As Cathy Graham celebrates the release of her new book Second Bloom- we caught up with her to ask her some advice for entertaining over the festive period.
What can you tell us about your new book, Second Bloom?
Second Bloom is my first book. I have always loved flowers and gardens. When I let my career as an illustrator wane, I was lucky enough to be able to work with the late Robert Isabell, the brilliant florist and event planner. The book captures the joy of entertaining and creating a beautiful, fun atmosphere that’s conducive for entertaining at home. This book came about after my 30-year marriage ended suddenly and the world as I knew it was over. Healing, for me, involved going to my studio and drawing every day, posting on Instagram, and giving dinners on my own. It was empowering to discover that I could do it all on my own, despite difficult times. One thing led to another, and I got a book contract with Vendome.
Why do you think people often neglect the appearance of their tables when entertaining?
Sometimes they just don’t have the time or confidence! In this book, I show some simple ways to create a beautiful table, with sometimes unexpected details, and encourage readers not to be afraid to tap into their creativity. Guests are always happy to see that you made an effort, no matter how it looks. Remember, it is only a dinner – just relax and have fun! I find inspiration in the seasons: what’s in bloom, or what’s in the markets. One of my favorite things to do is use an array of flowers placed individually in bottles around the table. Another is using fruit – it’s easy, pretty, and reusable. I show simple ways of using bowls of fruit and lemon leaves to create a pretty table.
What are the biggest mistakes people are make when they invite people over to dine?
First, make sure your guests have the time, date, and address by sending an email reminder the day of the event. I have learned the hard way to keep my cell phone on me in case someone forgets the address, suddenly gets ill, caught in traffic, the babysitter didn’t show up, or (worst case scenario) had something better to do! When that happens, simply make the adjustments, stay calm, smile, and - as you Brits say - carry on!
What difference does a well-appointed table make to an evening with guests?
A well-appointed table can be a visual treat that helps make an evening memorable, and is great fun to do. As the years have gone by, I have shed my inhibitions and some of my tables are a bit looney, which puts guests at ease. I use vintage toys, medicine bottles, have vintage counter top mannequins dressed up, and have various things hanging on nylon thread from the ceiling – these unexpected details can be great conversation starters.
Do decorations have to cost a fortune when hosting a dinner party?
No, not at all. Using fruit, vegetables, and showcasing single flowers are all inexpensive methods of decorating. Most of my vintage bottles that I use to showcase individual flowers are under $10.00 - they are very easy to find on eBay.
What are your absolute must-haves for table decorations?
My must haves are dictated by the season. So, say it’s Spring – I would use tulips, primroses, and daffodils, for example. I love showing the bulbs (sometimes hanging from the ceiling), and would mix in herbs in clay pots, as well as spring vegetables. Never be afraid to put too much on the table. Lighting is key. My rule of thumb is: be able to see the food, but not the wrinkles in the tablecloth. Also, it’s a good idea not to make your arrangements so high that they obstruct the guests from seeing each other.
Tell us a little bit about your last dinner party.
My last dinner party was for an author whose new book was just released in America. It was in October, so I was able to get magnificent blush dahlias at Union Square market, which I mixed with roses, herbs, crabapples, tiny aubergines, wild grasses, and a tiny vintage typewriter thrown into the mix!
Why are dinner parties such an important part of family life and for your social circle?
I try do a dinner party once a month to gather old and new friends. It could be for anything - a holiday, a birthday, a book, or a charity. As with most things in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It gives me such happiness to open up my home to people and use my creativity to create interesting, lively dinners that, when successful, are filled with lots of laughter.
What are your top tips for Christmas dining décor?
I simply go to town with holiday décor! I use a rich turquoise satin tablecloth with pink roses, coral peonies, and red accents, with sparkling tulle, glitter stars scattered about, vintage toys, a Ken doll wrapped in fake fur… oh dear, you name it, it is on the table! I have everything - even a miniature kitchen sink. In the book, I also have a how-to for making a holiday garland.
What is next for you?
I am hoping to do more illustration, textile, and product design - maybe an illustrated book of elegant women of the 20th Century. Recently I collaborated with Charmajesty Linens on pajamas, and with Scott Potter on a line of decoupage vases, lamps, and trays using my designs. I also created a candle called Second Bloom, with the scent of spring flowers, in collaboration with NEST Fragrances. I’ve created a line of notebooks and greeting cards – well, it turns out there is life after divorce! Never would I have thought this two years ago, when my life came crashing down.