|The reminder cards we sent out one month before the party|
Here's the countdown:
We decide to invite Boy's college friend Jasper Lambert and his girlfriend Francesca Montmore to spend the weekend of November 13th with us at Darlington House. We are overjoyed that they accept.
Boy and I agree that it would be fun to throw a black-tie dinner party for ten in honor of Jasper and Francesca's visit; we come up with guest list of fun and festive friends.
I contact our Most Beloved Caterers and find, much to our relief and joy, that they are available to cater the dinner.
|The flowers bundled for the trip from the city,|
safely arrived at Darlington House
We telephone guests to extend verbal invitations, and let them know that we'll be dressing for dinner in evening clothes; we are excited to learn that all are available and that they accept our invitations.
Boy and I stop in at the nearby Farmers' Market, where our Most Beloved Caterers (a husband-and-wife team) have a stand at which they sell prepared foods on Saturday mornings, and discuss with the wife the basic concept for the evening: swell food, artfully prepared, beautifully presented. She's on board and enthusiastic, and she says they are already discussing ideas for the menu ("Think fois gras!") and the staffing. Her husband's training at Le Cirque will come in handy.
Back at Darlington House, we pull out our dinner jackets to see if they fit any longer. They don't.
Reggie goes to Dempsey & Carroll in Manhattan and buys "reminder" cards to mail to our guests ahead of the party, confirming the date and time.
|Boy conditioning but a few of the|
twelve dozen roses we bought for the party
We start fretting about what to wear, since our dinner jackets don't fit any longer. Dare I go vintage, I wonder?
Our handyman, Rich, along with his sidekick Tony, spends the day polishing the brass fire tools and andirons for Darlington's public rooms.
We mail the reminder cards to our guests, exactly one month ahead of the party.
|Four dozen tulips, ready for conditioning|
Reggie looks into vintage options for his dinner jacket and trousers, then decides it is all too much. Rethinks.
Boy drops his dinner jacket off with his tailor for adjustments. He buys new formal-wear trousers at Tom Ford in a moment of abject extravagance.
Reggie buys a new tuxedo. He figures if Boy can justify a pair of trousers from Tom Ford, he can justify a new tuxedo. But Reggie decides to buy an inexpensive one since he's on a weight-loss campaign and doesn't want to invest in an expensive set of formal wear at this stage of his slenderization efforts.
|Both leaves, ready to be added to the table|
At Darlington House, we select which silver to use. We leave instructions for Karyn to start polishing it.
We meet with our Most Beloved Caterers at Darlington House, where we spend an hour or so discussing the menu, the staffing, and guest list. We agree on the menu and on staffing.
Boy and I review and select the table linens, china, and glassware we will use. Reggie checks to see that the waiters' jackets that we have on hand for serving staff are in good order.
We fly to Pittsburgh for the weekend with our friends James and Calista Littlefield. In years past we might have been concerned that spending the weekend before a party away from Darlington was foolish, but we know we're in good hands with our Most Beloved Caterer. We've got it all under control. We've done this before.
|The table dressed with cloths|
Oh, and look, there's Pompey!
Boy buys four dozen candles for us to burn during the party.
We exchange e-mails and phone calls with our Most Beloved Caterer to confirm the final details.
We pick up our formal wear. It fits!
Boy speaks with our Most Favored Wine Merchant in the country, plans with him what wines and liquors we will serve, and places order.
Concurrent with the activity at Darlington House leading up to the party, a parallel path of activity is being pursued by our Most Beloved Caterers, as they source, test, and prepare the food for the party, and also organize the staff.
|The table fully set, except for flowers|
Reggie decides that if Boy is going to wear velvet slippers to the dinner party, he will be damned if he doesn't wear his Stubbs & Wootton velvet slippers with the red devils embroidered on them.
We wake up at 6:30 a.m. rather blurry eyed after our evening out (that somehow wound up at the Waldorf Hotel for a night cap) and drive the Rover to the flower district in Manhattan, where we buy loads of roses and tulips to decorate the drawing room, dining room, and guest rooms.
We drive to Darlington, and Boy starts conditioning the flowers in buckets in our flower arranging room.
After helping Boy add two leaves to the dining room table and covering it with the table cloths, Reggie leaves him behind to set it while he runs to the nearby town to stop by our Most Favored Wine Merchant, where he adds a few more bottles to the order and loads the whole lot into the car. He then stops by a number of other comestible purveyors in town to stock up on food and treats for our House Party weekend.
Jasper and Francesca arrive in time for supper. The rest gets blurry.
|The table fully dressed with flowers|
November 13 -- the Big Day!
Rich and Tony arrive bright and early in the morning and spend the day raking and sweeping the grounds surrounding Darlington House. When they are finished, the property is immaculate and manicured to perfection.
Boy spends the better part of the morning placing forty candles in the dining room's and drawing room's candle holders. He spends much of the afternoon cutting and arranging the flowers in the vases selected for the party, after which he fills the oil lanterns that will line our driveway and walkways, which will be lighted for our guests' arrival. Reggie spends the better part of the day organizing and fluffing the house, making sure that everything is in tip-top shape for the party.
5:30 pm -- Our Most Beloved Caterer husband-and-wife team arrive with their ace servers, Sam and Melissa. They go right to work setting up and preparing for the party. Pompey is in heaven because he adores our Most Beloved Caterers and the treats they slip him from time to time.
6:00 pm -- With cocktails in hand, Boy and Reggie--along with our guests Jasper and Francesca--retire to our respective rooms to dress for dinner.
7:00 pm -- Our guests start arriving, looking elegant in their lovely evening clothes; cocktails and hors d'œuvres are served in Darlington's drawing room.
8:00 pm -- The staff lights the dining room candles, and we are called to dinner.
|The dining room was entirely lit by candles|
Passed during cocktails:
- Skewers of sesame-crusted salmon with caviar
- Mini philo-dough bird's nests filled with squash and pancetta
- Bite-sized grilled cheese sandwich triangles
- "Millionaire's Salad" of seared fois gras and lobster claw on a bed of frisee with pomegranate seed dressing, served with a crisp Sancerre
- Sliced seared duck breast with onion confit and roasted lady apple, accompanied by buttery parsnip puree and an assortment of miniature vegetables, served with a lusty Cote du Rhone
- Opera cake towers served with maple creme Anglaise, served with Champagne
- Chocolates and candied ginger
|After the plates were cleared, everybody|
brought out their iPhones and took pictures
After dinner, the party retired to the drawing room for more champagne, chocolates, and conversation. Needless to say, the evening was a smash hit! Boy and I had a marvelous time, and we suspect that our guests did too. How couldn't we? It was Heaven.
And everyone looked marvelous in their elegant evening clothes, and people said over and over how happy they were to have an excuse to get dressed up for the occasion. So grownup. It made it especially festive.
|The dining table, the next morning|
We are very fortunate to have the support, help, and assistance of a number of highly qualified, dedicated, professional service providers, without whom such a dinner would not be possible. In particular, we are indebted to our Most Beloved Caterers, an extremely talented team that has helped us throw many parties, ranging from small luncheons for half a dozen to large cocktail parties for seventy-five, and also dinner parties and brunches. It is safe to say that we couldn't do it without them, and we are grateful that we have developed such a marvelous, collaborative, and friendly relationship with them over the years. I am working on a profile of them that I hope to post at some point in the not-too-distant future.
All photographs by Boy Fenwick