Eddie Ross is the East Coast Editor of Better Homes & Gardens. Recognized by design aficionados for his inventive, out-of-the-box approach to high-style decorating and entertaining on a budget, Eddie consistently re-imagines the aesthetic possibilities in secondhand finds, imbuing them with a chic and colorful sophistication. His first book, Modern Mix: Curating Personal Style with Chic & Accessible Finds, was published last fall.
If you’re a trained chef and you’ve worked for Martha (yes, that Martha), then chances are you know a thing or two about entertaining. We got a chance to ask Eddie, who also designed three beautiful rooms for our Summer catalog, for a few tips on the art of entertaining. See his answers below.
Ballard Designs: How often do you entertain?
Eddie Ross: If I’m in town, I’m entertaining. I could be on the road for days signing books or shooting stories, but as soon as I’m back, I’ll throw open my cupboards, pull together a mix—maybe Chinoiserie chic or bohemian glamour—and start dreaming up menus. I let my moods and my stuff inspire the party.
BD: How does entertaining at your weekend place differ from entertaining in your apartment in New York?
ER: On weekends, I’ll take my time with sit-down dinners and larger parties. But in the city, I’m more spontaneous, so I’ll do cocktail parties with buy-and-assemble hors d’oeuvres and self-serve bars. You can cram a lot more people in a space for drinks than dinner.
BD: What kind of host are you? Do you plan weeks and days in advance or do you tend not to sweat the details?
ER: My entertaining style tends to be formal. I like using fancy things, like mother-of-pearl flatware and monogrammed napkins, to give a table history. Then I mix in secondhand finds and retail steals in unexpected combinations. For example, in the dining room I did for Ballard, I paired my antique English salad plates with Bunny’s blue-and-white dishes. The details are dressy, as are some of my guests, but as a host, I set a casual tone, throwing parties that are formal but friendly. Details lend a personal touch, so plan out a mix you love, and you’ll always be entertaining.
BD: What are your best tips for prepping ahead, so you can actually enjoy your own party?
ER: Cooking every dish from scratch can be a beautiful thing, and in culinary school I did. But by no means is it necessary to create a special experience for your guests.
Personally, I like the styling part of throwing parties—picking out all the pieces and pairing them with store-bought dishes I doctor up with gourmet touches. Think fine herbes sprinkled over Church’s chicken or pigs in a blank with a fancy-pants mustard. For impromptu parties especially, menus are freezer-to-oven with a self-serve bar. That way, guests help themselves and I can join the fun, too.
BD: What’s typically on the menu when you host and why?
ER: I’m inspired by the seasons. For cocktail parties in the spring and summer, I always serve chilled shrimp over ice. At the holidays, I’ll do a baked brie in a puff pastry shell with raspberry preserves. Cheeses, crackers and crisp vegetable crudités are staples all year long.
BD: What’s the best way to make guests feel comfortable?
ER: Play it cool. Greet guests with a smile and a cocktail, introduce them if need be and excuse yourself. If a glass breaks or a dish burns, don’t panic. Address the issue swiftly and move on. Whatever you do, don’t ask guests to take their shoes off. Rent a steam cleaner for carpets or entertain outside.
BD: What’s the fastest way to add a little drama to any affair?
ER: Light the curtains on fire! That happened to me once, but luckily, someone put it out before the brigade arrived. Short of that, try big branches, a show-stopping tablecloth or a fabulous punch bowl.
BD: Music? What’s on your playlist?
ER: Jaithan’s in charge of that, starting with a cool, lounge-y station on Pandora (keyword: Hotel Costes) and picking up the pace when the party gets going (keyword: Deep House).
BD: What are your go-to accessories and linens you love to pull out when you’re entertaining?
ER: Stylish glassware can make inexpensive wine taste like a fine Bordeaux—and for me, the more color, the better. Bunny’s swirling cobalt glasses are great for water paired with clear wine glasses. Multi-purpose pieces are another essential. The clamshell I used for crudités can easily be used for icing drinks.
BD: For the catalog, you designed a multi-purpose storage and craft room. How is having a room like this helpful for entertaining purposes?
ER: If you want to entertain inventively, you’re going to need stuff—and stuff always needs a home when you’re not making magic with it. As you curate your arsenal of entertaining essentials, you have to find stylish storage solutions. But you don’t need an entire room to stay organized. Simply carve out a corner for storage in the kitchen, a garage or an attic. That way, your entertaining essentials are always close at hand.
BD: How do you encourage guests to mingle and spread out?
ER: Self-serve stations keep guests circulating, but skip the entryway. You want to create flow, not a traffic jam.
BD: What are your guidelines for setting up a bar? Do you let folks help themselves or do you do a signature drink?
ER: Liquor can get pricey, so pick one or two and pair them with mixers for specialty drinks. Serve wine, champagne if you’d like and sparkling water. Lemons and limes are a must. Bar snacks are a nice touch. You can find vintage and new barware in a variety of styles, so play around and have fun!
BD: What are your easiest centerpiece ideas?
ER: Try a cluster of candlesticks with colorful tapers or floating peonies in a bowl flanked by hurricanes.
BD: Do you prefer to dictate the seating or do you let guests sit wherever?
ER: I say skip the last-minute scramble. Using place cards puts everyone at the table—and you—more at ease and it takes the guesswork out of seating your guests.
BD: What is your number one tip for hosting a gathering?
ER: Plan your menu, bar and modern mix of serveware as far in advance as you can, keeping in mind the time and money you have to spend. And don’t cook coq au vin for the first time on party night: now is no time to channel your inner Julia, Julie.
Thanks Eddie for sharing all your stylish tips!
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