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Expert Advice: Summer Entertaining with Mrs. Robertson

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Expert Advice: Summer Entertaining with Mrs. Robertson

Sarah Lonsdale August 01, 2014

You might not know the name, but you will no doubt have seen her work. Brooklyn-based British stylist, Hilary Robertson, aka Mrs. Robertson, has left her imprint on the covers of countless American and British shelter magazines, and in visual campaigns and displays for Ochre, Canvas, Williams-Sonoma, and Garnet Hill, to name but a few of her clients. And on top of that, Hilary recently came out with The Stuff of Life, a book that we consider Required Reading. In need of some inspired summer entertaining ideas, who else to turn to but Hilary? 

Photographs courtesy of Hilary Robertson, unless noted.

Above: An outdoor dining setting.

RM: For summer tables, what look do you like best?
HR: Natural colors, textures, and materials seem to work best with food, so I usually opt for a neutral palette.

Above: Summer fruits displayed on a pedestal.

RM: Summer tableware of choice?
HR: I use ceramic plates and proper glasses in the garden, but when I’m trekking further afield, I like Wasara Paper Goods made from tree-free renewable materials and Tallrik Papper graph-patterned plates from Granit in Sweden. Ball jars make great lanterns teamed with a nightlight or candle, and they also work beautifully as glasses. Pierce the metal of the jar, add a straw, and you have a spill-proof container. I also like the classic shape of the Duralex glass and look-alikes from Terrain that are made of bamboo [see below]. 

Above: Bamboo Picnic Tumblers from Terrain are reusable, dishwasher-safe, and biodegradable (they’re made of bamboo fiber).

RM: Napkins of choice?
HR: I prefer using cloth napkins and I collect vintage ones that are monogrammed or simply embroidered. I can’t resist the wonderful quality of linen that’s been laundered for years. Sometimes I use old denim torn roughly into squares as napkins. My friend Kathleen Hackett thought of this and it looks great.

Above: Torn denim used as napkins.

RM: Preferred flatware?
HR: I have a weakness for bamboo-handled cutlery and mismatched vintage flatware bought at flea markets. It’s good to use something recycled whenever possible.  

Above: A Turkish Bath Towel that Hilary uses as a tablecloth and picnic blanket. 

RM: What do you like to use for table linens? 
HR: I use multitasking, lightweight cotton Turkish towels as tablecloths and as picnic blankets. For eating al fresco, I pile several rolled-up towels in a market basket and use them to wrap cutlery, plates, and glasses. Then I layer the towels in a patchwork pattern on the ground or sling them over a table.

RM: Anything else?
HR: Another natural material that feels summery and makes a fun table runner is raffia; I buy it at Jamali, in New York City’s flower district. Lazy Point, in Amagansett, New York, stocks table mats, runners, and rugs made of woven cotton and raffia.

Above: Mrs. Robertson’s display genius lies in the tension between objects and the energy created by her groupings.

RM: Entertaining staple?
HR: I have lots of painter’s hardware store drop cloths that I use as blankets, tablecloths, and sometimes as a sun shade suspended from a tree or some bamboo poles. They come in natural canvas, and I have experimented with dyeing them indigo. I’m also fond of drop cloths that are covered in paint spatters and have often begged my set builders to give me their used ones.

RM: Lighting suggestions?
HR: For evening parties, I like to create a glow by filling paper bags with sand and a night light, or I hang white paper lanterns with outdoor string lights from Terrain.

Above: For after-dinner lounging: The Solig Mosquito Net with sheepskin rugs and a few pillows.

RM: Any other outdoor ideas?
HR: When I want to create a romantic scene, I make an outdoor room: I hang a mosquito net from a branch over a pile of sheepskin rugs or a table–a pair of saw horses and an old door make a great garden table.

We’re huge fans of the drop cloth: See Drop Cloths as Decor, our Black Drop Cloth find, and my DIY Hibiscus Dye Drop Cloth. Expecting company? Have a look at our Entertaining posts, including Tiina’s Finnish Midsummer Table and Louesa Robuck’s Wild (and Edible) Bouquets. And Gardenista has great summery drinks and no-cook recipes.

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