Steven Stolman on entertaining | Home Front

A photo from Stolman's book, "Confessions of A Serial Entertainer."
Apr 23, 2015

Steven Stolman is a designer and author of three books, including "Confessions of A Serial Entertainer." He is a graduate of New York’s Parsons School of Design, served as president of textiles house Scalamandre and is now a brand strategist for several fashion and interior design companies.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Good morning to Steven Stolman, who I met a few weeks ago at the DC Design House where he was attending press day in his role as Kohler Brand Ambassador, Designer Show Houses. They were sponsors of the show house and  designer Christopher Patrick's glam bath. But Steven has so many topics to talk about, especially his two books that just were published, "40 Years of Fabulous: The Kips Bay Decorator Show House" (Gibbs Smith) and "Confessions of a Serial Entertainer" (Gibbs Smith).  Steven has done many wonderful things including designing dresses for Lilly Pulitzer when it was purchased by new owners in the 1990s and also he curated the 50th Anniversary Lilly Retrospective. He was also president of Scalamandre. He feels that American society is currently in a "home" cycle, where we are thinking about how our homes look , how we live in them and how we entertain. So, let's talk about any and all of this.

Thank you! I'm thrilled to be here with you and your readers. I just made myself a giant iced coffee, so bring it on!

I love the retro recipes in your new book Confessions of a Serial Entertainer. If you were to suggest the best one for a cocktail party for a nervous cook, which would it be?

Without a doubt, it's the "Jane's Cheese"… a very easy, retro 1950s cocktail spread. It takes seconds to put together and there are NEVER any leftovers. People practically lick the bowl clean.

Even when people rsvp yes, they still beg off at the last minute. Invite 15, get 10 who say yes, 3 show up. That's why I've pretty much stopping having people over. Does your book address this?

Let's just say that when people misbehave like that, I tend not to invite them back. I'm a firm believer that water seeks its own level. Get new friends… but don't ever be shy about being hospitable.

Just a reminder that you can now earn 15 PostPoints each time you participate in our Home Front chat. Just record the weekly code that we'll post during the chat and enter it into the PostPoints Web site under Claim My Points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it each Thursday to get credit for participating. Today's code is: HF3989

Do you love design and lifestyle books? Well, there is going to be a chance to win one on this week's Home Front chat. I'm going to try and do this most weeks, as we have a lot of very cool design books here that we would like to share with you and your coffee tables. I'm going to pose a query and the person who I think best responds to it will win the book. So this week's question is: Tell us about your most embarrassing entertaining faux pas and how you got out of it. At the end of the chat, I will pick a winner and you will be asked to send in your mailing address to We will mail the book to you. Let's chat!

I just finished reading "Confessions of a Serial Entertainter" and loved it. I hope you'll continue to write about your adventures. Two questions: how do you throw a cocktail party somewhere like DC, where friends and colleagues can easily live miles away from each other (eg. Bethesda and Alexandria--close to the city but not necessarily to each other) when you also live outside of downtown? Two, I also spend time in S. Florida--what's your favorite greasy spoon in the Palm Beach area? I'm going to assume it's not on Worth Avenue. And thank you for allowing me to bring my Bisquick out of hiding. My guilty secret is out.

Let me answer the Palm Beach greasy spoon question, as that's a favorite topic of mine. 

Green's Pharmacy on North County Road is fantastic. A real drugstore luncheonette. The best breakfasts and outstanding lunches. Things like patty melts and coffee milkshakes. 

I also love Howley's on South Dixie Highway. The best counter… authentic. Their slogan is "Cooked in sight, must be right!"

With all the events that you host , you must have some tricks up your sleeve? Please share?

Don't be afraid to use last minute, store-bought stuff. BUT PUT IT ON YOUR OWN PRETTY PLATES AND DESTROY THE EVIDENCE. Much of successful entertaining is all about smoke and mirrors.

Mr Stolman - I read in a book review of your new book "Confessions of A Serial Entertainer" that you hate hostess gifts. How do we stop this custom? What about a homemade treat? And another question, is it appropriate to add a card to your gift ( if you do bring one) - I have received hostess gifts and have no idea who brought what.

Buy a little single hole punch, some plain white index cards and some ribbon at a craft store. Or some of those tags with strings.

Write something cute and tie it to whatever you feel you need to bring… a bottle of wine, a cellophane bag of homemade cookies, anything. That way, your efforts will not go undetected!


