Ask the Expert: Entertaining at Home with Christopher Spitzmiller

Ask the Expert: Entertaining at Home with Christopher Spitzmiller

Christopher’s iconic ceramic lamp designs draw inspiration from classical forms and traditional gem like glazes. He began his career in 1996 in Washington, D.C. then moving to New York City in 1999, where he now creates his one of-a-kind lamps with his crew of skilled artisans. The lamps are of timeless appeal and luxurious quality. Christopher has expanded his designs to tableware and other ceramic accessories.

Christopher’s work is often featured in celebrated publications such as Architectural Digest, Town and Country, Elle Décor, Veranda, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has had the honor of making lamps for the Oval Office, the past four White House Administrations, as well as the Blair House and other distinguished American homes.

When not in the Studio, Christopher can be found at his farm in Millbrook, NY gardening, bee keeping, making jam, cooking for friends, or tending to his flock of heritage breed chickens.

 

We asked Christopher to discuss his aesthetic vision with us and share his tips for entertaining at home.

Von Gern Home: How are you planning to celebrate Labor Day?
Christopher Spitzmiller: We’re at home for Labor Day. A friend from Rochester is visiting. Hoping for a quiet weekend…The following weekend is my 50th Birthday so we’ll be getting ready for that.

VGH: Your book, A Year At Clove Brook Farm, brings the reader through a full year of entertaining at your beautiful Millbrook farm. As an artist and ceramicist, what is the most inspiring thing about the summer months?
CS: The succession of flowers: snow drops, tulips, camassia, peonies, roses, sweet peas, lilies, and lastly dahlias. The garden inspires me all year long!

VGH: How does your artistic process change with the season?
CS: I spend more time in the garden in the summer, so I am less prolific in the studio during these months. The fall and winter are when I make the most. Thankfully the studio operates at full speed at all times of year.

VGH: How does your entertaining style change with the season? What is the most exciting thing about entertaining in the summer?
CS: Eating outside as much as possible. We have a roaming table, moving it from garden to garden. Two weeks ago we ate by the lilies. It was just like the John Singer Sargent painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.

VGH: What’s on your table this season?
CS: Woven Fringe Placemats are fun with my blue and white marble plates. We use a lot of my Peony, Sweet Pea and Dahlia plates in the summer. I favor tall photophore hurricanes and tea lights to light the table at night. There’s nothing worse than eating in the dark.

VGH: When you set your table, where do you start in your tablescape design?
CS: I usually start with a tablecloth that reflects the mood of the table I’m setting and then work in the plates and whatever flowers are in season. I try to keep the flowers low so I can see my guests.

VGH: Tell us a little bit about your ideal dinner party. What’s the perfect setting, your signature cocktail, and what’s on your party playlist?
CS: Pretty much what I have described above. My fiancée, Anthony, is our bartender. He offers wine—red and rosé—and an Aperol Spritz. We play jazz or some other non-intrusive music.

VGH: What is on your dinner menu?
CS: I grill steaks, roast chicken and often serve lobster in the summer. Fresh tomatoes and burrata. Corn when it’s in season. Anthony is the baker and makes most of our desserts. He does a great Rhubarb tart and a fall-over key lime pie.

VGH: What’s your go-to host/hostess gift?
CS: I give homemade jams, eggs from the farm or flowers from the garden depending on what’s in bloom.

VGH: You’re an artist as well as an expert at entertaining. How is designing a ceramics collection different from and similar to curating a beautiful home?
CS: I want my pieces to be used. I like to say each day is all we have. I want my plates to be able to go from your Thanksgiving table to dinner for two to your Tuesday night dinner with family!

VGH: And you’re also a beekeeper, cook, and farmer! How do you think your sustainable lifestyle at Clove Brook Farm has influenced your artistic practice?
CS: We photograph my favorite flowers and have transfers made from them. They fire into the plate and become part of the glaze. My rule is that the flower must be grown here at Clove Brook Farm to make it on the plate.

VGH: Describe your artistic aesthetic in five words or less.
CS: Clean, classic, timeless.

VGH: What sets artistically designed tableware apart?
CS: We make everything by hand and that shows. Traces of the hand are present in every single piece we make. No two marble plates are the same.

VGH: What projects are you currently working on?
CS: We’re always making new lamp shapes. There are new faux bois dinner plates I’m working on and a few other collaborations that will be coming out soon.

VGH: And finally, who would you invite to your dream dinner party – dead or alive?
CS: My friends—Martha Stewart, Bunny Williams, John Rosselli and Carolyne Roehm. No party here is complete without dear Ashley Whittaker and her family!

Images courtesy of Christopher Spitzmiller  Visit https://christopherspitzmiller.com/ to learn more about Christopher’s work. 

