to molten chocolate cake and crème anglaise!
What wine, beverage, or cocktail do you recommend?
Sassicaia is my favorite red or a rich Barolo and for white, I like a simple, soft Pinot Grigio. I love crisp white wines, especially Pinot Grigio and Sancerre. Always Pellegrino served at my table as a palette cleanser. Veuve Cliquot is my favorite everyday champagne choice, Ruinart Rose for special occasions. Before dinner, a good dry martini always wets the appetite, and Pimm’s Cup #1 with cucumber and lemon slices in the summer is delicious.

And after dinner, Chateau D’Yquem is my ultimate dessert! Forget the pudding!

So, who do you - [readers] - think Martyn would like to share a seat at the table with?
Given Martyn’s earlier comments about "mix of guests and laughter" as being essential to an enjoyable dining experience, I can see some reasons for the eclectic trio he responded with: David Hicks, Oscar Wilde, and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor[all deceased]: 

I’m not surprised at all with David Hicks being on that list. Hicks, who passed away in the late 90’s produced some of the most respected work in Interior Design in our generation and continues to inspire many designers today. His work was noted for bold use of color, talent of mixing antiques and modern pieces, favoring tailored lines and contemporary elements. Sound familiar? I can see some sharing of philosophy between Martyn and Hicks. He also has a design, fashion and theatre background, so I see similarities there, as well.

David Hicks, A Life of Design
Oscar Wilde is well-known for his writings and traveled the globe presenting a lecture series on aesthetics. More than that though, he most definitely would provide much humor to this dining trio. You probably recognize some of his quotes, even if not knowing where they hailed from. One of my favorites:
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
So how does all this translate to planning the perfect dining area?
Let me sum it up! From viewing Martyn Lawrence-Bullard’s designs and hearing his thoughts on the dining experience, we can easily extrapolate the critical design considerations that can be applied to every home and any budget:

Consideration #1: Deep benches, upholstered seating or cushions.  Create a space people want to laugh and linger in! Remember those times you were stuck at a dining table, inside your head you were screaming, beads of sweat running down your forehead,out of pure frustration and discomfort? I do! Think comfort!

Consideration #2: Don’t fill the room with so much furniture that guests feel restricted. You want the space for a little liveliness, if you have the space to afford it. Box people in and their personality is contained too. Yes, that can be a real party killer! Select seating and tables that can be adjusted for the size of the group.

Give people room to easily get up and move around so the thought bubble above their head is not screaming, "when can I get out of here?" Think space!

Consideration #3: Be playful, express your personality and go with a scheme that will work for the types of gatherings you plan to host. If you entertain often and enjoy thematic events, a more subtle scheme will allow for those changesThink about how you want the space to feel and use that to guide your decisions. Think color & pattern

Consideration #4: Remember, the dining area is the space for coming together. Aside from eating, it's an intimate space for conversing, laughing and sharing. Music is essential, but should not be obtrusive, so plan to have it piped in or hidden-away so that the music fills the space without detracting from it. Think music!

Consideration #5. Consider the option of elegance but design the room to offer a style that can be dressed up when needed, but offers a casualness that you won't be afraid to utilize everyday. Think flexible elegance!

Consideration #6: For any design to be influenced by Martyn Lawrence Bullard, "mixing it up" is a definite must! Notice how Martyn mixes patterns, woods, styles and textures in all of these spaces. Experiment and bring in pieces that truly have meaning to you, catch your eye or make your heart sing, combined with the purely functional aspect of what the room needs. This is what makes a space interesting. Think fearless!

Want more of Martyn Lawrence-Bullard in your home?
Pick up a copy of his book, Live, Love, Decorate and look for his table top collection that will hit the stores soon. You may not have Elton John or Cher sitting at your dinner table, but you can certainly apply Martyn’s style to dress it for the celebrities in your life so go ahead, Live, Love and Decorate !

Bon Appetit ~ Sarah

Dining by Design: We are on holiday!

While we are on holiday, we've been faced with extremely limited connectivity and virtually no cell service what so ever. In light of that, I thought I'd feed you a little guess who.. .a little tease of what is to come? See if you can guess which designer, who will be featured in this series, revealed the following:

Which designer tells us, "Chateau D’Yquem is my ultimate dessert!"

 A hint... a "looker" and a "talent" and hollywood elite love his/her work!

Which designer taught a french menu class in culinary school?