These days it is hard not to do the math - once you buy beautiful fabric and trim, pay the labor for reupholstery , you could order a semi custom pretty decent upholstered chair for the same or even less $. Can you help me decide what to do?

There is nothing, AND I MEAN NOTHING, that can compare with a custom piece of upholstery. Just a little trim or a great nailhead detail can make all the difference. Retail upholstery has its place… don't get me wrong. But it will never have the look of custom. Don't be afraid.

I am not very good at figuring out whether a window needs a shade, curtains or blinds. I know the type of room the window is in can dictate which option you should sometimes go with but am wondering if you can offer some tips about window treatments in general. I like to keep it simple.

Consult a professional. Window treatments are not for amateurs. It's all about PERFECT measurements and knowing what application is suitable for any specific window. There are SO many great professional options… retailers, online folks, even places like COSTCO are offering window treatment services!

What's the best way to invite people to a party? Do you think evite or paperless post is good?

Nothing compares with beautiful printing. And now, the great old style "letterpress" is in vogue. Visit your local stationery store.

I do use evites a lot for business stuff. I am grateful to receive a lot of Paperless Post invites, but I have yet to use that site myself. 

By the way, the prize today for the best comment or question is: Essentially Lily: A guide to colorful entertaining - by Lilly Pulitzer and Jay Mulvaney - it's vintage from 2004 and is really a fun read.

We just bought a house with a kind of 1960s style kitchen -- smooth-front cabinets, gas cooktop, white appliances. It looks like it used to be cute, in a retro kind of way, but then the cabinets were painted a kind of sickly mauve, presumably to match an ill-chosen countertop with some pink in it. The overall room is lovely -- kind of a warm light beige tile, a breakfast nook with a big window with light wood framing, a brick fireplace. Re-doing the whole kitchen is definitely not in the budget right now, so I want to try repainting the cabinets and maybe the walls. Any ideas? It seems like the room cries out for warm colors, what with the sunlight, the tile, and the wood trim in the breakfast nook, but there are a lot of cabinets -- uppers, lowers, and a peninsula, so it seemed like it would be too overpowering if I painted them all red or orange or something. And they don't seem like high enough quality wood to strip them down and re-stain them to wood.

Paint it all white. Add bright chrome knobs on everything that will take a knob or pull. Hang a lot of framed black and white photographs of you, your family and friends. Let the people, the food and the conversation be the decor!

What are your favorite creamy white paints for a bedroom or hallway?

Anything by Benjamin Moore… their "Aura" paint in a matte finish. You can't go wrong with Decorators White.

The time the large puppy escaped from the kitchen and jumped up on the table during a dinner party.

Oh dear.

I would like to put a reading chair in my library. I like to lounge sideways when I read, like on a sofa or loveseat, or even recline. Problem is, there's no way I can get a big piece of furniture up the stairs and in the door. Any ideas for something smaller that is still comfy and loungy?

How about a day bed with tons of pillows? There are also great club chairs on the market these days in smaller scale with legs that unscrew. They actually fit in cardboard boxes and ship by UPS! Or shop the vintage/consignment market for smaller scale pieces… everything in the 1940s was petite.

My LR sofa is eggplant, as is my fireplace wall. My kitchen, which is open to the LR and DR, is a lighter shade, but still fairly dark, purple, with white cabinets and appliances. I have a LR chair that is a gold/eggplant/orange/olive/fuchsia print. The dining room furniture is a dark cherry, but that may change. Currently the LR, DR and hall are a golden yellow color, which turned out darker than I wanted. There isn't much natural light coming in. I'll be installing wood floors and repainting in this area soon. Do you have any suggestions for neutral colors for the walls and wood floors?

Benjamin Moore "wheeling Neutral." It takes on whatever colors it is near. I love it. 

Looking for a sleeper sofa for my one-bedroom condo so I have room for guests to sleep when they visit. Looking at the current space in my living room, the ideal size would be a queen-sized sleeper sofa. Would like something that is comfortable as a sofa, and realtively comfortable to sleep on (wouldn't be used too frequently, but don't want it to be horrible to sleep on). Any suggestions for places to look?

It's all about the mattress. Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Elaine had to sleep on a sleep sofa at Jerry's parents' place in Florida? "Jerry… THE BAR IS IN MY BACK!!!"

