Design lesson: Entertaining your senses
Glasses raised mid-air for a toast, the clink of crystal, a sip of wine -- it's a familiar ritual that signals the start of a meal or other social gathering. With grace and ceremony, this effortless gesture encapsulates all five of our senses: sight, sound, touch, scent and taste. Creating a memorable party is as much about this collaboration of the senses as it is about finding the right recipes. When entertaining, here are some of the ways I aim to provide a sensual experience that guests remember long after dessert is served.
Comfort is a priority. I typically choose soft, plush seating that's inviting to curl up in. Curved furnishings soften angular architecture, and the additions of a reading lamp and ottoman turn an underused chair into a spot for lingering.
Details, details, details -- they make or break a room. Choose cushions that beg to be touched, like the ones at left by knitwear designer Olena Zylak. Shine door knobs and silver to a high gleam. Position a pinspot light on the contours of an Inuit sculpture and watch people gravitate toward it. Set the table with a crisply pressed cloth and your best dishes, glassware and candlesticks.
In a quiet room, a tabletop water fountain contributes to a pleasing ambience. Hang bells from the front door to signal the arrival of guests. And what's a party without music? I aim for a diverse mix, from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse. For background music, I like to put on compilation CDs -- the Buddha-Bar series is my favourite.
It's true that guests can't help wandering into the kitchen. It's likely the aroma of food being prepared that draws them in. Beyond the kitchen, I place scented candles or fragrant plants like rosemary here and there to fill a space with seductive perfume. Incense may be too strong for the dining room, but it's ideal for a powder room. Fresh flowers are always right. During the holidays, evergreen boughs create lush and fragrant arrangements.
I wouldn't describe myself as a great cook, so I refrain from complicated recipes that stress me out. "Keep it simple" is my motto, and I try to feature seasonal ingredients. I do, however, have a knack for making great coffee, so I enhance my coffee service with fresh whipped cream, dark chocolate shavings and cinnamon.
I've learned that an object of beauty, whether it's a sofa or a vase, is best appreciated when there's empty space surrounding it. So at least once a year, I rearrange my rooms, culling the surplus from the necessary. My husband and I reposition the furniture, angling it toward the fireplace in winter and outdoor vistas in summer. Including organic elements like plants, natural materials and water features keeps interiors alive. Lighting affects us physiologically and emotionally, so it's essential to create a layered scheme combining ambient, task and decorative illumination. Glittering candles dress up the mantel and dining table, dramatic uplighting turns a plant into sculpture, a twinkling chandelier encircles guests in a glow, and a floor lamp with a black opaque shade highlights a group of collectibles. Speaking of collections, they're the personality of a room, so make yours meaningful. I collect artwork. I love portaits, photography of abandoned buildings and oil paintings of fanciful subjects. Groupings needn't be elaborate to be effective: my best friend displays botanical prints, and my Aunt Sandi collects miniature shoes.