"How She Hosts": a Q&A series with women who inspire us
Tara Clayton runs Cobblestone Lane Gallery (“CLG”), an interior styling and art consulting firm that designs colorful and pattern-heavy spaces for everyday living. Tara specializes in providing the “finishing touches” by combining modern and vintage furniture with original artwork, fine papers, and artistic textiles. Prior to CLG, she spent a decade studying art history and working at museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and in the permanent collection at her alma mater, Davidson College. She uses her art world experience to liaise between artists and clients who are commissioning artwork for their homes and helps her clients select decor to amplify these works. Additionally, she also sources vintage artwork for display in vignettes and gallery walls, where she often places older works with modern and contemporary pieces. The result is a vintage-modern mix with a bit of whimsy that feels sophisticated yet relaxed. Tara lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband, three kids (aged 7, 5 and 2), and two dogs.
We hear you’re a blue and white fan like us! Have you done any projects with this color scheme?
Yes! I designed a fun and very tiny powder bathroom a few years ago with an amazing blue and white paper and a pink sink. It’s one of my favorite projects to date.
How do you like to entertain? What is the vibe (where, feeling, how)?
I love to entertain on the back porch at our house. Between our living room and back porch, we have accordion-style doors that fold up for indoor/outdoor living. My husband and I grew up in Florida and spent our free time outside, so this part of our house is where we feel most at home, and in turn we believe that’s where our guests and family feel most comfortable, too! In the spring, I like to decorate the porch with purple hydrangeas in baskets which look beautiful against the grey shake and stone you see on our exterior. And when it’s cooler, we gather around the outdoor fireplace and serve s’mores for the kids (sure, we’ll say it’s for the kids) and tea for the adults. My goal is to entertain in a way that is inviting, comfortable, and fun––the same way I like to design.
What are you serving?
Charcuterie boards are the name of the game for me! Beyond meats and cheeses, I enjoy getting creative with what vegetables, spreads, and crispy snacks will go on them. I include something on the board that ties into the current season so it feels more curated, as well as a great potato chip (because who doesn’t love a good chip?). If it’s a dinner party, I like to make a hearty salad because it’s something busy adults don’t often have time to prepare at home and I think it’s a little unexpected. And for the main course, I try to make something in advance that I can either pop in the oven to cook while I socialize (a tip I learned from watching my fairy godmother, Ina Garten), or set up food on an oversized tray that everyone can then personalize to their preferences (like tostadas). I have experimented with a lot of different parties to find my tried-and-trues and I have some hilarious fails, too––like the time our oven caught fire while I was trying to make gourmet pizzas (I’m not kidding! A fire extinguisher was used––by a guest, no less). I guess I see why I like charcuterie boards––maybe don’t come too hungry!
What are you sipping?
I’m always looking for an excuse to make a spicy margarita! I had an incredible one with tons of herbs at PDC in Montreal and I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since. I also like to offer sparkling water in a pretty glass for anyone who wants a good night’s rest.
What are you wearing?
I’m a pattern fiend so you may find me in a floral midi, block-print blouse, or an oversized striped button-down. I typically wear the same jewelry every day, but if I’m entertaining at night then I like to add some extra necklace layers or swap out my earrings. I’m a big La Double J fan because I find the fits to be flattering (the La Choux and Breakfast Dress are two favorite cuts) and I wear them to so many different occasions. But, you’re most likely to find me in jeans and a flowy blouse.
What are you listening to?
The 1975 and Novo Amor are my current go-tos. The first is a bit more pop and the second is more folksy. My brother is a professional violinist and plays lots of other instruments, too, so I wonder if I naturally gravitate towards bands that have more going on instrumentally.
How do you make your guests feel special? How do you make them feel at home?
About a year ago, I realized that my kids felt nervous when they sat down for a stuffy holiday dinner that included food they weren’t normally served. I was reminded of a few fine dining experiences as an adult where I might have felt similarly, and how the chef sends out a small plate of the chef’s choosing to introduce you to the experience and begin the meal. I think this is such a cool concept and I have been trying to implement it at home as a way to take the seriousness out of dinner parties. Although this small plate (an amuse bouche) is typically savory in a restaurant, I like to do the opposite and serve something sweet and whimsical at home, like a bite-sized shortbread cookie from Guglhupf, a local restaurant, or a yogurt-covered pretzel. I have found this gets everyone to the table with a smile and, no matter what your age, is a comforting way to start a meal.
If you are hosting a dinner, what is your go-to centerpiece?
In my opinion, nothing beats a flower arrangement. I love Half Past Seven’s Lettuce Leaf and San Miguel Bud Vases for floral displays because they are great sizes and heights, and they combine seamlessly with all of my other tabletop decor.
How do you end a celebration?
A college professor once told me that holding a warm mug was scientifically proven to decrease stress, so on special occasions I like to make decaf coffee in a French press to serve with dessert. Sharing coffee with someone has always felt really special to me and so I cherish the leisurely send-off.
What is your favorite Half Past Seven product to entertain with?
It is tough to choose a favorite! I own two of the large pewter trays which I use all of the time for display and entertaining.
Half Past Seven's "Stadium Tray"
I have a soft spot for the Starry Night Hurricane which feels historic, nostalgic, and totally unique. And the Lettuce Leaf Plates from the new stoneware collection have the most gorgeous, subtle scallop that feels appropriate for all hosting needs.
Half Past Seven's Starry Night Hurricane
Let’s play this or that…
- Charger OR Placemat: I love to use both! Serial maximalist
- Stemmed OR Stem-less: Stem-less
- Red OR White: White with my lady friends and red with my husband
- Tablecloth OR Bare: Tablecloth
- Votives OR Taper Candle: Votives
- Formal OR Informal: I aim to fall somewhere in between, but because I love all things design I probably tend to lean more formal in decor. I want my parties to feel designed, but also relaxed and inviting.