Charlotte Moss on Entertaining - Home Front

Charlotte Moss
May 24, 2018

Charlotte Moss is a New York interior designer and author known for her romantic rooms, beautiful flowers and inventive table settings. She has decorated many homes and designs collections of furniture, fabrics, china and carpets. Her latest book "Charlotte Moss Entertains" for Rizzoli celebrates the art of the table and makes a case for setting the table every night in a special way, since it's really a part of every day decorating and making a home special.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Charlotte Moss is a New York interior designer and author who loves to entertain. Read my story about the beautiful tablescape she created for an exhibition at Hillwood. Charlotte is known for her romantic rooms, beautiful flowers and inventive table settings. She has decorated many homes and designs collections of furniture, fabrics, china and carpets. Her latest book "Charlotte Moss Entertains" for Rizzoli celebrates the art of the table and makes a case for setting the table every night in a special way, since it's really a part of every day decorating and making a home special. Lots we can chat about with Charlotte so send in your questions now.

Good Morning! Looking forward to seeing what's on everybody's mind. 

Is it ever appropriate to incorporate silk floral arrangements in a centerpiece?

Of course, the object is to create beauty however you see it... I'm not a snob. Bunny Mellon mixed silk and real flowers for a gala at the National Gallery, so if that doesn't give you permission - nothing will. 

Do you have any suggestions when it comes to place cards and seating arrangements?

A good party comes from a good mix giving guests an opportunity to meet new people - shaking it up with a ballet dancer next to a lawyer, but most importantly to consider your guests and how they might have a good time and place them thoughtfully. 

What advice would you give someone who is looking to spruce up their dining room table and make it more special for everyday meals at home?

Create a still life in the middle of your table with a few of your favorite objects. A blooming plant like a geranium in a basket is so simple, but long lasting! A lidded terrine that is a single object and a pair of candlesticks add a touch of romance.  

I love seeing my silver pieces and leaving them out ot on displayin a case, but they tarnish quickly. Is polishing bad for my silver? How do I store and polish special things so they stay looking great?

Alternating is always a good idea, keep some in silver bags (that you can purchase online) and by using your silver more frequently you eliminate the need for polish just the occasional touch-up with a silver cloth.  

There are always trends , in fashion, design, architecture even pets. What aspect of our culture do you think drives the ship when most events or simple dinner parties are planned Or is it all just so personal?

I think its a mashup. There will always be trends that some will follow and others will adapt and make it personal. There is no denying the influence of whats "in the air." Being curious and aware will always inform what you do and the decisions you make. 

Will you come to Chicago for a talk and book signing, Maybe at Century?

Of course! Waiting for your invitation. 

How do you handle cutlery for a buffet dinner? I have a small dining room and often have to resort to buffets. I have oversize plates but I'm always worried about what to serve and how people will juggle the knives and forks and napkins.

I love the buffet format for dinners. It is a commitment to a certain type of menu, what I call... "a fork dinner." That is one requiring minimal use of a knife. 

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How do you know how to seat people not knowing there personalities so there is easy flowing conversation at the table..

Does this mean your inviting strangers? Today we have the advantage of Google and we can find out what people do, what they're involved with and can gather enough information to make intelligent guesses. Sometimes strange bedfellows can be the biggest success story of the evening. 

My boyfriend doesn't like my bedroom in pink,what should I do?

Tell him to get over himself and remind him that the majority of the time he is in it... it's dark. And also, it's your room.  

I'm having people over for a dinner, but I don't have a table large enough to accommodate everyone. Do you have any ideas on how to create a cohesive party scene when guests are sitting separately?

Let's go back to your table for a moment. Why not have a new tabletop made out of plywood and cover it with felt, which can be put on top of your existing table and covered with a tablecloth. No one will be the wiser and it can be put away for easy storage. 

How do you deal with mosquito control at your outdoor parties?

Fortunately, we don't have that big of an issue. Candles and torches seem to ward away bugs, but in the end, if you have that big of an issue, better retreat indoors. 

What do you think about using books merely for their looks - as accessories? Read my article on how creative types are using books as headboard, arches and tablescapes.

We have pets but also host parties from time to time. What are your views on managing our animals during parties? They are generally well-behaved, so I'd prefer to let them roam, but don't want to make anyone uncomfortable.

Considering your guests comes first, your party is not about your dogs. Some people may have allergies, fears or the dogs might look at them wantingly for what's on their plate, this is an interruption that you do not need. Don't tempt fate. 

If you could list 5 elements needed to set the tone for a memorable dinner party or evening, what would they be?

A great guest list, a well-composed menu, the best wine you can afford, a beautiful table and a relaxed hostess. 

Charlotte, I met you at your book signing in LA a couple of weeks ago and am loving Charlotte Moss Entertains! Now that the nice weather is finally here on the east coast, we plan to spend a lot of time entertaining outdoors. What are your favorite ways to light a table at suppertime? Candles in hurricanes are my go-to. Do you ever use the battery-powered votives? Strings of lights? Thanks for any tips!

I love candlelight and have a variety of lanterns and globes for my table depending, on how I am decorating it.  I also like big lanterns in the corners of the terrace and hanging lanterns from trees to illuminate the leaves and the flickering of light is very atmospheric. String lights can be very effective but also can interrupt the visual, it really depends on the style of the evening. Personally, I cannot have enough candlelight. 

We often host gatherings where everyone brings their own dish, which of course means we cede some control over the menu and presentation. How do you recommend we plan for the unexpected dish or serving situation when getting a space ready?

Losing control is the first problem. I think in this instance being open-minded and having a sense of humor will get you through a sticky situation. How to be prepared? Have extra dishes available that you can switch out, a good quality of serving utensils and after that.. go with the flow. 

