Today we’re in for a special treat! I’m so excited to introduce you to Elizabeth Nichols, CEO of Taigan. I can’t even remember how I first discovered Taigan a year or two ago, but it quickly became one of my favorite places to discover little known artists and artisans alike (in fact, it’s where I discovered Strange Invisible Perfumes, one of my favorite all-natural perfume companies).
Whereas most Style to Inspire columns look at a woman’s path to success and how they got to where they are, for this installment, I thought it’d be interesting to hear about Elizabeth’s experiences with entertaining, especially since it’s the holidays (prime territory for holiday fun and mishaps alike!). A Nashville native, before joining Taigan, Elizabeth had an insanely successful career in commercial real estate, specifically developing shopping centers and providing a brick and mortar distribution channel for brand and specialty retailers. Through this, she came into contact with many small boutique owners and loved sharing the smaller retailers’ passion for their brands and products, which eventually made her role at Taigan a perfect fit.
She’s been the consummate host for years, and when I asked her where she learned to entertain, she said, “Honestly, I really don’t know. I can say that I just loved doing tea parties when I was a little girl and remember how important it was to have the table set with my blue and white tea service, “real flowers” on my little table, and cocktail napkins for my place mats. I probably took myself way too seriously at 5 or 6! Now, I know that the key to successful entertaining is sweat the small stuff but not too much. After all, the devil is in the details, but the art of entertaining should be as much fun as the event itself!”
Read on for her sweet essay about entertaining throughout the years…
Entertaining? Ah, yes, one of my favorite “sports!”
From noted prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, to Peter Jennings and Lauren Bacall, to my daughter’s great friends from Vanderbilt, I have had the occasion to entertain a number of really interesting and fun people in my home. I would say the number one tip to entertaining is to have a fantastic guest list and people who are interesting, engaging, and compatible. After all, the guests MAKE the party. Recently, I attended a party where two women were seated next to one another, one of whom had recently sued the other one’s husband. For God’s sake, know your audience….and avoid divorced and litigious situations!
You must throw in a catastrophe to really make a great party. After all, when you are in a pickle, a good guest will get right in there with you and roll up his or her sleeves. I once hosted a seated dinner party, under a tent, on my lawn for 250 people. It was the silver anniversary of Nashville’s Swan Ball and we were entertaining the committee and chairmen. On this stormy Friday night in June, when the dinner bell rang at 8:00 p.m., we heard a huge clap of thunder and an explosion with a fireball that shot straight up into the sky. Our transformer had been struck by lightning and we had no electricity for the remainder of the evening. Luckily, I had boxes of votive candles that were brought up from my storage room and we were quickly well-illuminated. Although the caterer had no power and neither the band nor the mime group from New York could perform, our bandleader, Pat Patrick, grabbed a banjo and sang table-side. After a while, tables emptied and we all ended up in a conga line following Pat around the tent. Needless to say, everyone drank everything (alcoholic) in my house. The next morning, the mayor of Belle Meade asked his wife, “Did the lights go out at the Nichols’ last night?” Bottom line, a great time was had by all.
We also once had an unintentional co-ed slumber party when 65 people were stranded at our house after an ice storm hit during a dinner party. I recently ran into someone from San Francisco who was at the party and years later he is still talking about it! These are the types of parties that people never forget.
A great tip is to keep TONS of candles on hand. Not only do they add a wonderful ambiance, but if the lights go out, which invariably they do at my parties, you will stun your guests with more light than they can imagine. And, of course, everyone looks more beautiful by candlelight anyway.
If you approach entertaining with a light hand and a feeling of festivity you won’t intimidate your guests. Otherwise, you may not be invited to their next dinner party! I think an over-the-top staid five course dinner is the epitome of boring and is a sure way to guarantee that the invitation will not be reciprocated by anyone who entertains less formally. So when planning the menu and the table, keep a light hand.
For example, last February, during the Antiques and Garden show in Nashville, I had a small dinner party for some magazine editors and interior designers. Rather than flowers, I stacked beautiful books in the middle of my table, added my Vitri chair collection, and lots of candles. We ended the evening by talking about what we collect. This is because I dropped a “conversation starter” into the middle of the group, which is a great plan when the people don’t know one another. So, on this evening, after people had asked me the story of my chair collection I said, “Speaking of collecting, would each of your share with the group something that you collect?” It really enriched the evening and the experience. We all drank a bit too much and stayed up too late…..and got to know one another on an entirely different level.
The true challenge of entertaining is to know when the party should be over and find a way to tactfully make that happen. After all, I want a memorable party, not a blur!! I look forward to some advice on this and in pondering this I remember a story from when I was a teenager…
I was fortunate to get to know the noted entertainer, Minnie Pearl. Minnie and her husband, Henry Canon lived next door to the Governor’s Mansion in Nashville. At that time, Winfield Dunn was governor and his son Chuck was a really close friend of mine, so I spent a lot of time at the mansion playing tennis, bridge and just enjoying. One night we stopped by Minnie’s house just as a dinner party was getting into full swing. Minnie turned to Henry and said, “Henry, we need to go on upstairs to bed and let all the nice people go home!” Of course, no one was ready to leave, but they certainly followed her lead. Clearly Minnie Pearl could get by with that, and unfortunately I can’t!