Holiday party season is nearly here! I love to entertain, but I'm hardly a hostess extraordinaire. (Sending an understanding guest to the corner store to haul back a bag of ice because you forgot to refill the trays is deeply uncool.) So when celebrated New York designer Bunny Williams — by all accounts an entertaining whiz — launched a collection of party essentials for Ballard Designs, I asked her how she makes it look so easy and what she's working on next.
Kimberley Brown: What's the key to hosting a successful party?
Bunny Williams: I always try to plan for everything ahead of time so that I am able to enjoy the party along with my guests.
KB: What's your favourite way to entertain?
BW: I love to have a seated dinner, but serve the food on a long buffet so that guests can feel free to help themselves. We'll use a large dinner plate and offer our guests three or four choices of dishes. Then the table is cleared and a dessert is served on small plates. Afterwards, we'll move to the living room for coffee and tea.
KB: Your new collection for Ballard Designs includes dishes, linens and holiday decorations. What ties them all together?
BW: I always say, the more prepared you are, the easier it will be to entertain. This collection comprises all you need to ready your home for guests, from tabletop items and cachepots for flowers, to a wonderfully smelling scented candle and beautiful bone or rattan holders for guest towels.
KB: Any plans to add to the collection in the future?
BW: We are already hard at work on the next collection which will debut in Spring/Summer 2015 and will include outdoor entertaining and tabletop items along with wall decor.
Pick up our December 2014 issue for more on Bunny's new line.
Bitter, sweet and potent, the Negroni is an acquired taste. Judging by the drink's skyrocketing popularity, a lot more people are acquiring it. It's a simple enough recipe to remember: equal parts gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth, stirred with ice, strained over ice and garnished with an orange twist. But to mix a perfect Negroni, one that's ice cold, perfectly balanced and silky smooth, requires the right tools, the right booze and a bit of skill. Here's how.
When it's Negroni time, leave the top-shelf gin in the liquor cabinet. The Gilbert Gottfried-like screech of Campari drowns out the subtler qualities of premium spirits. Go with a classic London dry gin such as Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. I prefer the latter: its sharp citrus flavours can handle the aggressive bitterness of Mr. Gottfried.
Sweet, complex and as bitter as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Campari is an Italian liqueur infused with herbs and fruits made according to Gaspare Campari's recipe from 1860. In Canada, Campari is 26 percent alcohol, and its colour is essential to a Negroni's neon red hue that flashes, "Drink me!" Some people prefer the similar, yet lighter Aperol — it's only 11 percent alcohol — but those people would not be drinking a Negroni.
Vermouth is a fortified wine that's been flavoured with an array of botanicals including roots, barks, flowers, herbs and spices. It can be sipped on its own as an aperitif, but it's more often than not used as a modifier in a huge range of cocktails.
A Negroni calls for sweet red vermouth. Fratelli Branca Carpano Antica Formula is the Dom Pérignon of said vermouth. And while Antica makes a magnificent Manhattan, its root beer-esque richness throws the balance off in a Negroni. I prefer the more affordable Martini Rosso; its slight vegetal character really ties the drink together.
A Negroni is a stirred drink. Stirring, rather than shaking, preserves clarity, and yields a cocktail silkier than a Hermès scarf. While you can do it in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, it's worth investing in a handsome mixing glass if you make a lot of Negronis. A long bar spoon comes in handy though you could MacGyver it with the handle of a large metal spoon. (Avoid wood, as you don't want your drink to taste like last week's curry.) Gently stirring the drink over ice chills the liquid while diluting the alcohol to a more palatable level. It takes around 30 to 45 seconds, but taste it to be sure.
It may seem pretentious to insist on a single two-square-inch ice cube to chill your Negroni, but this is a master class, not nursery school. You want a perfect Negroni? Buy an extra-large ice cube tray. The bigger block keeps the drink cold with minimal dilution.
Fort the garnish, remove a 3/4" by 2" strip of orange zest with a Y-peeler, being careful to minimize the bitter, white pith. Squeeze it over the drink to release the oils then drop it in. Finally, it's Negroni time.
If you want to explore variations on the Negroni — they are seemingly endless — I direct you to The Straight Up, Nick Caruana's excellent blog that focuses on classic cocktails.
1 oz. Beefeater London dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini Rosso sweet vermouth
1 large ice cube
1 orange twist
Step 1: Chill a double rocks or old-fashioned glass.
Step 2: Pour gin, Campari and vermouth into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add enough ice to come above the liquid. Stir until the mixing glass or shaker feels ice cold, 30 to 45 seconds.
Step 3: Place large cube in chilled glass. Strain drink into glass. Pinch orange twist to release oils and drop in glass.
