You know how some people watch tons of cooking shows and rarely cook? I plan to do something like that with “Charlotte Moss Entertains,” from Rizzoli, the 10th book by the New York interior designer / event planner / retailer. I’m just going to read and re-read it and enjoy the pictures of fabulous table settings and centerpieces. Let others actually set the table; I’ll be over in the corner here turning the pages of this glossy work of art.
This will no doubt disappoint Charlotte Moss, but she is nothing but kind and generous, urging us lesser hosts and hostesses to open our homes and apartments to friends of all stripes, assuring us that a good dinner party is all about the people. And reminding us that a relaxed host is the key ingredient to everyone having fun. And that great hosts will graduate to the ne plus ultra, “spontaneous entertaining.”
But that ability to invite people on the fly (and look good doing it), Charlotte Moss acknowledges, requires practice. Which isn’t that hard to come by, she points out. “Name something that you do three times a day that gives you an opportunity to practice and keep getting better at it.”
Moss may exaggerate the number of times a day Americans actually sit down together as a family or as friends to enjoy a meal. But, as she says, setting the lunch or dinner table is the opportunity to improve our surroundings. The goal, as Moss sees it, is to make even a solitary breakfast just a bit special—a generously sized cloth napkin, maybe an unexpected combination of dish patterns, a single flower in a small container.
“Consider it ‘everyday decorating,’ ” Charlotte Moss said in a recent interview. “Every place setting is its own little self-contained table setting.”
Never mind what I said about not acting on Moss’s inspiration! Now, looking at the breakfast table with that in mind makes the amateur mind expand a bit, I think. I can look around the house for odd bits of things—a plate that lost its mates and doesn’t get out much, a tiny basket that could be one of Moss’s favorite things, an individual bread basket. Shift the scene to a nice dinner with friends, and that group of Steuben crystal animals that my dad collected could find a home among crystal candlesticks and votive lights. Maybe there’s no need for flowers.
Well, Moss urges, never stint on the food or the flowers. But despite her easy access to extravagant floral arrangements (and floral designers happy to be part of her events), she’s happy to cut the rest of us a break. I can, she points out, even make the breakfast table seem extra-special by pinching a blossom from the garden (or maybe some greenery in a less accommodating season) and just plopping it in a bud vase—or how about a fluffy peony in a teacup?
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In an interview, Moss calls the carnation “the forgotten flower.” People tend to think they’re “not important enough.” But mass them in generous bunches and they take on a whole new life. In fact, Moss urges us amateurs to rely on one flower rather than attempt an extravagant arrangement of mixed flowers (smart woman).
Viewing page after page of seductive displays of Moss’s monogrammed napkins and patterned cloth placemats and humble blue-and-white printed tablecloths—and the shelves and drawers where she stores same—lifts the spirits at the same time it bares an alternative reality most of us will never experience. (Imagine for a moment, if you will, having dinner napkins custom-embroidered with your guests’ initials—just for one dinner. I can’t really imagine it either.)
On the other hand, I’d kill for an invite to her summer Caftan Caucus, all her girlfriends gathered out in the garden (of course at her fabulous East Hampton home), all wearing flowing, and forgiving, caftans.
Crashing that party is about as realistic as becoming an accomplished everyday decorator like Moss. Nonetheless, “Charlotte Moss Entertains” is delicious eye candy, whether we actually act on it or not.