With that kind of background, you can count on an amazing feast with this host/hostess!

Which designer had dinner with Yoko Ono and Cyndi Lauper?

At the same table... in Yoko Ono's apartment?

Oh my goodness, the interviews are so much fun. I can't wait to continue sharing with you!!

While I'm beaching it, for the remainder of this week, tell me if you can guess who any of the designers are! You will know soon enough, because they will all be featured here!

Be back soon ~ Sarah

Dining by Design: Join Me for Dinner!

In conducting these interviews and reaching out to so many, the question has been turned back on me more than once, for my own views on dining and design. Though I have not had the honor to grace the covers or pages of shelter magazines like Veranda, Traditional Home or BHG and have yet to be interviewed by Oprah, my past experience related to dining is met with some smiles, laughs and interest simply because it is so difficult for many to imagine what dinner could have been like on a daily basis in my family.

You see, I am from a very large clan, the 12th child - well, actually 13th, which explains a lot, but I won't go there right now. Given that, can you imagine what it was like doing those dishes, let alone cook for all those hungry mouths? I have always considered some of my greatest strengths as a decorator stemming from the environment I grew up in. With a large family, you had to be practical, sensible and really, really, really good at making things “work”, whether that be dollars, space or food! [You should see how I pack a dishwasher!]

Yes, dinner in my family was different than most – with the exception of two other families in our neighborhood who shared the same kind of crazy. We lived at the top of the hill with 13 kids, further down the road was another family with parents as equally insane (kidding Mom, kidding!) – they had 12 and at the bottom of the hill, another couple, gluttoned for punishment, with 11 children. Is it any surprise that our surnames are Devaney, McNamara and Halloran? Suffice to say, young families weren’t clamoring to move in to our neighborhood, lest they be burdened with the same Irish-Catholic plight!

I suppose I should start by telling you where we ate, since that is one of the most common questions, after “how big was your house?” and “where did you all sleep?” Just think for a moment about what offers the greatest amount of seating flexibility while at the same time efficient space utilization? That’s right…. a picnic table. Yup, right spank in the middle of our kitchen. I guess in trying to visualize, it must seem odd, but to the neighborhood kids from smaller families and friends from school, there was nothing cooler than the fact that the Devaney’s had a picnic table in their kitchen. The Walton’s had nothing on us!

I must give my father credit, he was a master at space utilization and he had the table custom made because a standard picnic table was not big enough, nor would it hold up to the active household of eight boys and five girls. There was a lot of running around, sitting on tables – shhhh, don’t tell my mother - and at times, even a bit of jumping over and maybe even, on the table. Seriously though, for space utilization, benches are a great solution for kitchen, dining and breakfast areas and they don’t have to look as barbaric as a picnic table might sound.

Some of my fondest memories took place around our "dining table". It was truly the center of activity. My mother spent most of her day cooking it seemed, so when it came time for me to learn how to sew, shop was set up at that table. While she was preparing dinner, she could simultaneously help me with my sewing. Homework, playing board games - torturing one another - yup, it all took place there. But my true, fondest memory is the vision of my mother at that table. Her kids came first and she took delight in our enjoyment of her cooking. I remember watching her spoon tapioca from what seemed like the biggest bowl in the world to me back then, filling the cups and passing them down. Even then, I think I realized on some level that it was pretty amazing that she could prepare and serve us, over and over, and always seem to take joy from it! My mother made a home-cooked, from-scratch meal pretty much every day until I graduated from high school! Beyond impressive!

Did formal dining affairs ever take place at home?
Even though we always had some degree of casualness, due to the sheer size of the family, the picnic table was “dressed” for the holidays with a beautiful tablecloth, china and crystal. I have very fond memories of waking up on holiday mornings, my parents already up for hours preparing, to the smell of food cooking in the oven, which is the best kind of "alarm" to be awakened by. I loved seeing my parents working together as a team to put that day, that meal and that memory together for us.  
Traditional setting for a "normal-sized" family.
[My Aunt Sheila's home]
We had a formal dining room but honestly, I don’t ever recall- not even once - having dinner in that room. It was beautiful but we couldn’t all fit in there so our holiday meals were at the picnic table too.