What's the current thought on curtains. We live in a small / dark colonial in Maryland, with small windows. We have very nice white wooden blinds in our living room and dining room. Would curtains (with the rods up high, close to the ceiling) help to make the rooms feel more finished? Is it taboo to have both blinds and curtains. Truth be told, I don't want to get rid of the blinds!

I am a big fan of shades and curtains. When curtains are closed it eliminates all the light, but a shade can be adjusted to allow light and privacy at the same time. Don't ditch the shades. 

Can you ask each of them beforehand what they plan to bring? While a few may change their minds, at least you can be prepared for the rest.

Good idea.

How do you feel about tablecloths vs placemats for a dinner party? Do you like any of the Chilewich mats that you can wipe clean?

Chilewich mats are great for wiping clean and they come in a number of colors. However, I prefer to use what I have, which are mostly linen. I think in a certain way, linens that are crisp suggest a special occasion has been created for guests.  I love color and like to mix and match. The most important thing is to do what you're comfortable with. 

I'd say that it depends on a number of factors: 1) How many guests, and do you know them well enough to know whether they enjoy being around dogs and/or cats? 2) How do you animals feel about being around strangers? Can you ask them? 3) On the plus side, if ALL signs are favorable, resident dogs and cats can actually be an excellent ice-breaker for guests.

You make some excellent points. When I had a cat, some friends would make it clear that they had to take a Benadryl before they came and would appreciate it if I locked Gus in the basement. Other friends love cats. So it's a case by case basis. 

I love your book and all of your interiors. Doesn’t the tablesetting need to match the room where you are dining? I think of it as the final touches on a great dining room, but it’s limiting in terms of color and pattern. The bright patterns of China and linens look like a mismatch.

In composing a table setting, I see the table as a palate and have never been a fan of matching. I have always preferred a good mix. In the end, it's all about your personality and what works. I would never want to be prevented from having an Indian menu and table setting accordingly because my dining room is minimal, I think the focus is always around the table and making it festive.  

When dreaming up a tablescape for a party or special event that you're hosting, can you take us through your process? Where do you start and what are your finishing details?

Every dinner is different. In my book, there is a dinner party that I gave for Nina Campbell the English designer, it happened to be on Halloween and I let that guide my evening with the palette and the dessert. I might be inspired by a trip that I have just taken, something new that I have purchased, the personality of my guest of honor or the flowers that are available in that season. Always remember, the party is YOURS  and every detail speaks about you, so you must be happy with it! 

...to Jura and your guests for these chats. Jura, you've answered several of my questions in the past, and it's greatly appreciated!! Thank you!

Thanks to you! I appreciate your support and your participation!

Is it okay to start loading your dishwasher between courses? We have a small kitchen and I need the space on the counters. But I think it is kind of rude in a way.

Loading the dishwasher means you're not at the table with your guests. Clean up should be done after all the guests are gone. You might think about a folding table where things can be placed, but NO machines should run during dinner. 

I'd add making sure that none of the guests exceeds their alcohol limit (because that can lead to unfortunate behavior), and that BOTH hosts should try to be relaxed.

I have her new book and it's beautiful. My question is, you see place settings with a smaller plate sitting on top of the dinner plate. Does that plate need to be removed before the meal is served in the dinner plate? Or Is that done for the photos?

The smaller plate is a salad plate, at some dinners, the salad is brought to the table and people serve themselves. At a plated dinner, this plate would be removed and brought back as the first course, if your salad is the first course. And every once in awhile, I photographed the table settings as a complete unit to illustrate a complete look. 

I have a pewter tray that I inherited from my New Mexican grandparents that they bought on a trip to visit my Canadian grandfather (it has a map of Canada on it in relief). I use it as a centerpiece and put seasonal items on it. Spring is a collection of ceramic rabbits and ducks and Easter eggs. Summer is a little sandcastle and shells we've collected from the beach. Fall is acorns and colorful leaves. Winter is pine cones and little glass Christmas ornaments.LEGO figures creep in there, too, courtesy of my 9-year old son. We light candles for dinner almost every night; my son loves to light them and blow them out (because fire!). It's such fun to find little items to add to my tray.

Thanks for sharing this charming idea!

And you think the lights are too bright in the dining room - can you secretly turn the dimmer down when nobody is looking? Or can you ask your hosts if the lights can be dimmer? I hate dining in lights that are harsh and bright. Ruins the mood.

You can do whatever you want at your own party, let your friends have their own. There can be no end to the things that other people disapprove of.  

It's always great to have Charlotte on the chat - as she has great taste and advice. Next week we'll be talking about decorating with dogs - Susanna Salk will chat about her new book "At Home with Dogs and Their Designers" and offer tips for those of you that have pets. Happy Memorial Day weekend to everyone.

Should you help your hosts clear the table? How many people should get up if it's a dinner party of 6 or 8? You feel rude if others are doing it and you are just sitting there.

If your dinner guests are really good friends they are probably clued into your modus operandi. However, when you invite friends to your home you did not invite them to work. 

Thank you all for chiming in today. All the questions suggested that entertaining is important to you and getting it right...I'm all for that. I look forward to a summer of entertaining friends and I'm sure you do too! 

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 or follow her on Instagram @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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Charlotte Moss
Leaving Wall Street behind, Charlotte Moss emerged as a “Decorator to Watch” on the pages of House & Garden in 1986. Charlotte’s dynamic interior design business has attained international recognition as a model of Southern style, wit, hospitality and, of course, luxury. Her latest book for Rizzoli "Charlotte Moss Entertains" celebrates the art of the table setting for parties and every day.
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