1-2. Eric Vellend
In 2014, Denmark is celebrating the birth centennial of two great master designers: Hans J. Wegner, whose chair designs are exhibited at the Designmuseum Denmark in Copenhagen, and Børge Mogensen, whose designs have been presented at a major exhibition at Trapholt museum of modern art and design since January.
Danish design is undoubtedly popular in Canada, and it was praised again recently, when a Danish business delegation travelled to Toronto on the occasion of a visit by the Danish Crown Prince Couple. Distinctively chic and amiable, their Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark headed a delegation of 80 Danish companies and organizations exploring a potential for growth in cooperation with Canadian businesses. They represented various industries like green building and construction, food, and style.
Perfect timing for us to reconnect with Isabelle Paille, the founder of Fleurs & Confettis, a Quebec-based wedding styling company. Isabelle is passionate about Scandinavian design and knows Denmark particularly well. Let's join her on a tour to this little kingdom that is not only a leading design nation, but also considered one of the happiest people in the world.
Corinne Cécilia: When in Denmark, where do you like to stay?
Isabelle Paille: I really love the Ibsens and Front hotels, near the harbour. For my upcoming trip, I made a reservation at the Wakeup Copenhagen, a little gem that opened its doors in May.
CC: Where do you like to dine?
IP: I dream about the Noma! But meanwhile, I book a table at the Relæ, the Madsvinet or at the Meyers Deli for healthy takeout. Throughout Scandinavia, you can eat sandwiches called Smørrebrød, filled with fish and caviar, and served with a divine sauce!
CC: Where do you like to shop?
IP: Normann Copenhagen is definitely a must-see. They have furniture and design items for all tastes and prices, displayed in a department store setting. Stilleben carries small items that are both unique and 100% Danish design. Dansk Møbel Kunst has authentic Danish furniture. Illums Bolighus is my favourite store. Cmyk Kld Gallery & Butik features local art that isn't too expensive.
CC: Where do you go to relax?
IP: To the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, always. But I really enjoy strolling in the streets. Stroget is one of the longest and busiest stretches in the city. It's teeming with pleasant surprises in the realm of fashion and jewelry. You can rent a bike in Copenhagen and take a ride, pretending you live there! I also go to the Royal Library, another haven of peace; and then I have a bite at the Søren K.
CC: What are some of your favourite places?
IP: My first stop is the Designmuseum. The House of Finn Juhl is also a wonderful place: the architect's home still has some original furniture. I also love the Arken Museum of Modern Art and the Louisiana Museum. Museums are like a retreat for me; they provide me with both inspiration and a sense of calm — a rare combination!
CC: Your best sources for interior decorating and design?
IP: In fact, I keep discovering new places each time I visit. And since I am a fan of antique stores and bazaars, here are two places out of my golden address book: the Gammel Strand Flea Market, in the summer, is particularly great for household items and porcelain; and Loppemarked Israels Plads, further out of the city and more modest, is the oldest flea market. There you can find design items and furniture.
Corinne's travel tip: To mix business with pleasure, visit Denmark when international design professionals and the general public mingle to explore new style trends: the Copenhagen Fashion Week takes place twice a year, in February and August. Closer to home, don't miss the 16th Biennale in Montreal (November 17-22, 2014), a cultural event featuring Nordic artists, including a dance show by Danish choreographer Palle Granhøj.
Read more travel blog posts here.
1. Trapholt, Photo Syddansk Turisme, through Visit Denmark
2a. Photography by Birgitta Wolfgang for By Nord
2b. The Crown Prince Couple in Toronto, photography by Robert McGee
2c. Selected Femme
3a. Randers + Radius
3c. Savannah Wild
4. Photography by Kim Wyon, through Visit Denmark
5. Noma, photography by Ditte Isager, through Visit Denmark
6a. Normann, photography by Ditte Isager, through Visit Denmark
7. The Black Diamond, Royal Library, photography by Jørgen, through Visit Denmark
8a. Design Museum Denmark, photography by Kim Wyon, through Visit Denmark
8b. Design Museum Denmark, photography by Kim Wyon, through Visit Denmark
8c. Design Museum Denmark, photography by Kim Wyon, through Visit Denmark
9. Flea market at Gammel Strand, photography by Cees van Roeden, through Visit Denmark
10a. Savannah Wild
10c. Carré Jewellery
My first brush with the architectural style known as Brutalism occurred at this building. I spent many many hours at John P. Robarts library at the University of Toronto, poring over original journals for my thesis "British Travellers in France During the Revolutionary Era". The building was commonly referred to as Fort Book, but comparisons were also made to a peacock or Viking ship. The latter seemed apt to me as I often felt like a prisoner trapped in the hull. Good times.
