Charlotte Moss Celebrates The Grand Dames of Entertaining

Charlotte Moss is a triple threat. Make that quintuple. She decorates with the greatest of ease, gardens with uncommon flair, is a passionate philanthropist, and, as anyone who follows her Instagram feed can see, she handles a camera with grace. Now there’s Charlotte Moss Entertains (Rizzoli, $50), a big, beautiful 288-page guide to enriching and enhancing your life through the pleasures of the table. As the book points out, “Name something that you do three times a day that gives you an opportunity to practice and to keep getting better at it.” But Charlotte Moss Entertains, the vibrant Manhattan interior designer’s tenth title and one that is illustrated with many of her own photographs, offers no rules and few regulations. Instead, it’s all about inspiration.

“There’s not only way to do anything: The most important thing is to get people to the table,” Moss told AD PRO recently in a lively conversation that took in everything from the birth of the book, such as its scrapbook-style format (she is an avid scrapbooker) and the selection of the photographs, to childhood memories of dinners at home. “It was one of the most important times of the day,” she explains, “when seven people—my parents and their five children—gathered together and talked about their day. Today, sometimes kids don’t even eat at a table. Having a meal, as a family or with friends, is about civilized living.”

Jacqueline Kennedy lighting candles before a party.

The widely traveled designer’s vision of the well-lived life, at least when it comes to mealtime and the cocktail hour, is traditional, time-consuming, and demands a significant degree of focus—and that’s what makes it so powerfully seductive in this fast-paced, fast-forward, no-time, maybe-next-week age. “Our digital obsessions have minimized, if not marginalized, some of life’s richest experiences,” she told me, “among them building relationships and deepening friendships over meals.” Charlotte Moss Entertains will make you set aside your iPhone and wonder what other slow pleasures you have been missing while scrolling Twitter and haunting Instagram. (Full disclosure: I have known and admired Moss, a fellow Virginian, for years and co-authored her 2011 book Charlotte Moss Decorates.) In addition to 20 bracing, no-nonsense tips delivered early on in the text, Charlotte Moss Entertains serves up a smorgasbord of surefire style ideas, whether she is putting together a simple breakfast for her and her husband, financier Barry Friedberg—she sets the table the night before, in order to avoid yet one more morning task before she’s had a chance to drink some coffee—or planning, with all the logistical prowess of a field marshal, a blowout fundraising bash for the New York City Ballet. Little brown clouds will complain that a hydrangea-bedecked gala event for 800 has nothing to do with how most of us live, but they should just pipe down and take notes. “Preparation for a dinner party at home takes the same eye for detail,” Moss says, apropos the NYCB blockbuster, “just smaller in scale.”

Marjorie Merriweather Post arranging desserts at Mar a Lago.

Admittedly, what’s different between Moss and most of us, and indeed with other books in this genre, is that she freely cops to working closely with dedicated support staff—she gives credit in the book to more than a dozen, from Jasmin Rojas, who irons her table linens, to Mark Sanne, who was her private chef for most of the 1990s—as well as three top-notch florists, among them Manhattan’s renowned Zezé. This straightforward revelation in no way makes Charlotte Moss Entertains a one-percenter fantasy. It’s not a DIY guide either, mind you, but its value lies somewhere in between: call it a kick in the pants. Moss’s directive is simple: read, learn, look, and think about how you could make your own world a bit more enjoyable, even if the only helping hands around are your own. Then again, consider what outside sources you could begin to rely on, perhaps, for instance, a young, eager florist who can learn what you like and whip it up when required.

The former Elsie De Wolfe, now Lady Mendl, relaxes at her home in Paris.

In Mosslandia, as is increasingly so in the design world at large, colors are cheerfuls, patterns are plenty, and daredevil combinations is the thrilling norm. Green-speckled ceramic plates meet brilliant pink-and-green napkins and Chinese-motif coffee mugs in one of the entertaining scenarios that Moss calls “table stories.” A lobster dinner is served with a leopard-spot tablecloth, trellis-motif china, and two kinds of red-and-white napkins, one embroidered with a scarlet crustacean and the other with Moss’ monogram writ large. She’s a high priestess of the big mix, blending together, often on one table, hearty Aptware from Paris’s La Tuile à Loup, [https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/this-parisian-shop-celebrates-the-beauty-of-french-ceramics/all] antique French and English porcelains, and selections from the tableware line that she had designed for Pickard. [https://www.pickardchina.com/info.cfm?action=charlotte_moss]. She swears by William Yeoward glassware, [williamyeowardcrystal.com] wicker, rattan, and seagrass chargers, the exquisite woven bread baskets that are sold at Christian Dior’s housewares boutique in Paris, flatware with bamboo, horn, or rope-twist handles, and placemats in every color, pattern, and shape. Where Moss stores all this paraphernalia is something I’d kill to see (I’m thinking warehouse), but there’s an enticing snapshot of shelves filled with folded tablecloths in more than 40 varieties, each stack labeled with shape and dimensions. It’s absolute hostess porn and, she points out, relatively easy on the wallet: “Linens allow you to personalize your table, and for less of an investment than your china.”

Audrey Hepburn serving punch al fresco.

Diverting centerpieces are another Moss hallmark, so cue those florists. Though often she orders bodacious explosions of peonies, roses, zinnias, and the impactful like, one of my favorites illustrated in the book is a low metal bowl planted with a treelike fern, mounded with moss, accented with some trailing vines, and, in the midst of it all, a small silver pagoda. Evoking an Asian landscape in miniature, it chimes perfectly with that particular table story’s chinoiserie accessories, from the salt and pepper shakers to the embroidered linens. Far simpler, though just as delightful, is another Moss suggestion: pretty rectangular baskets packed with compact ornamental pepper plants, which could easily be picked up at a nearby nursery or home-improvement store and deployed similarly, no staff required.

Knowledge always underpins a life well lived, so in addition to giving readers the benefit of her own decades of experience—including menus for meals she’s hosted—Moss’s book also salutes A-list hostesses of the past, women who have inspired her and many others. “Everybody’s got a role model or an image of living in a certain way that they’ve either read about or heard about or studied,” Moss told me. “We all have to learn somehow—Jackie Kennedy, for instance, learned a lot from Bunny Mellon.” Thus, she celebrates Pauline de Rothschild’s forest-like table settings, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s fierce organizational abilities (not unlike Moss’ own), Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro, and Betsy Bloomingdale’s secret to parties with pizzazz. “It’s not what you put on the table,” the willowy, last-named society figure observed, “it’s what you put in the chairs.”

At the end of the day, it probably is the mix of people that matters most, even if you’re just serving them takeaway. (The realistic Moss is totally down with that, by the way.) Given the springboard suggestions of Charlotte Moss Entertains, though, you owe it to yourself to try just a bit harder. After all, she writes, “Why not make every day an occasion?”

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