When many of us think about the word entertaining, it conjures up thoughts of a production rather than any true enjoyment for the host. So when two friends of mine—Melissa Lee, of Bespoke Only, and Judy Pak, a photographer—had the idea to style and shoot an inspiring end-of-summer tabletop together, our goal was to introduce a new breed of party. To strip back the frills and rediscover the true meaning of gathering.
By opening our homes to others, we carry out the most ancient form of a gesture to invite and share, intimately and genuinely, and we wanted this table to reflect that.
We often hear "less is more," but in this inspiration-overload era it's easy to get carried away party planning. Before getting yourself buried deep in chores, hit pause and re-examine the essence or purpose of your gathering.
Should it be a celebration? Then let occasion take the center stage. Let the heart of the table be the conversation, the company, and simply the good time that everyone is invited to be a part of.
Or embrace the whimsy that lends itself to an impromptu gathering: The silverware needn’t match, and forget about ironing the tablecloth—a sun-drenched wrinkled linen adds more focal interest and depth to the tablescape, anyway.
Centerpiece? It could very well be the terra cotta pots borrowed from the porch, so your guests can admire newly-sprouted flowers in their natural habitat (without having to disrupt their life span).
And the menu should always be true to the surrounding—a home-cooked meal will taste its best when you let the season and locale decide what’s on the table. Seasonal produce and local food will never fail you—these ingredients create the best meals simply because nature has its say.
The home where we set up this table is in East Hampton, a town on New York's Long Island. This close to the ocean, nothing could beat freshly caught local seafood and heirloom tomatoes from the backyard (it was September!). We fired up the grill and a turned out delicious table full of vibrant colors that couldn’t have come together more easily and quickly.
A simple menu that can be easily adapted with little prep time:
Soft goat cheese rolled in fresh herbs makes for an easy addition to any cheese platter
Local oysters served over crushed ice with a squeeze of lemon
Grilled seafood including scallops, octopus and langoustines finished with lime juice, butter, and parsley
Colorful heirloom tomatoes with fresh burrata, olive oil, salt, and pepper
Draw your styling inspiration from your surroundings. The calm ocean vibe in the Hamptons set the tone on our shoot, with a palette of pale teal and stone grey for the table. Going for a simple and neutral setup not only helps create a relaxed mood for the guests; it also allows you to build a collection of timeless tableware without breaking the bank.
It is also a practice for daily life. As disposable fast-fashion has taken over our generation, it’s tough to consider only acquiring and collecting items that you absolutely love. But it's worth it—they'll stay timeless and classic for the years to come.
The cheap cute dress you just got will make appearance for the next two dates, for example, but what you'll find yourself constantly going back to will always be that pair of tried-and-true jeans. Never be afraid to splurge on things that will last, and ultimately, make you feel good.
A table's adornments, of course, are there to provide enjoyment—not stress.
The only rule for entertaining is to truly enjoy yourself and stay relaxed. When you find yourself worrying over a place setting next time, just lay out your favorite dishes and pour yourself a glass of wine—one can never go wrong with that.
Diana Yen is the writer, stylist, and recipe developer behind The Jewels of New York. A special credit goes to Melissa Lee for the entertaining and styling tips in this story. Creative direction and styling by Bespoke Only, flowers by Ava Floral, and cake by Nine Cakes.
Tell us: What serveware do you pull out every time you throw a party?
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Diana Yen is the founder of The Jewels of New York, a creative studio that combines a love of cooking with the beauty of everyday things. Her work is expressed through, food styling, writing and photography.