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Ask the Expert: Party Tips with Chris Hessney

Ask the Expert: Party Tips with Chris Hessney

Chris is the founder, president, and creative director of Hessney & Co., an international event production and design agency based out of New York City. With a strong background in event management and design as well as a commitment to a personalized approach, Chris has worked with such notable NYC entertainment giants as restaurateur Stephen Starr, Chef Morimoto, and Andrew Balazs, and he was an integral part of the opening team at The Standard Highline. After serving as the Corporate Style director of EMM Group, Chris extended his brand collaborations to include Armani, Goop, Netflix, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and in 2020 he was recognized by Harper’s Bazaar Magazine as one of the top wedding florists in the world. Chris’ impeccable eye for design and attention to detail put him in a class by himself, making Hessney & Co. synonymous with excellence on the event planning stage. Visit https://hessneyandco.com/ for more information about Chris’s work. 

Von Gern Home: How are you celebrating July Fourth?
Chris Hessney: My husband, our dog, and I are going up to Vermont to visit my sister and her kids.

VGH: What is your ideal summer dinner party setting?
Chris: Ideally, I would be dining al fresco every night in the Italian countryside surrounded by candlelight.

VGH: What is on your table?
Chris: On my table right now are Paravicini plates, Sabre flatware, Baccarat glasses, Sferra linens, and Von Gern Home placemats.

VGH: What is on your summer dinner menu?
Chris: Summer for me is Italian and all about what’s in season. Heirloom tomatoes, fruits, an array of meats or cheeses. Cook what’s fresh and good.

VGH: Describe your aesthetic in five words or less.
Chris: Priceless and timeless.

VGH: Give us three tips for setting the perfect table.
Chris: Have fun with it, embrace the space you’re working with, and make it make sense.
Extra tip, a good tablescape is all about layering.

VGH: What is on your dinner party playlist ?
Chris: For a bigger dinner party, I prefer a more upbeat vibe. Artists like Balearic Beats or Hôtel Costes are always on my cocktail hour playlist. I’m also really into Lil Nas X right now.

VGH: What tabletop element should one never go without?
Chris: A table can never have too many flowers.

VGH: What is your signature dinner party cocktail?
Chris: My favorite go-to is batching a great margarita with Casa Dragones. Nothing like tequila to get the party started.

VGH: Name three ingredients of a successful party.
Chris: Good lighting, good music, and a tantalizing tablescape.

VGH: Dream dinner party venue?
Chris: Villa Astor on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

VGH: Go-to hostess gift?
Chris: Von Gern Home lacquer tray set with your favorite bottle of alcohol.

VGH: What is one item you would never entertain without?
Chris: Never go without candle light.

VGH: What projects are you currently working on?
Chris: We’re working on some very exciting things but unfortunately we can’t say.

VGH: Who would you invite to your dream dinner – dead or alive?
Chris: Salvador Dali.

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Summer in Style

Summer in Style

Tips for setting a memorable summer table

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and with it the start of summer entertaining. For some chic and festive frills, we’re breaking out our favorite new tableware in patriotic hues of red, white, and blue. Use the colors individually for easy, summery evenings, or combine them all for a serious Memorial Day splash. But don’t stop there – this decor will keep your table effortlessly celebratory all the way through Labor Day and beyond. So, fire up the grill, stir up some sangria, and start setting up for a summer of soirees!

American Dream

For a table that is equal parts peppy and patriotic, start with a neutral tablecloth in an unassuming pattern—think ticking stripe, petite polka dots, or monochromatic embroidery—and layer these beaded Splatter Placemats on top. Alternate between blue and red for added visual interest and top with sleek, white plates.

Napkins with spunky blue and white fringe look their best rolled up inside these gorgeous Wood & Stripes napkin rings. Complement them with bamboo flatware for added texture and finish off the look with simple glassware. Inject a bit of whimsy with these brilliantly lacquered Starfish and Turtles in red, white, and blue, then pop some flowers along the table for a few easy centerpieces.

With a tablescape like this we’re thinking burgers, barbeque, grilled veggies, and raspberry sorbet, topped with fresh berries and a sprig of mint. The overall effect, from setting the table right through to dessert, is festive without a hint of fussiness—just how we like our Memorial Day celebrations!

Classic Combinations

You simply can’t go wrong with blue and white for entertaining in the summer months, but our tableware offers a few surprises to update and enliven this classic combo.

Set each place with a blue and white Splatter Placemat and round, white dinner plates. For a nautical twist, anchor your napkin in an elegantly knotted Rope Napkin Ring a little off the center of the plate. Add clear or blue glasses and use a handy white Lacquer Tray on one corner to hold drinks and table extras.

Create a layered centerpiece of flowers and decorative objects for a unifying focal point. Some bright Starfish accessories and a few blooms in coordinating colors, like these stunning Anemones we chose, finish off this tablescape with fun and flair.

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Three Chic and Easy Easter Table Ideas

Three Chic and Easy Easter Table Ideas

Make your Easter holiday festive no matter your style.

