I saw something on Instagram the other night, ya know, while scrolling, where the girl was saying we been brainwashed to believe that summer is the greatest season. Are we socially condition based on our childhood school schedule that summer equals freedom and thus even as adults we believe, despite the bugs, the humidity, the pressure to fit into a bikini, the smell of NYC in the heat, that this is the ultimate season? You know me. A firm lover of the shoulder seasons and everything transitional, I stopped my scroll to mull it over. What did I actually like about summer?

Growing up Pennsylvania, summer always meant long nights and fireflies in the fields. Sprinklers and popsicles, sparklers and picnic blankets warm from the afternoon sun. As an adult in the city, those simple animal pleasures are few and far between, and I, like so many others, have been forced to join the cult of rosé and sundresses that passes for summer afternoons.

There are moments living in the Hamptons or in our farm in PA or even gathered around the bar in Champers, that I have a flashback to the childhood summer sensorial. No surprise, it’s always in those moments when we’re hosting. Gathered around a table in the setting sun, eating grilled prawns with our hands right off the fire, playing cards on blankets by the beach bonfire as we drink cold beer from the cooler on our tailgate…it’s that school’s out freedom we’re all still chasing.

A few tips for summer hosting:

Surrender to the season

In the summer, I’m always pushing to move the party outside. We waited this long for the sunshine and long days—why are we hiding inside in the AC? I convince people this is a great idea by making the outdoors radically fun. Lawn games, hand-fans, impromptu water fights, a little tray of joints. IYKYK.

Embrace the unexpected

I love to pull things one would usually use inside, outside. People are surprised and delighted by the unexpected. Grab your vintage champagne bucket for your dining table on the patio, and don’t be afraid to drag those gorgeous plates out to the picnic. Got a great car? Fun, let’s tailgate. The contrast is what makes it gorgeous. Things I’m loving this summer: oversized cut flowering branches, vintage linens overdyed in bright colors, and rattan accents.

Ambiance is everything. 

Never underestimate the power of candles. I turn off overhead lighting immediately, relying on my candles or soft table lamps to make the space feel more intimate. If at all possible, dim that chandelier. Everyone’s complexion will thank you. If it’s an irreverent, glamorous dinner party, consider large displays of dripping candelabras or an assortment of mixed tapers. If it’s an outdoor cookout, opt for small tealight candles on the table, and rely on a nearby firepit to give loud, crackling Patagonian vibes— Francis Mallmann anyone? Is it a celestial summer event? I recommend floating tea candles with local wildflowers.

Navigate summer pests

My biggest pet peeve for outdoor dining is mosquitos. I like to use fragrant herbs on the table to scare away mosquitos. No one likes the smell of citronella, but people love the smell of lavender, basil, and rosemary. Try mixing a few cut sprigs into your arrangements to keep bugs away. Better yet? Huge potted herbs around your dining area with soft incense tucked in.

Keep it family style.

I love a plated affair more than anyone, but in the long lingering light of summer, I crave the informality of big platters, easy dishes, and sharing. Be generous, keep it simple and focused on season vegetables, and make it for your guests by adding multiple portions of sides, condiments, and favorite dishes. No one wants to be trapped in the hot kitchen while guests are outside, so I like to center the entertaining around grilling outdoors. Encourage guests to grab a glass of Chablis, and cook with you over a wood fire. We make paella all the time on our fire pit, and it’s a hit. 

Dress: up!

You know people are dying to break out those sundresses and summer whites. Give them a reason with a theme. Red, white, and bleu? Talk Nautical to me? CLAM GLAM? The opportunity for innovation is endless. I like to keep some extra throws and oversized fisherman cardigans on hands for late nights. 

Don’t skimp on the activity

Ok, once you’ve gotten all these people to your event, styled it with gorgeous furniture, food, and flowers, now you’ve got to give them something to do more than just mingle. A backyard summer night party feels slightly forbidden. It has the same vibe of a high school house party—is someone going to ask us to come be quiet? Are we misbehaving in someone else’s home? Lean into it. Indulge in something naughty. I love a game of champagne pong, a rowdy badminton game (loves a dress code) or an unexpected live band. As the night goes on, nothing wrong with a little skinny dipping. What’s a little nudity among friends?

Surprise and be damned delightful.

As a reminder, this weekend is Father’s Day. Check out this post for our last minute tips and tricks. It’s not too late for expedited shipping and we’re always open in SOHO to help you hand pick your favorite gift.

June 15, 2022 — Brenna Gilbert