Those who are lucky enough to run in Nate Berkus's squad know that he is as good a party host as he is a decorator. The other night, I, too, got to experience a bit of that Berkus hospitality when I attended an intimate dinner at the Target Gallery in N.Y.C., hosted by the decorating guru himself, and featuring pieces from his own holiday collection that’s rolling out in Target stores now. And let me just say, it was all that and more.
My company included Nate, his husband Jeremiah Brent (who also is as unforgivably attractive and talented as his partner is), the fashion illustrator Dallas Shaw (who is coincidentally featured in our December issue!), the enviable lifestyle blogger Athena Calderone of Eye-Swoon, plus a handful more. And having been to my fair share of work-related intimate dinners where I didn’t know 90 to 100 percent of the guests in attendance like this evening, this one was by far the most easygoing I’ve been to.
Thankfully, between chatting about upcoming holiday plans, current favorite reads, the shows we’ve been guiltily (not really) binge-watching, and of course the adorable Poppy (Nate and Jeremiah’s 8-month-old daughter), I was able to get a little lesson from Berkus on party hosting 101.
CREATE A NON-HOLIDAY-SPECIFIC TABLESCAPE
When planning a holiday dinner, Berkus's approach is not to stock up on a bunch of items that will be tucked away for most of the year, but to find pieces that will have life after Jan. 1, and his current collection reflects that ethos. For this party he started with a neutral base of taupe and white. “Mix in lots of greenery to add texture and earthiness, and then metallic accents to up the glam factor,” says Berkus.
LIGHT UP CANDLES GALORE
"Everything is more gorgeous by candlelight,” says Berkus, so stock up. Play with different heights, nestling some in tall mercury glass hurricanes and others in low sculptural votive holders.
DEVISE A SEATING CHART
Here’s an idea: As the host, seat yourself at the middle of the table, as opposed to the ends, as Berkus does. “Sometimes being at the head makes it harder to chat with all your guests,” he says. “This way, I can see everyone at the table and get to speak to them. Plus, it’s fun to do something unexpected.”
And when it comes to placing your guests, try Berkus’s strategy: “I like to set place settings ahead of time. Sometimes it puts people out of their comfort zone, but I’m always mindful of who I’m bringing together, and I try to seat guests next to someone I know they will have something in common with. They get to connect in the best possible way.”
OFFER READY-TO-POUR DRINKS
The freestanding bar was well-stocked with easy options: reds, whites, bubbly, and pitchers of pre-made margaritas, one of Berkus’s favorites. This made the bar line essentially non-existent, which is a huge bonus at any party. Plus it was stocked with yummy bar snacks, from seasoned nuts to gourmet chips in gilded vessels, giving guests something to munch on before dinner was served.
It’s nice to have a space where people can gather, whether for a formal event or an impromptu get-together. We love Berkus’s use of these upholstered ottomans which are ideal for displaying trays of snacks, or for perching. Plus, they’re compact and light enough that guests could easily move them around the room if they wanted to.
HANG WALL ART
The space was filled with unexpected wall hangings. In the lounge and dining area, a gallery of honeycomb mirrors added dimension to the room, plus became an easy way to perform lipstick touchups. And to add texture, Berkus hung three table runners—identical to the one used on the dining table—on the wall.
SERVE DELICIOUS BITES IN INVENTIVE WAYS
The food from Scoozi Events was on point. First, they served the most epic charcuterie boards—literally on small clip boards—with an arrangement of meats, cheeses, olives, roasted peppers, grilled ciabatta bread and mustard seeds. Other savory highlights included pesto and oven-roasted tomato flatbreads, and a seared hanger steak with herbed chimichurri.
Then there was the dessert, or rather, desserts: Tiny donuts glazed with vibrant frostings, mini Nutella pop-tarts served on toasters, and the crowd favorite, deconstructed s’mores. This memorable bite-sized dish consisted of charred marshmallows pierced with long vial-like eyedroppers that were filled with melted milk chocolate. Holding the dessert by the dropper, we put the marshmallows in our mouths and immediately squeezed the chocolate out of the dropper. My only regret was that I didn’t have 10 more.