Get one with an innerspring mattress if at all possible. Don't go cheap.

Any advice for my very small bedroom with no windows? I'm at a loss for how to dress it up.

Turn it into a closet! Sleep in the living room. A person needs air and light to thrive.

My daughter's bedroom walls are painted a tiffany blue and she has a black and white floral quilt. Her bed is a black four-poster Any suggestions for bringing in another color? I'm stuck on choosing a rug as well. Stripes? Solid?

Tiffany Blue is a really strong, colorful color. It works well with black and white. I wouldn't add any other color as it can get circus-y.

I invited my boss and his wife to a dinner party and ran out of food. Had to order a pizza.

Oh my. That is embarrassing!

How do you balance between traditional environments and more conventional modern taste? Is there somewhere I can see how to combine traditional and modern?

Visit any wonderful old, classic hotel that has undergone a deluxe renovation. You will see how to create the perfect bridge between time and tastes.

What one tip would you offer to make a house look better to prospective buyers?

Know the market. If all of the competition has updated bathrooms, for example, and yours doesn't, you simply won't get your price. NOTHING is better than an updated bathroom… I have learned this firsthand from working with Kohler. 

I bought a sofa with low back cushions (Darryl Carter's Neptune Sofa) that were ruined (flattened) by our dog who lounges on top of them. I'd like to start over with a different look, using several 28" x 28" pillows along the back. I want a more substantial filler than I'm finding online. Are there stores that sell something like that with upholstery-quality filling/fabric? Can you please recommend where I could look (preferably in the DC area?). Thanks for your help -- I'd like to save the sofa!

Amateur upholstery never works. It always has to be done over. Find a nice, traditional upholstery shop near you and ask them for an estimate. You will be surprised how a small investment and an experienced professional will save the piece!

We have floor-to-ceiling built-in cabinets with shelves in our finished basement. The cabinets have bifold doors. Any suggestions on the best way to convert one of them into a computer workspace? We're hoping the workspace/desk could be "stored away" when not in use, behind the folding doors. Thanks.

There are SO many ideas about this online. But do use an experienced contractor. We all spend so much time in our home work spaces these days… they need to be properly built. 

Hi Steven... Meg from Pigtown*Design here. I bought your book right after it came out and read it that very night. It's great! I've bought a few more copies as I am finding that it makes a great gift for many occasions! I don't cook much, but I can see making some of your recipes since they're relatively simple and don't have pages of ingredients or instructions. Hope to see you soon!

You sweet thing! You've been a wonderful friend and supporter.

And you know how much I love Baltimore!!!!!!!

Everyone needs to re-watch "The Accidental Tourist!"

I have a very small dining room and so to entertain more than six people at a time (like my bookclub), I am forced to serve an actual supper that can be eaten with one utensil while standing or perched on various chairs jammed into my small living room. Any tips for dealing with this awkward set up?

Curry! Chicken, shrimp or vegetarian… with brown rice studded with raisins. People LOVE it and it doesn't need a knife.

Can you provide the recipe for Jane's Cheese? Sounds awesome! THanks!

Page 34 of Steven's new book " Confessions of  a Serial Entertainer". It involves bacon, mayo and cheddar cheese. Yum.

I had one from Jennifer Convertibles that was surprisingly comfortable. But if you don't have guests too often, I would just get a regular sofa and an air mattress. Aerobeds are very comfortable and you can even get the raised ones so your guests are not sleeping on the floor. And they take up relatively little space to store. You will likely spend less on a non-sleeper sofa + air mattress than you would on a comparable sleeper sofa, and this gives you more sofa options.

Thanks for sharing this great info.

If you hate hostess gifts, do you ever bring one? And don't you feel weird at the party when everyone else is depositing an item on the front hall table?

I write BEAUTIFUL, heartfelt thank you notes… or even thank you emails. That seems to do the trick because we keep on getting invited back.

Friends were coming for dinner on a weeknight. Husband picked up store-bought potato salad. Guests arrived while I was dicing an onion in an attempt to improve the potato salad and then raved all night about how good it was. (It wasn't.) After the first rave it was too late to 'fess up, so I felt embarrassed and guilty all night.

Ha! Love this story. My mother had a cake her friends always requested when they came over. She never admitted it came from a small local bakery.

I served a beautiful raspberry someone who was allergic to raspberries.

