"How She Hosts:" a Q&A series with women who inspire us
In honor of Mother's Day we asked our own mothers, Peggy and Kim, to share their tips on hosting. In our eyes, they are the original hostesses and over the years, we've learned so much from these two.
How do you like to entertain? What is the vibe (where, feeling, how)?
Peggy: We are lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and entertaining on summer evenings is my favorite. My husband and I like to host 4-6 others for a casual dinner outside on our terrace. We typically start with drinks in the pool house and then move to the terrace for dinner at a round table (my favorite). My preference is to serve dinner buffet style off our kitchen island, so guests can choose how much or little they want on their plates.
In addition to summer dinner parties, I periodically host our annual family Christmas Day party. This tradition started at my grandmother’s house before I was born and has now grown to more than 80 aunts, uncles and cousins! We rotate homes across the local cousins and share a late-day meal every Christmas Day (coconut cake is a perennial favorite). What started as a more formal lunch has evolved into a casual array of delicious dishes contributed by everyone, a plan that better suits young families on a very busy (yet fun!) day.
Kim: I must admit, formal cocktail parties are my absolute favorite. My husband and I especially enjoy the one we host every Christmas. It’s grown to 100+ people and for me, the more the merrier. The more formal the better too - I bring out the silver platters and bowls, the crystal and linens. It’s all about the presentation to me.
What are you serving?
Peggy: Since I love to entertain in the summer, I prefer to serve a cold meal for dinner. I see this as an advantage for two reasons - the temperature is great on a potentially hot night and it allows me to prepare it ahead of time and be really present with my guests. I often serve poached salmon with accompanying sauces and easy-to-prepare sides. Most people I know don’t really want to be tempted by dessert so I occasionally offer something that doesn’t take any time, such as a selection of ice cream, then no one feels guilty turning those down.
Kim: For large parties, I typically enlist my favorite caterers. I spend a lot of time with them though, finding new passed hors d'oeuvres and creative ways to present them. We’ve lined platters with dry peas to use as a base to make the h'orderves pop. I’ve done shot glasses with soup and mini sandwiches. To me, the presentation is just as important as the food. I’ve used the dining room table as a cheese board with lifts and levels and numerous coordinating linens.
What are you sipping?
Peggy: I’m a seasonal drinker - Pinot Noir in the winter and dry white or rose in the summer
Kim: A DiGiacomo party wouldn’t be complete without my husband’s famous Cosmopolitans. It’s a beautiful and festive cocktail that he’s perfected. Our newest martini since visiting Italy is a Limoncello martini - simply Tito’s and Limoncello. I’ll have to share the recipe sometime!
What are you wearing?
Peggy: Like my daughter, I love long Indian block print cotton dresses
Kim: I have to confess that I am always in something black and sparkly, but within an hour I’m barefoot! I want to focus on my guests having a good time and I need to be on my feet all night. Their happiness is my goal - when I have people in my house I want them to feel loved, special, and comfortable.
What are you listening to?
Peggy: My husband is a music buff and he always has a great lineup of rock & roll from the 60s and 70s
Kim: For our Christmas party it's always a playlist of holiday instrumental pieces. And year round you can never go wrong in our house with Frank Sinatra or guitar by Esteban.
How do you make your guests feel special? How do you make them feel at home?
Peggy: I’m fortunate enough to have close friends I’ve known for decades. I know some of their preferences and try to have those on hand, like a particular type of Chardonnay or a favorite small batch bourbon.
Kim: I love any one on one time that I can get with my guests. One of my favorite parts of the evening is when the party is wrapping up and a few of us end up settling in around the kitchen table. A night cap + lots of laughter + no shoes is my happy place.
If you are hosting a dinner, what is your go-to centerpiece?
Peggy: I’m an avid gardener and have several flower gardens. I like to see my gardens reflected in my centerpieces, but often try to keep it very simple (like the food). Otherwise I wouldn’t entertain as much! I have a large collection of glass bud vases of different shapes and sizes, and votives. I love clustering those in the center of my round table or up and down our long dining room table. A collection of interesting glass vases holding just a variety of individual blossoms or beautiful pieces of foliage can look really stunning. In the vein of keeping it easy, I’ll also do something more unexpected such as a big blue & white bowl with a variety of end-of-the-summer tomatoes of all different colors punctuated by sprigs of herbs from the garden.
Kim: The food! Our cocktail spread is always on risers of different heights for interest and laced with fabric, votives, flowers, and produce, like artichokes. But for a sit down dinner, we typically clear the table completely so there's never an issue seeing over a centerpiece or passing the (Italian!) food across the table.
How do you end a celebration?
Peggy: A tradition I learned from dear friends, who are consummate entertainers, is to serve a salad course after dinner but before dessert. Typically I toss a simple green salad with a good vinaigrette and pair it with fresh bread from the local bakery and an assortment of cheeses. Then I like to serve a light dessert - most recently pavlova topped with fresh strawberries, which are in season around Mother’s Day!
Kim: Very slowly!!!!
Half Past Seven vases, votives, and hurricanes
What is your favorite Half Past Seven product to entertain with?
Kim: It’s honestly hard to choose. I love Jen and Margaret’s attention to detail and commitment to quality in all of their pieces. But if I HAD to choose just one, it would have to be the Dragon Ginger Jar. My father spent many years overseas in the Marines and the Chinoiserie treasures he’d bring home had a huge influence on my mother’s decorating, and now mine. I adore blue & white and love how it fits effortlessly with any existing colorway in your home. During the year my Dragon Ginger Jar sits in the kitchen as a show piece on my kitchen island, as is. But during the holidays, my daughter in law, Erica, an event planner with a special gift for floral arranging, arranges it with oversized branches and berries as an absolute showstopper. It was also the breathtaking centerpiece for one of Half Past Seven’s first trunk shows!
Half Past Seven Dragon Ginger Jar
Let’s play this or that… (Peggy in Green, Kim in Blue)
- Charger OR Placemat: placemat // chargers for a formal meal in the dining room and placemats for everyday dining at the kitchen table
- Stemmed OR Stem-less: stemless during cocktail hour, stemmed on table // I used to reach for stemmed ALL the time. Recently I’m very comfortable with a stemless glass - either my late mother’s “Queen Bee” etched glass or a Half Past Seven Starry Night Wine Glass!
- Red OR White: both + pink // what’s white wine?
- Tablecloth OR Bare: tablecloth // bare with placemats
- Votives OR Taper Candle: votives // taper
- Formal OR Informal: informal // formal