Our first apartment in New York was 400 square feet.  By New York standards, it was practically glamorous because it had an in-unit washer/dryer, decorative fireplace, and exposed brick, but in the grand tradition of parent’s visiting their bright-eyed NY-bound offspring, my father could not wrap his head around the logistics of it.

“Where will you eat?” He asked, carefully not touching any surfaces.  He was deeply suspicious of the use of concrete as a counter material and remained so, despite HGTV’s attempts to prove otherwise. “There’s no room for a table.”

“Oh,” I gestured grandly, emboldened by my success as a real estate tycoon. “At this clever little bar I’ll build from pipe and flange.” At the time, nothing could break my confidence in pipe and flange. Bookshelf? Pipe and flange. Table? Pipe and flange. Clever place to hang your coats? P+F. Thank God that period in interior design has passed. 

“But…where will you entertain?” He pressed, bewildered. He could not imagine a world in which I would not be hosting events, bless his heart. When one had a home, this is what was expected. When I had a home, I think he could only imagine that weekly extravaganzas would ensue.

“God, Dad, that’s what the entire rest of the city is for!”

I quickly realized that, working in retail and renting a place in the city, I could not actually afford to use the entire city to entertain to my heart’s desire. So Andrew and I would, like all 20 somethings before us, squeeze a thousand people into our tiny apartment, bar tucked into the (GLAMOROUS) fireplace and impromptu buffet styled on the (PIPE AND FLANGE) counter. People everywhere— sitting on the concrete countertops, tipsily spilling into the hallways and winding our way up on to the roof for late night caterwauling. Sung at the right ear-splitting volume, Danke Schoen carries beautifully and will not endear you to your co-op board. Bottles of wine and late-night pizza on the floor. Truth or dare until we ran out of truths.  It was perfection.

It was nothing like hosting when I grew up—the contrast of this to the planned, starched, ironed, vacuumed, arranged events that my father loved or even the fancy, catered, always had a piano player and maybe the archbishop would be there events that my mother’s family had… I didn’t have a benchmark for what it meant to host an event that didn’t look like a good time, but felt like a good time.

As Andrew and I, thankfully, got more successful in our careers and were able to get apartments that we could turn around in, we re-wrote the script for ourselves of what entertaining and hosting wanted to feel like. We decided we were always going to focus on the experience first, capturing that impromptu incandescence of our early efforts as entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having a dinner party. I love to set a table. But I never start my planning with how it’s going to look. I always, always start with how I want people to feel. What the vibe is going to be. I won’t go so far as to say theme, because we’re not quite picking between “Harry Pot-luck” and “Gin and Titanic” (which are both GREAT themes, you’re welcome), but something more ineffable. I’m always trying to bring it back to those early days where you never remembered what the party looked like, but just how it made you feel.

Is it a cold and rainy night, and I want everyone to feel warm and comfortable and encouraged to linger over a glass of wine? Then I might go all candles, a long table covered in paper, a beautiful mussels served directly in the pot, crusty gorgeous bread that everyone can rip with their hands, extra salty frites spilled onto the paper, and many, many bottles of white wine. Forget place cards, I’ll write your name directly on the paper. I love casual bistro towels for napkins. Mix and match bowls so everyone can easily toss their shells. This is an easy dinner party for a weeknight because mussels are so easy to prepare, you can buy simple-to-make oven fries, and the clean-up is a cinch.

Do I want it to feel more playful and surprising? Am I looking for something more irreverent? I find that people want childhood indulgences in a grown-up way. My go-to? Fried chicken, champagne, and pie. I clear off my island and set up a big buffet of cake stands, cutting boards, and bowls. Champagne of all stripes in a big punch bowl or compote. I encourage everyone to bring their favorite bubbles. Help yourself and sit casually. Late night I break out the board games. People are genuinely thrilled to be asked to play Twister. You will be surprised how hard you laugh watching your spouse try to do left foot blue.

I’m a fan of a group conversation. Sure, I love to watch people I love talking and laughing together, but at some point in the evening, I like to bring everyone back to one topic. Whether it’s a game, a question, sharing something. No one will feel left out.

So whether you’re gathered around pipe and flange, a bonfire, a marble coffee table, or found farm table, we implore you to put the guest first. Here are a few quick tips to do just that:

  • Even the best dressed guests need a little validation sometimes. Leave a note on the bathroom mirror.
  • Pre-nibbling the charcuterie board is like pre-tipping a tip jar. Works every time.
  • Balloons are like bottles of champagne, there's no such thing as too many.
  • When in doubt, festoon.
  • Scented candles aren't magicians. For best results, light them an hour ahead.
  • Buzzer duty. Assign it.
  • The classic pillow chop gives your living room that perfect editorial, "no-one lives here" look everyone's dying over. 
  • No one ever said no to a refill.
  • Abundance isn't a dirty word. Keep that cheese plate piled high.
  • Pre-nibbling the charcuterie board is like pre-tipping a tip jar. Works every time.
  • We don't pop. We saber.
  • Bartend by numbers. Line up the signature cocktail ingredients from left to right and let everyone pour their way to your signature cocktails.
  • A thank you text is just as nice a note when written from the heart
  • Always have chinese takeout boxes on hand. Everyone needs a slice of cake for the road.

And if this makes you feel faint, not to worry. We offer event design consultations or hourly design services. Afterall, we love talking parties. 

January 19, 2022 — Brenna Gilbert