Oh dear. Hope they did not eat it!

This will probably give the designers a stroke, but Ikea's "Beddinge" sofa can be had with an inner spring mattress. The mattress is hinged lengthwise rather than folding up crosswise, so it's quite comfortable to sleep on and also comfortable as a couch. Doesn't weigh eight tons like an ordinary fold-out. I think it folds out to a full, which is a hair smaller than a queen, but it's so much more comfortable I bet your guests won't even notice.

Great to know. Thanks.

I currently live in a studio apartment. What are your top two or three recommendations for setting up a small space for both living and entertaining?

Be fearless and do not try to disguise stuff. We have a studio apartment in New York and believe me, the bed is RIGHT THERE out in the open. But in a small space, you really need to be organized and NEAT. That is the most important thing… clutter is the enemy.

My 2 red upholstered chairs (30 yrs old and Scalamandre fabric that I love) in my living room are now getting daily use. They were rarely used previously. I'm beginning to wonder about how to protect the fabric on the arms of these chairs from wear and fraying. So far, the fabric is holding up great, but is there something I could lay over the arms to help preserve the fabric when I sit there? I live alone and would remove these "covers" when guests come. I forgot to have arm covers made when I originally purchased the chairs. Thanks.

A nice solid cotton/linen or cotton duck in a complementary color that you can wash yourself should do the trick.

Which update should I do first? Bathroom or Kitchen?

BATHROOM BATHROOM BATHROOM!!!! And that is not because I work with Kohler (they make both kitchen AND bath products.)

Nothing makes you feel better than a great, updated bathroom. I know this from experience. We just redid our dated, 1950s bathrooms in our Milwaukee house. I LOVE THEM!!!

My normally well-behaved dog jumped up on the kitchen counter and grabbed the turkey carcass towards the end of a Friendsgiving party (it's like Thanksgiving, but for friends). One of my friends who is really allergic to dogs wrestled the turkey away from my dog, but then broke out in hives on her arms! I felt really, really bad. All I could do was to apologize and praise her for her heroism.

You did the right thing!

I agree completely with Steven that it's not easy to add another color to that combination and not have it look circus-y. However, IF you really want to add another color, then I'd add another shade of blue, like a darker blue, or a very pale sky blue, or I'd add silver (or maybe a light gray if you don't like the shine of silver). You don't want anything to compete too much with the Tiffany Blue or else the room won't look restful.

Very good advice. Thanks so much!

I'm new to this chat. It's great. I have so many projects that I want to do (and need doing)! I think painting and new window treatments are number one and two. I have two light green low profile squarish, leather chairs in the living room and slightly darker green ultrasuede sofa. I'd like to paint some warm grey color throughout my small condo. I'm also need a new area rug. Questions: Which should I do first, the painting or the window treatments? Any thoughts on the paint color and is Farrow and Ball worth the difference in price of Benjamin Moore paints? Do you know of any places to find great area rugs? Thanks!

You have a lot of green going on, but that's a good thing. The best advice for choosing ANY color is "If two colors exist in nature together, they always work!" So pick a neutral that has a natural, organic color base. As far as paint brand, that depends on your budget and your painter… many have VERY strong preferences. Farrow & Ball makes STUNNING paint. But it has always been out of reach for me. I am very fond of Benjamin Moore AURA paint… it covers beautifully.

How about the time I invited a few coworkers, and my boss, over for a casual dinner to show off my new apartment. I was in my early 20s. The apartment was new, but this was before I started buying adult furniture, and I still had it stocked with my college starter stuff. So, anyway, the table is set - including a tablecloth, I was feeling very fancy - food was on the table, and people were just starting to eat, when we heard this strange creaky noise. Before we had time to figure out what was making it, my boss let out a "meep" noise and ended up on the floor when her chair collapsed. She tried to grip the side of the table, but missed, and grabbed the tablecloth instead, and so she took half the dinner with her. I laughed (couldn't help it, it just came out), she was insulted and left to change clothes - she didn't come back - and the rest of us got Chinese. They helped me clean up the mess while we waited for it to come. My first adult furniture purchase was a nice sturdy set of dining chairs.

Yikes! I hope you got to keep your job!! 

I have several collections of dinnerware and can't decide which to toss when we move into a smaller space. I love them all! How to decide?

Dinnerware is like clothing. If you find that you haven't used it in a year, take it to Goodwill.