As the days get longer and buds begin to appear on thawing branches, spring is finally in the air! For those who celebrate Easter, that means preparing for egg hunts, Easter brunch, and all the other ways to celebrate the holiday of renewal and rebirth. But even if Easter church service isn’t part of your family tradition, everyone can get inspired by Easter tablescapes that celebrate the best of the spring season—no matter your style.

Read on for three takes on setting a festive Easter (or simply spring!) table. With a backdrop this pretty, your guests will be as happy eating takeout as that honey-baked ham.

Pretty in Pink Tea

Nothing screams spring quite like pink—the color of freshly-bloomed rosebuds, and maybe a few dyed Easter eggs, too. For a rosy table setting that’s pretty but still fresh, we balanced all that pink with cool teal and sea foam. Here’s how to get the look: First, start with a floral tablecloth—ideally a pattern where pink is splashed throughout, not the dominant hue.

Next, layer on these patent leather reversible placemats (they’re reversible, so you have two options for pink shades!). Add white plates with a bit of contrasting color for added visual interest, then top with a napkin in an ombre napkin ring to tie back to all those rosy hues. Since your flowers are already on your table, there’s no need for cut stems in a centerpiece; instead, line the table with bowls of pink Easter candy for a sweet alternative.

For a setting this pretty, we’re envisioning an English tea service—serve all the trappings on a coordinating lacquer tray.

Minimal Cheese Course

All those flowers not your thing? Don’t fret: Instead, go laid-back minimal with a neutral table setting whose light, natural hues still evoke the freshness of spring.

Begin with a plain table or white tablecloth (a natural linen is ideal), then set these lacquer stripe placemats in gray and yellow or navy and white for a subtle touch of pattern. Accent with natural napkins and finish with simple, everyday plates, cutlery, and glassware.

Then, make the cheese board your centerpiece! Select a mix of hard and soft cheeses in different shapes to create a sculptural spread, then accent with bowls of colorful fruits, olives, nuts, or jams. No bouquets needed!

Juicy Brunch

What’s better than a fresh-squeezed cup of citrus juice? Well, a tablescape inspired by one! For a fresh spin on beachy style, swap the nautical motifs for a fruit-centric spread.

Lay a tablecloth in a solid yellow or small-scape pattern, then top it with yellow fringe placemats (we love how their edges look like beach umbrellas from above!)—and matching coasters! Choose plates with a spoke motif to subtly echo the shape of cut citrus, then top with napkins cinched with these bright floral napkin rings in juicy yellow. Finish with bamboo flatware to give a dash of natural texture.

Then, for the centerpiece: Cut citrus of varying sizes into wedges and arrange in a line, dotting with decorative starfish for an extra nod to the beach. This table decoration will smell even better than flowers!

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Virtual Thanksgiving: How to Make It Special This Year

Virtual Thanksgiving: How to Make It Special This Year

Like the rest of 2020, Thanksgiving might look a little different this year.

 
Many of us may choose to forego cross-country travel and large family gatherings in favor of pod celebrations or virtual Thanksgiving get-togethers. But there’s never been a more appropriate time to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness.

And just because you’re swapping family gatherings for Zoom screens doesn’t mean the holiday has to be any less special—in fact, just the opposite. Here’s how to make your virtual Thanksgiving the best one yet. Who knows, you just might find yourself continuing these new traditions year after year.

Set the Table Together

We believe that every good party starts with a thoughtfully-set table. So why not make that a (virtual) activity on its own? Share ideas with loved ones on Pinterest, then Zoom or FaceTime while laying out table settings—whether it’s one or ten. There’s never been a better occasion to go all out.

Start with the linens, then layer in statement placemats and add extra pops with napkin rings, coasters, or colorful glassware before getting creative with a centerpiece (some ideas on that next…).

Make It Personal

If your loved ones can’t be sitting at your table during virtual Thanksgiving, try topping it with things that remind you of them. It doesn’t just have to be family china, either. Set an aunt’s favorite flower as your centerpiece; incorporate mementos like small framed photos or heirlooms across the table to bring thoughts of family and friends to dinner.

Think outside the box: seashells, jewelry boxes, or decorative objects can all become table decor when paired with chic tabletop accessories. Try sterling silver framed photos beside these moonlight placemats and sparkle napkin rings for an elegant winter white look, or go colorful alongside eclectic accessories.

Give New Meaning to “Shared Plates”

While physically sharing might be a no-no right now, social media sharing certainly isn’t. There’s no better time than virtual Thanksgiving to show off your tablescape to the world beyond your dining room. And while we’d always argue that a solo meal is still worthy of a well-set table, if you’re dining alone, let this be another reason to get your table picture perfect

Swap Recipes

While cooking together is on hold, collaborate on dinner with a recipe swap before the holiday. Share your favorite with family and friends, and then incorporate theirs into your own spread—think of it as a new take on potluck style.

Find Gratitude

Finally, with a world in the midst of turbulent change, it’s never been a better time to stop and reflect on what’s good. If you’re with a group (physically or virtually!) have everyone share what they’re grateful for, and turn it into a list you can reflect on all year round.

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