Celebrations, from birthdays to elegant date nights, look a little different these days. But that doesn’t mean they have to be any less memorable.
by Whitley Adkins Hamlin
An upside of social distancing is that we are given a great opportunity to connect more intentionally, meaningfully — and creatively — with those closest to us. My mama always told me when you’re given lemons, you make lemonade. With that in mind, I asked some of our city’s most aspirational creatives to share a glimpse at how they’ve carried out small — albeit beautiful — gatherings at home. We hope their ideas — plus a few of my own — will inspire you to host your own special celebrations while staying close at home with those you love.
“On any typical Sunday, my family heads to church and then to brunch somewhere in the Queen City,” says event planner Katrina Hutchins, who would normally be busy preparing for weddings and other spring gatherings this time of year. “It’s a tradition we look forward to weekly and something we have deeply missed during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“However, just because we can’t go out, we can still make a brunch at home that is fun, a little fancy and family-friendly,” says Hutchins, who lives in Myers Park with her husband and two young sons.
“Everything I used was something I either already owned or picked up with an online drive-up order from Target or local stores. I wanted to mix ‘fancy’ and practical items since we are dealing with young kids — I love mixing the two for a unique juxtaposition when setting a table.”
For the tablecloth, Hutchins took an old sheet and “let the kids go wild with some paint.” For the place settings, she paired a set of chargers she already had with her grandmother’s wedding china. The Queen Charlotte centerpiece from R. Runberg Curiosities is “a nod to the city we’re missing so much,” Hutchins says. Kid-friendly paper plates and disposable cutlery made for easy clean-up.
A family treasure that has been in Rainy Westerman’s family since the early 1980s was the centerpiece for her daughter Anne Brensley’s 11th birthday party, held in the backyard of the family’s Rock Hill home.
“I used my childhood tablecloth that was always used in the sunroom of my grandparent’s beach house in Holden Beach,” says Westerman, an interior designer. “Sometimes we would bring the tablecloth out onto the front lawn and lay it out there and watch the boats go by. I also used my grandmother’s silver, which was passed down to her from my great-grandmother.”
Camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, spirea and lily of the valley, cut fresh from Westerman’s yard, were used as a centerpiece.
“I baked a three-layer cake and made buttercream frosting in Annie’s favorite color, turquoise, and put it on top of a cake stand that is part of a tradition in our family.”
Date night in
Interior designer Gray Walker and her husband, Geordie, had planned an early spring getaway to Jamaica. Like others who had to cancel spring-break trips and vacations, they had no choice but to postpone it.
“This was a dinner for Geordie and me at home. We canceled a trip to Round Hill, so I created a candlelight dinner for two under the stars.”
Walker chose the gazebo in the woods of her home’s property to host the intimate dinner with her husband. She used a backgammon table from her living room as a makeshift table, the perfect size for dinner for two, and borrowed the chairs from her back porch dining table. Walker set the table with Vietri china and flowers picked from her own garden and from Whole Foods. A swath of fabric from Peter Dunham Textiles was repurposed as a beautiful makeshift table skirt.
Putting on the works
“March started off beautiful in Charlotte — warm weather, flowering trees, lots of lacrosse games and, most importantly, my oldest daughter, Elizabeth’s 12th birthday,” says Brooke Werhane Maples, a local artist. “But with the news of COVID-19 spreading like wildfire and social distancing becoming the new norm, we felt the most responsible act would be to call off the [planned] sleepover party of six girls.” Instead, the mother of three put together a cozy family dinner, with presents for Elizabeth to open.
“When you are quarantined and also like to keep busy, a little creative challenge is welcomed,” Maples says. “I put on my thinking cap, remembered everything my grandmother taught me about setting the table, and put on the works, all from what we had at home. I cut budding tree branches for centerpieces and pulled out all my pretty vases. I set the table with our favorite spring Audubon Tiffany china, pretty block-print linen napkins and my mother-in-law’s vintage glassware.
“Homemade Shirley Temples flowed for the kids, and rose for Mom and Dad. We made her favorite homemade pizzas, easy steamed green beans with olive oil and a spring- themed layered cake. After dinner we went outside and enjoyed a bonfire.” She got to DJ all her favorite songs and ate two pieces of cake — if that’s not quarantine birthday party success, I don’t know what is!
Picnic under the stars
Using collected mismatched layered china and linens, I wanted to create an easy but comfortable and pretty picnic dinner with my boyfriend, Jay. We chose First Ward Park, with sunset views and our city’s skyline for a first-rate backdrop. [Our date took place prior to the city’s restrictions on park attendance.]
A bottle of wine, candle sticks and tapered candles, a gifted William Yeoward water carafe, and fresh flowers from Harris Teeter served as delightful accoutrements in bringing traditional indoor dining outside. We picked up takeout from Stagioni and topped off the meal with a slice of my coronavirus late-night addiction — a slice of Cicely’s homemade cake from Laurel Market.
After sunset, Jay played his guitar and we sang songs in the park.
We both got dressed up — he wore a sport coat, and I wore a long skirt and my trusty Lucchese cowboy boots. We both realized, if it weren’t for the citywide shutdown, we may have never thought to have had such an awesome, fun date night and experience.” SP