Do you have any Lilly tablecloths or china? Are they still making home accessories? I think they are fabulous.

I don't. My most treasured Lilly thing is a photograph of Lilly jumping off the wing of a small airplane with her arms full of bolts of fabric to take to the factory… her then-husband Peter must have been the pilot. 

Obviously, we all know about the Lilly tabletop stuff at Target now. But I really love Tory Burch's "Dodie Thayer Lettuce-ware" pieces. They are authentic Palm Beach style!

I'm doing a bathroom reno and I have to choose a paint color. The vanity is a dark walnut, the floor is marble, the wall will be halfway covered with simple white subway tile. What do you think of Farrow and Ball's Light blue #22? I'm really just looking for validation/permission. Do I have your blessing?

Go for it. It sounds clean and fresh. Just use all white towels.

Somehow, my husband always ends up with a linen cocktail napkin in his pocket after a party. Should we mail it back to the host? Or is it too embarrassing.

Launder and send back with a sweet note. That would be charming!

Do you still have a lot of Lilly stuff and do you wear it up north or only in Palm Beach?

I had 2 great Lilly sportcoats. When they got a little, ahem, tight, they went to the Church Mouse thrift shop in Palm Beach.

We only have house guests a few times a year. Our guest bedroom is pretty pitiful. We have an air mattress (and nice bedding and guest towels) but not much else. Given that we rarely have house guests, is it worth investing in more? And if so, what would you invest in?

A real bed. Sooner or later, you will be grateful to have it. In the meantime, it's great for folding laundry and packing suitcases.

Dear Steve: Do you have any tricks or suggestions or advice for hosts who plan for a crowd and only a few show up? In workaholic Washington DC, it often happens that guests cancel at the last minute. It can discourage one from sending out invitations. Thanks!

Are you the Mary Richards of Our Nation's Capital? Remember how Mary always had he WORST parties? Maybe think about why people act this way… try making my "Jane's Cheese"… that should do the trick.

Which was your favorite Kips Bay room and why?

Definitely Bunny Williams' glowing library… a grand "literary salon"… it just reeked style and taste and comfort.

I admire your business and entertaining tips. I was also wondering what tips you could give regarding budgeting your work and leisure time? I have difficulty with having more time for myself since I own my own business.

I am the wrong person to answer that. I do too much, but I cannot help myself. It is what it is.

If you are invited to a cocktail party from 6 to 8, do you really have to leave at 8 if the host is still having a great time and serving drinks?

Again, I am the wrong person to answer that. Knowing when to leave is the smartest thing that anyone can learn. Burt Bachrach wrote a song about it.

Do you have a set of what my grandmother called "good china?" I have my great-grandmother's. I love it for special occasions but I know a lot of people think good china is fussy and unnecessary now.

I do not. But my parents gave me their gorgeous Georg Jensen wedding silver when I got married. I use it all of the time… proudly. And yes, I polish it myself. Often.

We had friends over for drinks. We were having pina coladas, but one person wanted a screwdriver. Luckily, I remembered there was a pitcher of orange juice in back of the fridge. The next day, I drank some for breakfast and realized it was so old it had fermented!

Fizziness is a good thing in cocktails. Don't worry about it, unless people got sick.

A truly fabulous chat. Thanks so much for answering all those questions on entertaining and lots more. I think the winner of the Essentially Lilly book is the person who was chopping onions for the store bought potato salad when her guests arrived. Love that story and we have all been there. Please email me your mailing address and Megan will have the book on the way to you immediately. Thanks everyone for being here today. Next week we will be chatting with Leila Dunbar a personal property appraiser and you can ask her about your pop culture memorabilia or family heirlooms and what they are worth or what you should do with them. Until then...

Joining the chat late -- Steven Stolman, you are fantastic! I hope you come back, I love your advice. Also, thank you for taking a stand against the hostess gift. I don't understand why people cannot show up without bringing food that I then have to deal with, or little gifts that are just added clutter. I don't mean to be ungrateful, but it is true that your good company is more than sufficient!


In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
Steven Stolman
Steven Stolman is a designer and author of three books, including "Confessions of A Serial Entertainer." He is a graduate of New York’s Parsons School of Design, served as president of textiles house Scalamandre and is now a brand strategist for several fashion and interior design companies.
Recent Chats
  • Next: