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Find Your Signature Entertaining Style

Excerpt from The Art and Craft of Entertainingby Kimberly Kennedy

A Question of Style

Style is one of life's intangibles: easy to recognize, but harder to define. We may know who's got it. But can we say for sure what it is?

Style is comprised of our likes and dislikes. It finds a voice in what we wear and what we surround ourselves with, but it's more than just the outward appearance of our preferences. Style is an expression of the way we move through life. It marks our attitudes and communicates our desires and is reflected in everything we do, from the homes we choose, to the clothes we wear, the books we read, the music we listen to -- and of course, the way we entertain.

Your style is unique to you. At least it should be. You might think that you dress a lot like a dear friend, but look closely and you'll find subtle and significant differences. Style is about expression, not imitation, and it's not the same as fashion. Style has nothing to do with being thin, young, rich, or beautiful. And like beauty, it's much more than skin deep. Style is not just about personal appearance or how your home looks, it really does reflect every aspect of life, including entertaining. Say you prefer casual to formal; that's a matter of style and it will reflect the way you entertain. If you choose time-honored recipes or like to experiment with the latest fusion food, that also indicates your style and inspires your entertaining. I love to entertain and realize that my desire to share good times with friends -- that's the heart of entertaining -- has grown as I've come to a place where I am sure of my style. Knowing what I like has given me confidence to express myself and share my style with others.

My Style...

I'd describe my style as traditional and sophisticated, with a sassy twist. I don't care for anything stuffy or too crazy, but I do like fun things and will use them with classic pieces. That's true of how I dress and how I entertain. For example, I love Burberry. It's traditional and proper -- and very well made. They've been in business for more than 150 years, so you know they must be doing something right. Even so, I'd never do a whole head-to-toe look. That would be too extreme, and just not me. So I'll wear a pair of jeans and a favorite white shirt with a Burberry scarf tied round my waist and maybe a stylish pair of boots. That way I can take what's timeless, blend it with what's fashionable, and come up with my own trademark.

...And How I Got Here

As a kid I looked pretty much like the friends I hung out with: kind of preppy, lots of polo tops and khakis, a couple of flowery dresses. Then in college I lost interest in how things looked. I was busy studying and enjoying the freedom of being away from home and style just wasn't that important to me. I had a uniform of jeans, fleece tops, and hiking boots. (Maybe it was so that I could blend in with all the guys I hung out with?)

After college that all changed. By then I'd moved to Atlanta and was spending time with friends who had terrific style and clothing sense. Next to them, I looked, well, boring. So I started to pay more attention to what I wore. At the same time I got my first apartment, a tiny rented place. I had no furniture and virtually no cash. Sound familiar? Even so, I don't know what made me decorate it the way I did, all stark black and white. Maybe it was a way of making an asset of my lack of possessions. Looking back it's amazing that I lived with that look for three years, but at the time I really did like it. After that experiment I realized that I'm not the minimalist type. I understood that after I got married and Todd and I moved into our first house. A whole house! It was so exciting, I couldn't wait to use different colors and textures to escape from the black and white prison I'd created for myself. I sold all the stuff from my old apartment at a yard sale and -- faster than you can say French provincial -- went from that "put your stereo on a pedestal" kind of look to a "hide your TV in a country French armoire" kind of look. My style has evolved over time. I'm really comfortable with myself and my tastes now, with who and how I am -- and how the world sees me.

Circle of Friends

When you're in high school, even college, there's a definite sense that you should be like, look like, and sometimes even think like the people you hang out with. Thankfully that doesn't last forever. Today, my friends and I are still close -- we still have a lot in common -- but we've gone our separate ways when it comes to style.

Ashley is a fine artist who always makes a splash. Talented and expressive, her passion for art and for life is apparent in the way she talks, dresses, and decorates her home. Her place has a lot of different artwork and blends all kinds of old and unique furniture. Her clothes are funky, like her artwork: vibrant colors, crazy shoes, and often splotches of paint "decorate" her outfits. I don't think Ashley owns any china or crystal, her tableware being an eclectic mix of bold and bright pieces.

Caroline is quite different. She's tiny and quiet, with a style that is simple and clean. She's more traditional than I am and chooses calm, neutral colors for both her wardrobe and her home. Her house is neat and functional and not at all fussy. Her clothes are simple and elegant, and she keeps accessories to a minimum, usually her favorite pearl earrings. Caroline has lovely traditional silver and crystal and a very classic china pattern, one that's been popular for the last fifty years.

