Margot Shaw: Nina, first of all, thank you so much for hosting such a splendid soirée honoring my book, Living Floral. Did you grow up in an entertaining household?
Nina Campbell: There was a lot of entertaining at home; we had quite a large house in London, and my parents had very glamorous parties that I remember watching sitting on the stairs. It was after the war, so everyone was very excited, and they rolled up the carpets and danced. I suppose I realized that it was the people that made the fun, and that could be created without a lot of fuss and bother.
What is your favorite type of party (dinner, brunch, theme, tea, shower), and why?
You can make any type of party a success. I even had a dinner party with friends during lockdown. It was dinner for three separate groups of us in London and brunch for our friends in Los Angeles. We all laid our tables and announced our menus and had a wonderfully animated conversation while we ate and drank albeit thousands of miles apart!
What fun! Yes, there’s been lots of fanciful, unorthodox entertaining during this season of quarantine. Thinking of your chic and unerring style in design, what tips and tenets would you say translate to designing a party?
Be ready! Take a lot of time in the preparation, but once the party begins, relax and enjoy it so that your guests will too. If it’s a big party and you are employing professional caterers, make sure you have tried them first, and never take the second best!
I can see all the preparation and attention to detail in your interior design that has beautifully translated to your hosting style. What is the most important aspect of hosting people in your home?
“What really matters to me is that everyone is comfortable, meets new friends, and leaves feeling that they have had a really rich experience.” — Nina Campbell
I know our readers want to know about your floral selections, as well as vessels.
My house is rather small but does have a courtyard garden beyond both the dining room and the sitting room windows, so I like to let the gardens do a lot of the floral work. I do keep the flower arranging to a formula so that I can organize them easily. I have collected antique ice pails that are perfect for flowers. I use about four or five down the center of the table. I have a table in the corner of the room, and I always like a large bunch of flowers there. I find a vase with a large base and thin neck the perfect shape for flowers.
Do you have a favorite tried-and-true menu?
My menus change with the type of gathering. If we are many, I usually serve lots of hors d’oeuvres so that people can mingle and chat with more people before sitting down to dinner. I prefer simple food—another way to avoid disaster! It must be excellent quality and in season. I have the most wonderful team to help me.
So, for this special evening, what dictated the palette for the table settings and flowers?
I wanted this particular evening to reflect your book, Living Floral, with an English flavor. I had the garden replanted for the occasion, so that the flowers would be perfect and in their prime. I wanted a lot of color from the flowers, so I set the tables on white tablecloths that I brought back from India. I use the Perspex party chairs amongst my own for extra seating, and the seats are covered in the same fabric as my dining chairs. They stack, and many years ago I realized that owning your own party chairs was much cheaper than hiring them.
I love using a colored glass for water, and on this evening, I used my amethyst goblets from my dear friend the late William Yeoward. These are no longer made, and for one of my birthdays he bought me an extra four that he had found on eBay. We both found this very funny, and it makes them even more special!
I also have collected the silver salt-and-pepper sets for years, and I have about 15. I love them on the table as they add a bit of fun. There are elephants, camels, horses, dogs, a monkey, and even a violin!
“I love being at home, as so many of my paintings, furniture, and objects have been created by friends, so the house always feels full of people.” — Nina Campbell
Tell us about your house.
My house is a Tardis; it is a blue garden door in a long white wall, and it opens up into a three-bedroom house. It is known by me and my friends as The Hut. When I first was shown the house, I said, “That’s not a house; it’s a hut!”
I did a huge amount of work on it, basically tearing it down, re-siting the front door, and therefore was able to create a front courtyard garden and an excavated a basement for a guest room, TV room, and laundry. As a result, the entire ground floor is an entertaining space that can be divided by the sliding engraved-glass screen that can separate the dining from the sitting room. I do like the dining table to be a surprise!
I took a leaf out of Elsie de Wolfe’s book The House in Good Taste, and basically there are mirrors everywhere, including between the bookshelves. “I love being at home, as so many of my paintings, furniture, and objects have been created by friends, so the house always feels full of people.”
I have a retractable awning over the garden off the sitting room, and so that makes a great place to spill into after dinner. I sometimes put down a Moroccan rug to make it cozier, and I have a fire out there too. I also put shawls on the backs of the chairs in case it gets chilly.
I must admit to having to look up “Tardis” [originating from the show Doctor Who, it’s a building or container that is larger inside than it appears from the outside]. You’ve designed a brilliant and inviting house and party, where preparation and attention to the comfort of your guests is clearly paramount.
By Margot Shaw | Photography by Gavin Kingcome | Interior design and select furnishings/decor by Nina Campbell, ninacampbellinteriors.com