What is one of my most memorable dining affairs I’ve been to?
I was fortunate to be invited to a private event in Newport, Rhode Island in one of the mansions there. To be honest, I don’t even recall which mansion, but I remember the "event" details of the evening well.  We were greeted at the mansion by the entire cooking staff; after their welcome, they ushered us off with a guide to give us a historical tour of the mansion, all the while passing wine and hors de oeuvres to keep our stomachs at bay. When the tour was over, we were brought in to the kitchen where the chef and his team walked us through the stages of preparation, revealing the amazing meal we would shortly enjoy.

We were finally seated in the dining area, elegantly dressed in blue and gold, and the bottomless wine started pouring. A musical trio of violinists appeared before a harpist entered and began playing in the corner. Then, as if soldiers in formation, the wait staff came out in a solid line and began serving the first course. There were many tables and I swear each table was served each course at the exact same time. It was an amazingly well-orchestrated event. Timing can be a challenge when entertaining, but they must have had rehearsals for this. It was perfection!

Do I prefer small intimate gatherings or large, lavish affairs?
I actually like both; however, I always want guests to feel relaxed and comfortable. When I got married, for example, I did a few things differently. I chose to serve a family-style dinner, to help break the ice that can sometimes fasten itself at a table of strangers. I spent a lot of time on the seating plan though too, really thinking about the personalities that I thought would really hit it off. I also gave the kids their own table - near their parents but on their own - which was as much a welcome change to the parents as it was a psych for the kids and I had individual cakes as the centerpiece on every table. Yes, if you haven’t already guessed, the kids table ate their cake before their meal! (Adults now, they still talk about it!)

My real comfort level is to create and participate in more casual dining. I don’t want people feeling like they need to sit uncomfortably straight and be overly concerned about what spoon or fork they are using. I want them to enjoy the food, the people and have fun!

What makes for a memorable, engaging dinner conversation?
People who are memorable and engaging! You don’t need to be a rock star to be interesting, just be someone that offers interest and humor to a conversation. I love to sit with people who are genuinely interesting because they enjoy many aspects of life, are light-hearted and can share conversation about things that are outside of themselves. In other words, I don’t usually want to talk about your job, I’d rather know about you! And, like most of us, I love people that can bring a little comedy to the evening!

If I could pick three people, however unlikely, I'd love to have dinner with, who would they be?
Aside from the many talented and interesting people I’ve been interviewing for this series, I will say, Cher, Mother Teresa and my grandmother - my mothers’ mother. Seems an odd trio, doesn’t it? I just love Cher; she is an amazing personality and talent. Despite her success, I feel that what we see is what we get and who are we kidding; I bet most of my readers would want to dine with her too!

I never met my grandmother but I know her to be beautiful through the part of her that lives through my mother and the way my mother has described and speaks of her. I think she was a woman before her time, effervescent, lively and open-minded. It would so exciting to learn more about her life and hear her reaction to the world we live in today!
Finally, Mother Teresa, one of the most gentle, humble and selfless humans to ever grace our planet; she could be seated at any table. I don’t think there is a soul in the world that would not have a million questions to ask her and I imagine – in my mind – that she could handle any question posed and any personality put in her path!

People, Place or Palate: which is most important?
My first inclination is to say all three; people can make up for anything - a lousy atmosphere, terrible food - but the latter two can not make up for lousy dinner dates, so I guess my final answer leans toward "people".

As far as palate is concerned though, darn it, there better be salt on the table and real butter. I know salt is unhealthy and one may think they have appropriately seasoned their food but “to each is own”, let them have salt if they desire. And nothing turns me off more than sitting for dinner and finding margarine on the table. It makes me question the whole meal. Seriously.

As far as place, atmosphere does add to experience, as my most memorable experience above suggests so well. I do appreciate ingenuity and thought that goes in to creating dining spaces that people feel good in and experiences that people want to remember. I hope I have done that myself for guests in my own home.

Do you have a favorite recipe that makes its way into many of your personal gatherings?
Yummy Bars! They are the only recipe I don't share. Seriously, I've never, ever known anyone else to make them, aside from one sister, so I make them every holiday season and people are drooling waiting for them. I did finally relinquish the recipe to one of my nieces just last year but I made her sign a contract of confidentiality - ha, ha. I really did!!

Is dessert required?
You bet! Isn't that really the purpose of dinner – to perform as opening act for dessert?

There we have it. I hope you enjoyed reading my experiences and thoughts on dining and design. I hope you will join us again next week, as we continue this series with another surprise featured guest you will love!

Bon Apetit ~ Sarah
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