There’s a certain tradition and familiarity to Sunday lunch, which suits Margot Shaw and her relaxed yet stylish approach to entertaining. “It’s a Southern tradition—we might be a little gussied up after church, and we’re ready to have a good visit,” she says. She sets out a delectable buffet, a mix of favorite tableware, and flowers clipped from the garden just this morning. Y’all come.
Margot, it seems like you and your husband, Gates, entertain pretty frequently. Has that always come naturally, or is it something you’ve learned to do along the way?
I think a lot of it comes naturally. My parents were great hosts, and guests were always in and out of their house. They had great flair, and I hope that I’ve gotten at least a little of that.
Tell us your general philosophy on entertaining.
It’s very important because my home is an extension of me, so opening it up is a way of giving to friends, colleagues, or people I want to get to know. To me, it’s a level deeper than let’s meet at a fancy restaurant. My entertaining style is usually fairly casual, but I like to gather people and provide an environment where, for a few hours, we can be transported (but not intimidated), get comfortable, and converse.
What’s your secret to putting together the right mix of people?
I don’t overthink my guest list. I’ll say to my husband, Oh, we haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time, or Wouldn’t it be fun to have that person? But, of course, I just happen to think all my friends are interesting! I believe if you provide a setting and a backdrop for people to be who they are, you’re always going to get a good mix and a good time.
We know that Sunday lunch is one of your favorite ways to entertain—what makes that time frame so appealing?
Historically in the South, it’s an after-church thing, and people might already be a little gussied up. It’s also a good time because it’s usually not open-ended. People generally have other things to do too, so they’re not going to stay on and on. We can get together, have good food and conversation, and then get on with the day. There’s also a familiarity to Sunday lunch. It feels like family.
You make it all look so easy, but surely it’s not. What’s your game plan?
I’m a big organizer, so I like to plan ahead. But most importantly, I know I don’t have to do everything. I believe in picking the things you do well or like to do and seeking out others for what doesn’t come naturally. I’ve finally given myself permission to do that.
One thing I’m sure people do have pretty high expectations for is flowers.
Well, no surprise, flowers are nonnegotiable for me! But I used to think I had to spend all day doing some magnificent centerpiece that a show dog couldn’t jump over because it was so high. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve gotten relaxed enough to know that more is not necessarily more. Most of the time, I cut from the garden, whatever the season. Got a pair of scissors? It’s as easy as that.
What are some containers or arrangements you find are go-tos for you?
I really enjoy repurposing things, such as an ice bucket or a peach basket. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll swing by a garden shop and grab a couple of topiaries, plop them in terra-cotta pots, and put them on the dining room table. Done. If I want to jazz them up a little bit, I’ll buy a few flowers or cut some blooms in the garden and just intersperse them throughout the topiary at the last minute. I don’t worry about water picks, as most things will last long enough for a party.
And what about the tableware?
The eclectic element is so fun and for me, some of that has been by necessity. I have a blended family, and we have a hodgepodge of things. But I think it’s also important to have a narrative. For instance, I use my great-grandmother’s little crystal bowls with her monogram for cheese straws and pecans, my mother’s silver pitcher to serve tea, and then I’ll mix in new ceramic plates from R. Wood in fabulous colors that I love. So there’s a 100-year span right there at the table. It tells my story.
By Karen Carroll | Photos by Becky Luigart-Stayner