Finding Your Style

Discovering and even defining your style is a lot easier than you realize. Think about what you like to wear. What colors, what patterns (if any) do you adore? Do you prefer cowboy boots or stilettos? Do you wear those cowboy boots with jeans or long flowing dresses? Do you like beaded purses or prefer a functional backpack? Think of a friend's house that you love. What elements speak to you? Is it the dreamy porch with a swing or the gleaming professional-style kitchen range? Or maybe it's the couch in that glorious blue-green color? Do you like lots of textures on a table or lots of color or both? What makes you comfortable, happy, and contented? Is it certain colors, certain fabrics, or maybe particular foods? Making a list of ten (or twenty!) things that really speak to you, not necessarily things you own or aspire to buy, just things, rooms, colors that strike a chord can help to define your style.

Some of my very favorite things are priceless, my Yorkshire terrier Sadie for one. Some are pricey like the Waterford crystal vases. I love how crystal reflects the light. The little cherub -- I don't know why I like it but I do -- I don't know how old the statue is or where it was made. Originally I bought it to go in the garden but then I liked it so much I wanted to keep it in the house and I do like the idea of bringing things meant for the outdoors in. My favorite perfume is from Jo Malone, I wear it all the time; what might be more suprising is that I love the bottle as much as the fragrance! The shape, the stopper, they appeal to my eye. I even love the way they wrap the perfume and the bags are to die for. But then some of the other things I adore don't really have much of a price tag. My favorite colors are blues, all kind of robins-egg-like shades, and browns, rich warm tones of brown. I particularly love combining these two colors in the trim on projects, on the table, even my business card. Silk is my fabric of choice; I use it a lot in decorating my home and love to use it for crafty projects. There are so many gorgeous shades of silk at the fabric store that I can't resist. And ribbon, well I'm crazy about ribbon; I make entire projects with ribbon and use it to trim just about everything I make or wrap as a gift or favor.

If someone asked me what flower I like best, I'd say hydrangea. It's by far the flower I buy most to have at home, just to look at and admire -- blue, white, pink -- I think they're all gorgeous.

Take it a step further. Whom do you admire -- and why? The women I admire for their style of dress are true icons: Coco Chanel, Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn. They have a sophisticated yet clean look that I aspire to. I'm also in awe of how polished they were, and I've come to realize that this is not because they were fashionable, but because they had an understanding of themselves that gave them confidence. Above all, they were comfortable in their own skin. Turning in a different direction, I also look up to Julia Child. She was so wonderfully lively and nonplussed -- even when her food hit the deck on live TV. You've got to give her points for that.

Identifying the people you look to for inspiration should give you clues as to the nature of your style. But you don't have to do it all on your own. Ask your friends how they would describe your style. They can have great insights into what makes you tick. You might not agree with what they say but it will be informative. Haven't you ever been shopping with a friend when she picks out something that's perfect for you but you'd gone right past it?

I'm not going to try to pinpoint every available style; it's just not possible. I do want to outline some of the basic style groups to help you enhance your own. I doubt you're going to fit into exactly one of them. Frankly, I don't know anyone who is totally country casual or entirely urban chic. Most of us like a little bit of this, a lot of that, and quite a bit of something else too! In fact I'd say the biggest style today is mix and match, kind of a buffet approach where people feel free to take what they like from one look and mix it up with something totally different.

Bear in mind that these styles cover a wide swath of territory; for me some country styles are it, but there are others that come under the country umbrella that I never like. Style is a big store and you don't have to do all your shopping in one department!

Pulling It All Together

A lot of people I know have a hard time defining their style. This prevents them from entertaining because, as they are not confident of who they are, they cannot be confident that what they do and present to others -- the food, the table, the atmosphere of the party -- will be "right." Often people say they don't entertain because they don't have a dining table, their place is too small, they can't cook well enough, or there isn't enough time. Really though it comes down to confidence and this relates to knowing yourself, your style. Everything comes easier when you have a concrete understanding of what you like, what your look is, and how you share your style with those around you. Style is an expression of you. So getting to know your style is a great first step to hosting a party. Once you know your style, everything you do and the choices you make -- selecting the gift you give, deciding on the menu for a dinner party or how to decorate a room -- will come more easily. If you serve dishes that you find delicious, set the table so you find it attractive, then you will be less stressed and your guests will be more comfortable. Personal style does not suddenly appear, it evolves over time, but starting to think about your preferences now will help you to develop your style, and others will begin to recognize your "look," your own trademark style.

From the book The Art and Craft of Entertainingby Kimberly Kennedy

Copyright © by Kimberly Kennedy



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