Friday, August 20

Dan's Papers Story on outdoor entertaining and weather...

August 20, 2010
by Tamara Matthews-Stephenson
Don't you just love August? It's the month when we attempt to cram all of our outdoor activities into a few short weeks. Summer moves along at a normal pace but once August hits, we begin to feel the nagging reminder that shortly we will be back to the hustle and bustle of autumn when the daylight starts to dim just after dinner. So let's revel in the celebratory month with barbecues, beach picnics, outdoor dinners and backyard fun. There is no other time of the year where we appreciate our outdoor spaces more than these last days of summer. Many pergolas, patios, decks, gardens and trellises have been constructed over history to help us embark upon that wonderful experience of dining alfresco under the twinkling stars. The food just seems to taste different as you sip your wine under the glow of lanterns. But be warned that outdoor dining can be a little unpredictable, so one must remain flexible when planning an outdoor event. Thankfully there are many sources available for cushions, waterproof furniture and basically any material that helps you create an indoor feeling outdoors. I like to take my interior design style from inside my home to the outdoors for these special occasions by setting a unique table utilizing accessories, mixing various porcelain and pottery and adding colored and textured linens. When planning a dinner in my backyard, I almost always choose a small nook to position my dinner table, either under the shady branches of trees or a pergola. This cocoon of sorts creates a natural welcome and gives you a chance to hang lights or lanterns to create special lighting to surround your guests. Once my table is set, I create a self-serve bar for my guests so they feel comfortable to refill their drinks at their leisure. I take an interesting table from inside the house and set it up with wine, a signature drink in a large jar with ladle, an ice bucket and glasses. At a recent family party, we brought a bamboo bar cart on casters from inside to provide pitchers of lemonade and iced tea. The bar area creates a space similar to a kitchen island, it acts as a focal point for your guests, a place to cozy up and chat. I use vintage tablecloths with unusual throws as runners, but if I need something special for more than one or two tables, I head over to Bermuda Party Rental in East Hampton because they have a great array of choices for larger gatherings. An outdoor party is a time to inject a little bit of creativity and whimsy, so don't be afraid to try a daring look. For our last year's Fourth of July Party we turned a surfboard horizontally and served Mojitos and steamed clams in beach pails on top. Of course interesting and eclectic music is important, but not too loud to allow for conversation. Now that you have all the details in place, keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates, the bugs stay away, and the neighbors don't suddenly decide to blast their music. Entertaining outdoors can be a little unpredictable, it's wise to have an alternate plan in mind. You may have to take the party indoors if a sudden storm blows. As we have all experienced, weather can change on a dime out here on Long Island. I usually take a couple of minutes to think about where I will seat everyone and how we will work out the logistics in case of bad weather. Obviously tenting an area outside will give you more confidence, but for smaller gatherings one must improvise. Staying relaxed through potential disasters may help create a memorable event - nothing puts guests more at ease than a relaxed host. A recent example of how weather can change your plans is a dinner party I planned a few weeks ago. I hosted an outdoor sit down dinner for 20 guests. The tables were set with pretty Tiffany and tan-colored cloths, the sangria was made, the pool sparkling and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. I had just sat down with a few guests to sample the antipasto plate, when we heard the distant roar of thunder. We stammered for a minute and within seconds the sky overhead turned black, lightning crashed nearby and we ran for cover. As we all safely made our way inside with plates, flowers and food platters, we began to hear the ripping of trees outside. The house was swaying, lightning hit, we lost electricity and two trees came crashing down in our front yard. Later we learned a tornado had ripped through our section of the Springs in East Hampton leaving much of the neighborhood in disarray. However, at this point we were simply trying to recover. The electricity was out, but since it was still daylight we set the dining table inside. Thankfully the food was all prepared and ready to be served, so we enjoyed our dinner. I knew that once the party ended I would have some issues to contend with, but while the party continued we moved along with our plans. By the end of the evening, with the candles sparkling, we felt as if we were campers telling ghost stories. My guests laughed that we all took the chaos in stride and it was a fun and memorable night. The next day as we headed down Three Mile Harbor Road, we were in shock at all that had occurred during our dinner. My hope for you as you plan your next outdoor event is that you do not have a tornado to contend with, however, if weather changes your plans attempt to take it in stride. After all, it is a party and we only have a few short weeks left. Tamara is an interior designer, freelance writer and author of Nest by Tamara blog at


Anonymous said...

what a funny story of what could have been a disaster. We do know that storms can happen quickly out here. I enjoyed reading.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to September's look at kids in the home. With four kids in my house, we should love the ideas. I love your blog and your daughter is so talented as a photographer.

Norbridge Antiques said...

Tamara, You are a great hostess, and an example to the rest of us. When you were entertaining, you put the comfort of your guests ahead of the anxiety you must have felt about the sudden extreme weather.
Thank you for this great read.
Kind regards,

Anonymous said...

I love your blog with the many wonderful articles and photographs. Looking forward to each months children and family updates. Chrissy

Anonymous said...

Tamara, I just got a minute to read this month's nest. AWeSome!!I was wondering if I could hire Gabby to make me dinner ???Love, Wendy

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