Interior and event designer Rebecca Gardner of Houses and Parties has loved to set the scene for shimmering happenings from an early age. “I celebrated my 8th birthday with a fashion show party,” she recalls. “My friends came dressed in fantasy looks and walked the driveway down the side of my house. A glamorous local newscaster served as emcee and announced each guest by name. I closed the show dressed as a bride in shiny off-white polyester.” Rebecca credits her uncle—a multitalented aesthete with a flair for the chic and surprising gesture in cooking, entertaining, and design—with inspiring her own style.
On hearing of my plans to visit Savannah, Georgia, for a couple of book-signing events, Rebecca, a good friend of mine, seized upon the idea of throwing a dinner party to celebrate the occasion. It provided the perfect opportunity for me to experience her genius firsthand. I soon realized this would not be your grandmother’s dinner party (unless your grandmother was Elsa Maxwell, who famously opined that the best thing you could offer your guests is the unexpected).
First off, the fanciful Chinois invitation, designed by decorative painter Bob Christian, printed on watercolor paper, and sheathed in a cerise 8-by-14-inch envelope, conveyed the message of a special occasion in the offing.
“I wanted the dinner party to be full of confident color, spunky guests, and little surprises, inspired by the guest of honor,” says Rebecca. “Since I have a collection of vintage 1940s painted Chinese lanterns, I couldn’t wait to string all 175 en masse and really low over the tables so guests had to duck into this cozy, warmly glowing world of pleasure.”
She sourced an 18th-century chinoiserie pattern of “quirky characters and whimsical pagodas” on a Schumacher toile to create tablecloths. Her vision was of a “bright and festive Chinois cacophony.”
The predominantly red and purple palette was echoed in the lovingly nurtured orchids in sheet moss–wrapped pots spiked with red-painted sticks that mimicked coral branches. Rebecca wove small, jaunty arrangements of carnations down the center of the table and filled a collection of colorful enamel dishes with marzipan fruit brought back from London. Bright-red Paola Navone twisted candlesticks with purple and lavender tapers from London designer Matilda Goad magically lit the scene.
Dinner was family-style, cheekily served out of Chinese takeout boxes. The menu included crab cakes, crispy ginger beef, chicken satay, jasmine rice, and bok choy. Dumplings were passed in bamboo steamer baskets.
“And for dessert I made chocolate ganache for green tea ice cream with toasted coconut, served with gigantic homemade fortune cookies containing directives for the guests such as ‘Confucius says, Man who doesn’t use chopsticks removes one piece of clothing,’ ” Rebecca says. Unexpected to say the least.
She continues, “I invited some of my favorite people, all ages and backgrounds, that I was sure Margot would appreciate and adore. What better gift than a new friend? My only criteria is an exceptional sense of humor.” Among the partygoers: Courtland Stevens (owner of Courtland & Co., who co-hosted the celebration); India Hicks; Eleanor Larvan, associate vice president for creative direction at SCAD; chic and sunny lifestyle influencer Sara Bray; and Jon Kully, owner of the new Perry Lane Hotel.
In keeping with Rebecca’s style motto of “More is always better,” she confides, “I like abundant tables that show the effort, that communicate ‘Come in, sit next to a new friend, glow in the candlelight, have a delicious meal. This little experience was created just for you.’ ”
MORE SCENES FROM THE PARTY
Click the arrows (or swipe if on a mobile device) to see more
By Margot Shaw | Photography by Chia Chong | Event design by Rebecca Gardner of Houses and Parties, rebecca-gardner.com