Design Experts

Inside design: Carolyne Roehm

Inside design: Carolyne Roehm Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: Carolyne Roehm

It's fun to imagine yourself at the Christmas soirée pictured in Carolyne Roehm's Winter Notebook. A rustic cottage on the grounds of Roehm's country house in Connecticut is aglow with candles, firelight and two massive Christmas trees twinkling with fairy lights. The food is tantalizing, the guests relaxed and laughing—clearly, Roehm knows how to throw a party. Here, Roehm shares with us her wealth of experience on holiday entertaining and decorating.

S@H: When do you start getting ready for Christmas?
CR:
I make my official Christmas list the day after [American] Thanksgiving. My mother and I go Christmas shopping then, but I may have already started thinking about themes, because I always do thematic Christmases—one year it's naturals, the next year it's all gold and silver. So usually by November, something will have sparked an idea for the year's theme for gift wrapping and table decorations.

S@H: Any suggestions for organizing yourself for the season?
CR:
Start early enough. The list-keeping thing really works; that's why I wrote the notebooks [one for each season] for readers to write their own notes in. I have about 20 friends with whom I exchange presents, so I come up with an idea of what the theme of their gifts will be—gardening, or an indulgent theme, like bath products, or a book I give them all. I also usually give a dinner in the city and two parties in the country. In the city, it's varied: I might do a buffet for 25, but if I'm doing a dinner, it'll be for 10. Being organized and keeping lists is the only way that I can do it, because I've reached the point in life where I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner last night.

S@H: Do you have any advice on entertaining large gatherings?
CR:
Whenever I'm dealing with a large group of people, I always plan a menu that doesn't involve cooking food at the last minute—anything that can be cooked for a long time, like venison stew, and in which the flavour is enhanced by cooking it a day ahead. Also, you want something that doesn't cool down too quickly; if it's a buffet, you want to be able to put the food into a chafing dish to keep it warm, and there are certain things that get overcooked if you do that. Desserts and Christmas cookies are always made in advance. Also, I'm a big flower and decorating person, so I don't, as a rule, use roses and things that perish quickly. If I use flowers, I use red carnations because they hold up for a long time and are inexpensive; I focus on things that I don't have to keep redoing. I give two parties and have friends coming by for lunch or dinner, so I want the house to be basically done and maintenance-free for at least a couple of weeks before Christmas.

Image courtesy of Carolyne Roehm

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Inside design: Carolyne Roehm