The Greeks understood love. Unlike any other language, Greek has five words – not one – to delineate the enormity of love: the love derived from friends and family, the love of work, the love for children, and the intense passions stirred by a lover.
It in this spirit that Carolyne Roehm, whose newest book is “Design & Style: A Constant Thread,” explains why she has a Valentine’s lunch for just her female friends. And lucky me to be one of those friends.
For Roehm, these all-women fests are a restorative treat. After all, if you don’t have a lover in your life, February can be a chill to the heart. But the thaw melts when we focus on the love we do have, such as the intimacy and warmth of good friends.
“Many of my friends are single and these lunches remind us that we have each other,” says Roehm. “In middle age, I’ve discovered the value of women friends and often have these lunches.” Plus as an only child, friends have always been like family.
Lunch at any of Roehm’s residences is an experience. Let me repeat – an experience. Those of us lucky to call her a friend know that she will expertly attend to all details – even the ones you don’t think of.
Lunch often consists of “luscious light soup,” such as green asparagus, watercress or zucchini, and a salad with red touches – tomatoes, pomegranates or a sprinkling of dried red cherries or cranberries. Or she’s creating a souffle. This simple repast is followed by a decadently delicious dessert – usually chocolate or a fruit tart.
Oodles of flowers will canopy the table. No surprise since her first book was “A Passion for Flowers.” Because roses can be costly, especially during Valentine’s Day when retailers inflate prices, Roehm embraces the simple beauty of carnations. “In one of my books, I wanted to show how carnations can be used to create beautiful tablescapes, even though they weren’t being used at the time,” she says proudly. “It’s all about the vases.”
“Colors of food – like colors of flowers – enhance the effects of a meal,” advises Roehm. “I care about the silverware, the linen, the glasses, and the plates matching the type of table being used. I may not be able to solve bioterrorism, but making life pretty is what I can do. I want the environment I create to be memorable when people come into my sphere.”
Nor limit yourself to red – though I often do. Carolyne Roehm loves everything blue and white and for one of our lunches, she scattered white roses as decor.
To personalize the day, Roehm adds an exquisitely wrapped and thoughtful gift to each place setting. Sigh sigh. Everything my friend does is elevated to perfection, which explains how among her 13 books, she even has one on gift wrapping.
To be a great entertainer is to enjoy being thoughtful. Carolyne is masterful at surprises. One friend loves dogs so she put a picture of six puppies in a frame on the Valentine’s Day table. “One friend had a bad self-image so I enclosed a beautiful black-silk, short nightgown to give her a boost of confidence,” Roehm said with girlish satisfaction.
Furthermore, the wrapped gift becomes a name tag on the plate.
Because she knows I adore candles, Roehm gifted me one of her aromatic candles with hints of gardenia. Pure heaven every time I light it and the room fills with the floral scent. (You can buy them on her website.) Inside Blaine Trump’s silver-colored box was a commitment to donate to God’s Love We Deliver, one of her friend’s charities.
But Carolyne being Carolyne, she also throws exquisite evening parties.
For many years, she has been involved with Simon Pinniger, a dashing silver-haired, handsome businessman and all-around great guy. Natch, Roehm, who loves to entertain, will create co-ed Valentine’s Dinners as well.
That menu, like the decor, is more male-oriented. Instead of petal pink flowers and light-colored table settings, she serves on a mahogany table, sans linen, with black and brown touches and a deep-red floral arrangement. The meal consists of prime rib and mashed potatoes – “all men love mashed potatoes” – and a chocolate dessert. The female guests are offered salmon as an alternative.
It was Carolyne who inspired me to have Valentine’s Day parties, which I have now done for over a decade. For one gathering, I used these rose plates designed by Roberto Cavalli. But I only have a set of 12.
For another party where more than 12 were invited, I then had to improvise, since my table settings for 20 are in white. Thank you Pier 1. I found these lovely orchid-like napkin rings. The place mats are from New York Botanical Garden. The red roses brought home that it was Valentine’s Day. I also used accents of white carnations and roses.
Notice how I also use moss as the runner on the table – I do that a lot – and took the extra moss and cut out strips to wrap around a smaller plastic planter. Then I put a rose plant inside I found for $5.99 at ShopRite. Easy-peasy, but great dramatic effect.
What I’ve learned from Carolyne, and I am forever thankful for her tutelage and friendship, is that putting that extra effort into a gathering creates a special, memorable event.
If you can’t afford great blooms, buy carnations or daisies.
She has also taught me that one can find any way to celebrate.
You can also use fruit in your arrangements. But be careful. Fruit makes flowers decay quicker. So just use them for your event. Or stack them on a separate plate next to the flowers.
Here’s how I interpreted what she taught me. Our environments may be different, but the whole idea of entertaining is to tell your stories with what you have at your disposal. Fruit, as well as broccoli, artichokes and even bananas can be inserted into vases or scattered around the vase for a great effect.
Carolyne is clearly in a class unto herself. She keeps striving for perfection so that we all can be inspired. You don’t have to attain her level of sophistication and abundance. Few ever will. But we can take cues from her visual artistry.
If you think about it, people buy lots of shoes but few plate sets. Change that perception. Every season should have a different decor. Once you start dressing your table, and creating themes, it will feel like creative storytelling. Because we can not control many of life’s circumstances, but we can control our decor. And never forget the flowers. Flowers bring nature to the table which ignites endorphins to calm and excite. As Valentino once said, “a well dressed table make the food taste better.”
Photographer Ken Collins