About four years ago, I was on a design trip to northern Italy sponsored by the Rubelli Group with a small group of my fellow Design Leadership Network members. We met up in Milan and journeyed through the fabric mills and tanneries in Veneto. We spent time in Lake Como and then went on to three magical days at the Gritti Palace in Venice.
I didn’t know many of the other designers and architects in the group before the trip, but we all became close over the course of the week. Danielle Rollins and I became fast friends on that trip. Since then, Danielle and I have spent time together in all sorts of fun places, both at Design Leadership events and with other friends. We share a passion for being hostesses, designers, and relentless shoppers. I am thrilled to introduce her new book, A Home for All Seasons: Gracious Living and Stylish Entertaining.
This is not your first book. What do you love about the process of working on a book?
There is a magic in being able to capture the special places that are meaningful to you through a bird’s-eye view. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. To thumb through blown-up images that focus on all the pretty little moments is a wonderful experience. When I start a new book project, I already have an idea in mind of what my storytelling through pictures will look like. The ideas are laid out in my mind, and so as the spaces are photographed, there’s an organization of the components that I’ve already established.
My new book tells the story of my house in Atlanta. When I made the purchase, it was dilapidated and run down. The house had been neglected, and it was cathartic to strip it down, rebuild, and express my own personality of design. That’s what the design of a home is—not solely a place to live. A home is our refuge, a place to be alone, a place to be with other people to share both good times and bad times. That was the journey that I wanted everyone who reads this book to experience.
What do people love about a book from a content perspective versus digital assets and platforms that have become so popular? How is the book experience different?
Books are lasting. They’re a monument to an idea or subject at a certain time. The physical nature of books allows you to escape and dream. There’s a beginning and an end, and between those two covers there’s an opportunity to dive into the subject matter and let your mind wander and escape. I’m always a little suspicious of people who don’t have books. It’s a unique experience that is so different from digital. With that said, digital satisfies different needs for me, and I cherish those times too. People seem to have an attitude that you love physical books or digital. It’s my opinion that one does not replace the other. I love Pinterest and Instagram because of the daily little escape and instant inspiration. Digital platforms are about being connected. Books are the antithesis of that. There is room for both.
You love to entertain and have done so in big and small ways. Tell me about your dream gathering.
I’ve always preferred small gatherings, a more intimate approach to entertaining. When gatherings are kept small, there is a better opportunity to be spontaneous. I love a good last-minute invitation. “Drop by for a cup of tea.” “Can you come tonight for dinner?” That’s not as easily accomplished with a large group. There’s no question that large formal gatherings can be beautiful. But they become about the event itself and not the simplicity of enjoying the little moments and spaces around the home. When something is so thought through, you become focused on that goal only and aren’t as open to changes. That’s why I like to use all the spaces around my home to entertain, not only the dining spaces.
The current situation has altered the ability to gather. What have you done that’s different from pre-COVID to still engage in your passion and talent?
It’s all about separation now. I recently had to rethink a birth celebration. Instead of a cake with candles on top of it, I did individual cupcakes. When you think about it, blowing candles out on a cake and then serving it to other people has probably never been a hygienic ritual. I think this moment has presented the opportunity to reset the priorities in life. Whether you are talking about entertaining or other parts of life, bigger is not always better. We need to learn to enjoy the little things. COVID has made us retreat to our homes more and actually use our homes. We are all finding the joy of being home.
At-home entertaining is a must right now. What is it about dining in a private home that’s so different from the restaurant experience?
There’s nothing lovelier than being invited into someone’s home. The intimacy of that situation creates a level of safety—not only because of COVID when people literally feel unsafe being out and about. Where there is safety there is comfort. And who doesn’t want to be comfortable? When you are invited into someone’s home for a meal, you feel wanted. Any time I feel I’ve played a part in making someone feel wanted and welcomed, well, that’s a huge plus for me.
When guests are in a private home, they tend to let their hair down a bit. They linger and relax. Frankly, at times I get a bit worn out from going to a restaurant and reading an elaborate menu that tells you where the chicken came from and the fancy techniques that are going to be done to it. I’m really there to enjoy the company of the people I care about. The food plays a part of it, but for me, it’s about the people. At-home entertaining is about hospitality.
You’ve noted that you like to move your gatherings around the house. Elaborate about an occasion that you hosted in a space other than the dining room.
I had a wonderful Christmas dinner that landed directly in front of the fireplace in the living room. It was a small crowd, only eight people, so sitting in the dining room just seemed too formal. Plus, the dinner was for my closest friends, so anything other than casual would not have felt right. I added my beautiful embroidered linens in my Mottahedeh Sacred Bird and Butterfly pattern. It was glamorous and such a treat to move my special friends into a special room. I also like to use my breakfast room for business meetings. It’s certainly more inviting than the standard office space that is completely void of design. My blue-and-white breakfast room has a relaxed, unbuttoned attitude with French doors and gardens lush with flowers in clear view.
You entertain with such ease and class, but the idea of entertaining is intimidating for so many people. Why should this nicety be something that people should learn how to do even if it’s in the most small and casual way?
We often get caught in the trappings of what we should have to make something successful. People think, “I need this” or “I don’t have that to make it successful.” The same theory applies whether you are talking about entertaining or launching a new career. People think in terms of “should” and that can be paralyzing. The best way to build confidence to entertain is to do it again and again. Once a novice achieves success that first time, confidence is built. And then there is that desire to do it again. But I always recommend starting small. It’s too much pressure for your first dinner party to be for 30 people. Because right now there are restrictions on the number of people you can have in any given situation, it’s the perfect time to experiment.
Stop by her website to see more fabulous design and entertaining ideas from Danielle Rollins.