There’s little doubt that the enchantment, artistry, and landscape of Italy’s Amalfi coast captivates anyone who has ever traveled there. The food, conviviality, and relaxed atmosphere is without a doubt inspiring, and for some, life changing. Such was the case for Susan Gravely, her sister Frances, and mother Lee, when they visited in 1983. The trio stayed at the San Pietro Hotel in Positano and became enamored with the hotel’s hand painted dinnerware—so much so that they arranged to tour the factory in the nearby town Vietri sul Mare. That excursion yielded what would become VIETRI, a lifestyle brand and the largest importer of handcrafted Italian products in the American tabletop industry.
Since that visit, Susan has traveled extensively throughout Italy and become fluent in the language and culture. “Italy’s spirit continues to enchant me. Its enthusiasm, passion, style, and romance live in its people, and, through my work, I have met many incredible Italians and enjoyed so many home-cooked meals,” she says. To celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, Susan reflects on her experiences in Italy on a Plate. Part memoir, part recipes, and part travelogue, turning the pages is like sitting down to dine with the author and her friends in the midst of a vineyard on a seemingly endless perfect day with a glass of Rosati in hand—a feeling that tastemaker Elizabeth W. Cook and her grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth Heard, longtime VIETRI collectors, wanted to replicate in Columbus, Georgia while welcoming Susan to their city for a book signing at Park Place Interiors.
For dinner, Elizabeth and her grandmother served traditional southern fare. “Susan treats us to Italy in her book, so we wanted to share the flavors of Georgia with her,” Elizabeth says. On the menu: Country Captain Chicken, a classic chicken and rice dish that has deep flavors and a rich history. “It is a Columbus, Georgia staple,” Elizabeth adds. Guests also enjoyed Asparagus with Lemon Zest, Pear Salad with Cream Frisée, and Southern Butter Biscuits. For dessert, the duo served slices of 7-Layer Coconut Cloud Cake from local bakery, Caroline’s Cakes.
Throughout the evening, discussion was lively and thoughtful, reinforcing Susan’s philosophy for entertaining: “A table is a metaphor. It’s about sitting and talking and meeting someone new, and hoping that we all leave feeling happier, we’ve laughed, we’ve learned something, and we think, ‘What a great night it was!’”
The Art of Hospitality
Elizabeth enjoys party planning and entertaining. Here are her tips for a successful evening:
Mix it Up: I love inviting people of all ages. If there are multiple members from the same family in attendance, I usually try to separate them and mix people according to their interests.
Invest in Timeless Designs: Choose tabletop pieces you can use over and over again. The Incanto pattern from VIETRI is great for special occasions and everyday use. This is the set I use daily at home.
Make it Personal: My grandmother and I pulled our collections together for this dinner. I incorporated fun, touches like a Dascoli tablecloth while we used her classic George Jenson silver bowl alongside my VIETRI Hibiscus floral vases.
Don’t Overlook the Guest Bathroom: We included fresh hand towels from Haute Home, a candle from VIETRI, and their best-selling hibiscus vase filled with fresh flowers.
Take it Easy: If you can, set the table in advance so it is one less thing you need to do the day of. Don’t forget to pour yourself (and grandmother!) a glass of wine, relax, and have fun! Your guests will feed off your energy.
By Cathy Still McGowin
Photography by Morgan Duke
- All tabletop: VIETRI
- The book: Italy on a Plate: Travels, Memories, Menus
- Elizabeth’s dress: CH Carolina Herrera
- The menus + place cards: Dear Elouise with custom illustrations by Emmie Ruth Wise
- Place card holders: Berner & Co (snail place card holders)
- The dinner napkins: Haute Home Linens (Greenwich Vine)
- The cocktail napkins: Haute Home Linens (Greenwich Vine)
- Tablecloth linens: Dascoli (Lotus tablecloth)
- Floral arrangements: A mix of faux Diane James Home greenery and floral arrangements designed by Denhams Florist, Jenna Griggs denamsflorist.com
- Placemats: A mix between Scully and Scully and Deborah Rhodes
- The Sculptures in the bathroom are from Corbin Bronze
- Bathroom walls are handpainted by Emmie Ruth Wise (same artist who did placecards)
- Specialty dessert: Caroline’s Cakes
- White wine: Wolffer Estate Vineyard (Summer in a Bottle, Wölffer Estate Vineyard).