You'd be forgiven if you assumed the term 'Brutalism' was a derivative of the word brutal. After all, take another look at that building. It's a brute. In fact, Brutalism originates from the French béton brut, or "raw concrete", a term that describes the material used to clad these buildings. Brutalism was reviled by many. Haters gonna hate, including Prince Charles.
But you know how sometimes the coolest thing to do is embrace the thing most people think is ugly? Well, that and a good dose of nostalgia, are behind a new appreciation of Brutalism.
In the decorative arts, the style is realized in rough hammered bronze, oxidized brass with jagged edges and bulky wooden case goods decorated in geometric designs. A recent trip to New York to tour the 1st Dibs gallery at the New York Design Center confirmed that Brutalism is definitely happening. Here are some finds.
This 1970s wall sculpture by Silas Seandel called "Sunspots" was tagged at $20,000.
I didn't catch the price on this mirror, but I predict you will be seeing modern reproductions of this type of item more and more in the coming year or so.
Brutalist lighting takes statement lighting to another level. I love this 1966 chandelier by Tom Greene, $5,200. Do you love it or hate it?
Here's another Tom Greene design, $3,800. This one reminds me of a wasp nest.
The 1st Dibs bricks and mortar location doesn't lend itself to displays of larger furniture pieces, so I clicked over to the site and found this interesting piece. It's a cerused oak credenza made by The Lane Furniture Company in the 1960s. This block front design is a reference to the Cityscape line by Paul Evans. I must say it also makes me think, hmmm, I wonder if you could DIY a plain credenza by adding blocks of wood and then staining it all black?
And for reference sake, here is a pair of wall-mounted cabinets by Paul Evans featuring the geometric Cityscape design. I'm pretty much in love with these. Just need $13,500.
What do you think of Brutalism? Love? Hate?
Looking to add some warmth and personality to your home for the winter? Wallpapering a room — or even one wall — does both and is an easy way to introduce pattern. These 2014 prints from Farrow & Ball are small enough for tiny powder rooms, but would make an impact on a large bedroom wall, too. Here are my picks:
Browse our Wallpapered Rooms gallery for more inspiration.
1-4. Farrow & Ball
Since I was a child, my family and I have spent part of the summer in the south of France. This summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in the Luberon in Menerbes, a beautiful hilltop town dating back to 4 BC. It wasn't my first time there, but because we settled in for as long as we did, I fell into the rhythm of the village and came home with some of the sweetest memories. Here's a glimpse of our time spent there.
The house we stayed in is called a mas – a country house typified by plaster walls that keep the house cool on very hot days, a terra cotta tiled roof, a series of rooms built on to each other over time and painted wood shutters that are used every day to keep the hot air out. It was charming and rustic. The house was perched on the high hills of Menerbes, overlooking the wine valleys below.
There was a long lavender hedge off the kitchen patio. Each morning I would take in its sweet, fragrant smell.
As we would walk into town for fresh croissants, this was our view to Mont Ventoux and the town of Gordes.
We took this pebbled road into town, past clouds that looked like prehistoric birds.
And past the painted doors in inspiring hues.
And above the tiled rooftops that looked like paintings.
And then we'd arrive at the upper entrance to the town.
Along the way we would pass these pretty courtyards and secret gardens between the stone walls and wooden gates.
Some buildings with manicured boxwood, turrets and stone railings were especially impressive.
Sometimes we were greeted with a friendly face from above.
Or a sleepy one from below.
Here is a sampling of the freshly baked breads that would greet us in the morning.
My favourite store in town, La Vie Est Belle, was in the bottom of an ancient building that felt like a cave. I loved the antique kilim by the front door but sadly, it was not for sale.
To cool off, people flocked to the river in nearby L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to dip their toes in the bright green waters or paddle around in a kayak.
I loved antiquing at the famous brocante there. I picked up 12 of these brass knobs for a song hoping to retrofit them for my new walk-in closet.
Which worked out perfectly!
Lunches were always languid and relaxed — fresh, simple produce set out in a colourful display.
Or carefully staged culinary masterpieces. Seriously, why can't we have lunches like this everyday?
And of course there were always fresh flowers and incredible local wines.
We attended a poetry reading one afternoon at the house of Picasso's ex-wife Dora Maar, which is now an art school. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous with a playful mix of modern sculptures and traditional outdoor furniture.
Nearby Gordes was such a beautiful town, for this exact view. The homes were all built into cliffs like this one.
My favourite part of each day was dining outdoors in the warm air at dusk, like the evening we spent in this relais situated in the vineyards below Menerbes.
Or in the gardens of the Maison de la Truffe at the top of the village.
Or at one of the lovely restaurants lining the streets in town where waiters crisscrossed the streets.
We finished each day by walking through the town's twinkling glow.
Guided by the clear moonlight to our home away from home in the hills.
For more inspiration, read Hilary Smyth's blog post about Antiquing In France.