This holiday season, Social Studies is partnering with Ketel One Botanical to bring you Winter Blooms, an at-home entertaining kit designed to elevate your holiday get-togethers and awaken all five senses. Please drink responsibly. Whether a water or a Spritz, make your choice delightful.
To help inspire your next purely delightful celebration, we're taking you behind the scenes as connector, collector and vintage connoisseur, Libby Callaway, preps for a Winter Blooms soirée of her own. Read on to see how she set the table, made the Spritzes, and became the host extraordinaire that she is today.
Your home is a perfect reflection of you and such an inspiring place to entertain; how often do you host at home and what does a typical gathering look like?
I did a massive 18-month home renovation that ended two weeks before Covid locked us down. A lot of the reason I overhauled my home was to have enough room to entertain properly. Once I was in, I was ready to start having folks over, until the unthinkable happened. I had been planning to host a massive 50th birthday party here in April 2020, but of course, any big gatherings were put on hold.
Still, I couldn’t resist the urge to have folks over and show them the new space, so I started with one-on-one Sunday brunches, graduating to hosting dinner parties for four to ten folks on my patio. Eventually, those came inside, to the dining room table. I love to cook, so I rarely get things catered. I dig a buffet, so I usually go that route to start and then pass dishes as time for seconds rolls around.
How did your upbringing influence the way you entertain today?
My parents and grandparents all entertained frequently when I was growing up. My mom’s mom—my Granny—was a traditional Southern cook who lived on a beautiful farm that was a frequent gathering place for immediate and extended family. She could make a last-minute lunch from her garden for 40 without breaking a sweat. She and my Papaw also hosted huge covered dish dinners for their church in the summertime that would sometimes attract over 1,000 people. They just set up a long line of picnic tables by the creek, filled coolers with ice, and brought out serving utensils. The crowd took care of the rest. It was truly remarkable to watch them do this, with smiles on their faces. There never seemed to be any angst, just joy that they were sharing their space and breaking bread with others. From them, I learned a lot about grace under pressure and infusing all of your gatherings with kindness.
My dad’s parents’ home was much more prescribed, with china, candle light, and, for many years, service. We always sat in the dining room when we went to dinner at Grandaddy and Mildred’s. While meals at the farm were loose and boisterous, the ones “in town” were more formal, but equally as warm and welcoming. They were my earliest exposure to fine dining, and I loved them for their ceremony.
My mom and dad’s parties could hit on both ends of my grandparents’ entertaining spectrum, but usually landed somewhere in the middle. They still have small dinner parties, which I believe are their preference, but in their heyday, they went big, turning their party-perfect first floor and gorgeous courtyard and garden into gathering spaces. Their last big hurrah was five years ago, when they hosted my sister’s wedding, a backyard dealio for 300. I am a better host myself for having been exposed to my parents' ways of entertaining.
What are your top 3 host tips and tricks?
1) Takeout can look pretty if you plate it in an interesting way.
2) I think the purpose of dinner parties is to mix it up. I always try to seat people next to folks they don’t know. I’ve met some fabulously interesting folks at parties that way, whom I might not have spoken to had we not been sat together.
3) I subscribe to my dad’s maxim of never hosting a party without booze. Social lubrication!
Speaking of drinks, talk to me about the Ketel One Botanical Spritz. Why is it your go-to beverage to serve when hosting?
The Ketel One Botanical Spritz is a favorite because of its low alcohol content and delightful flavor. The recipe is easy to make, delicious, and a fresh tasting beverage for all. Plus, that grapefruit and rose petal garnish combination is a taste sensation!
If you could invite one person to one of your dinner parties, who would it be?
Someone smart, wry and observational - a great conversationalist with terrific style. A 70s or early 80s Susan Sontag comes to mind.
Libby’s Best Of
Party song: Dreamweaver by Gary Wright
Dress Code: After 5
Icebreaker: “OMG, I want you to meet someone.” I am a consummate connector.
Best party ever: My 51st birthday “May Day” party, complete with a custom-built maypole, traditional dance, and 45 women wearing long dresses and DIY flower crowns.