I tell friends they can bring a bottle of wine. Anna Wintour asks her friends for $35,000 a head. But that doesn't mean we don't both throw chic soirees.
Whether you're still in the pizza and beer phase of life or you've been impressing friends with your fancy china and culinary ninja skills for years, putting some thought into how you present your meal makes the people you invite into your home feel special, like they're in for a treat.
No one has to create this impression for their guests more than the filthy rich, who are often asking for donations at fundraising events or trying to impress people who probably ate better on their private plane on the way there. It often comes down to attention to detail. The professional party planners who create Hollywood dinners and celebrity wedding receptions have to juggle all the details and maintain an air of perfection. You don't. If you add just one or two special elements, everyone will be delighted and you'll be less self conscious if your side dish isn't done at the same time as your entree.
Flowers may seem ridiculously fancy for having the girls around to make homemade pizza and drink cheap prosecco, but they can really elevate your decor. If they were an accessory, they'd be the piece that made your casual outfit look put-together and polished. You don't have to spend $100 at a florist, or even know where a florist is. I'm talking about clipping a few flowers from your yard or buying a pretty but affordable bouquet to arrange at home. When going the budget route, it's a good idea to buy just one kind of flower.
A pre-arranged drugstore bouquet will look like just that, even in a nice vase. But if your grocery has some nice looking tulips or roses, without any filler, you can do something very simple and elegant. Stock up on super-cheap vases, bottles, anything that can hold a few blooms. Goodwill is a great source. If you drink a tea that you think comes in a pretty bottle peel off the label and save that — very eco-chic.
As you can see above, at left, I clipped a couple roses from a bush outside and put them in an old oil cruet from the attic and placed them in the bathroom. Flowers and/or candles in the bathroom — an unexpected place that most people will have to visit at least once — is a nice touch.
If you do have the budget for a florist, it's really easy to figure out a "trendy" bloom by reading about celebrity events. The flowers are always mentioned. Tell your florist what kind of flower you want, or even give them a picture of the arrangement you have in mind (it's like the hairdresser that way.) For instance, Anna Wintour and Harvey Weinstein had pink dahlias as centerpieces at their Obama fundraising dinner at Weinstein's estate in Connecticut. At the Met Gala dinner, another Wintour-hosted event, there were anemones in silver bud vases. The photo at right above is from the ACRIAS Annual Cocktails at sunset. Globes of purple hydrangeas and tall tumbleweed onion flowers decorated the table. Do keep in mind cross-table conversation though, as you never want a centerpiece that blocks guests' view of one another.
A centerpiece doesn't have to be floral, either. Neon totes filled with festively patterned pinwheels served as centerpieces at the Fresh Air Fund's Annual Spring Gala honoring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It's especially easy to master this twist at the holidays — put Christmas balls in a pretty bowl and you're done.
Another easy way to class up a dinner is to use real plates and linens. That sounds obvious, but I'm always surprised by the number of times family will say "let's just use paper plates" even on a special occasion. Paper napkins are even more rampant. But using cloth napkins and placemats or a table cloth and real plates just makes everyday meals more special. Everything doesn't have to match. For just this reason I prefer white dishes. You can pick up nice modern white dishes that are durable for pretty cheap at restaurant supply stores. They'll go with everything. Or collect mismatched pieces from thrift stores. The eclectic look can be stylish, just keep the rest of the table simple to allow the different colors and patterns to shine. If you prefer a bit of cohesion, take a cue from The Met Gala and group different pieces of the same color — varying goblets in ruby hues gave a jeweled affect to the place settings.