For Maryland designer and owner of Bountiful Home, Jamie Merida, summer is the best time to entertain. It’s a celebration of the outdoors, which can sometimes make entertaining unpredictable and all the more memorable. It’s the time of year when the pace moves a bit slower, making it the perfect season to linger endlessly in our backyards with dear friends or new connections. Jamie not only has a thriving retail business and a collection for Chelsea House, but spends most of his working hours on high-end waterfront homes, making him a virtuoso when it comes to outdoor entertaining and fun. He’s a master at creating outdoor spaces that are eager for a party or just some dolce far niente. FLOWER magazine’s Carrie Orteza sat down with Jamie to discuss some of his favorite al fresco entertaining tips, his outdoor design intuition, as well as some of his most treasured summer memories.
What do you most look forward to with every summer party?
The best thing about the beginning of summer is the idea of just getting outside again. We love finding that perfect night when it’s the right temperature for having friends over and then setting up all the outdoor furniture. It makes our house feel like it’s twice as big. The chance to enjoy the space that you haven’t used for the last six months is like a reawakening.
Do you have any particularly meaningful summer entertaining memories?
We tend to use our house periodically for fundraising, and last year we did a really fun event for the statewide HIV Aids organization. It was based on the musical SIX. There were six different houses that hosted the event, and we each got to pick one of Henry VIII’s queens to be the theme of our house. We even had cocktails that were themed to the music from the play. It was for a good cause, and we raised a ton of money for the organization. And it was a great excuse to throw up a tent outside!
What do you keep in mind when designing an outdoor space for entertaining?
Part of what I do with our house, as well as with my clients’ homes, is try to keep the fabrics on the upholstery pretty neutral so that we aren’t competing with nature. Why not let nature take center stage? Our furniture is pretty much all-white cushions and black metal weld. It gives me an open canvas for when I set a table.
How does your design background inform the way you entertain?
I think it’s kind of part and parcel with who I am, as well as an extension of being an interior designer. I tend to not be millennial. We joke about the fact that younger people laugh when I tell them I have seven different sets of china. They’ll say, “Why would you do that?” But I love my china sets, and I especially love to layer them! When you entertain, the ambiance is just as important as the food. And when you take the time to do something special with your table setting and décor, I think it makes people feel good about the evening.
How would you describe your personal approach to entertaining?
My husband, who’s French, is the chef, not me. Our little schtick is I’m in charge of making sure the table’s great, and he’s in charge of making sure the food is great. We’ve concluded that for both inside and outside entertaining, eight people is the perfect number for us to host. It means we can have good conversation with a small group of people. I’m also a big fan of place cards, even with only eight people. It’s old-fashioned, but I think it makes people feel special. I think that aspect of entertaining has gotten lost in today’s world, but people really appreciate that kind of stuff. We have some people that say, “We always love coming to your house because we know it’s going to be an experience—not just coming over for hamburgers on the grill.”
Do you have any go-to flower arrangements for summer entertaining?
I either like arrangements that are more monochromatic or that involve a single kind of flower. I especially like lots of small bud vases with one or two flowers per vase scattered across the table. I also love big, over-scale arrangements, but not so big that you can’t see the people across the table from you. Sometimes I just pull whatever flowers out of the garden. We just did a dinner party last week, and all the rhododendrons were in full bloom. We did simple one-flower arrangements that looked fabulous!
Do you have a particular approach when designing a tablescape?
I’m a big fan of takeaways for my guests, whether it’s something I used to create a napkin ring or it’s just a little object from my shop. It can be fun or silly or kind of serious. I recently used a collection of small kids’ toys shaped like flowers and mushrooms to tie the napkins at a dinner party. My tip is to be creative. Do something that’s a little unexpected.
What are your tips for dealing with summer weather?
With the unpredictability of summer weather, you have to be willing to turn on a dime and move things inside if it rains. And you have to accept the fact that it’s probably going to be hot outside, but that’s part of the fun. There’s something magical about those kinds of evenings.
What’s your favorite recipe to share during the summer?
We do a lot of French grilled meat with fresh herbs. My husband is always good for fresh tarts, apple or pear or whatever’s in season. We also love cold soups, such as vichyssoise. We like to keep it light for the most part.
Any advice on how to keep an event fun/relaxed?
I think it’s all in how you treat people when they arrive. A dinner can be relaxed without being casual. Maybe you greet them with prosecco and a charcuterie plate. Make your guests feel special. It’s also nice to have great chairs both inside and outside where people can linger at the table and let the conversation continue.
“When you entertain, the ambiance is just as important as the food. And when you take the time to do something special with your table setting and décor, I think it makes people feel good about the evening.”—Jamie Merida