HTX Comforts of Home 2013
The Dinner Guru

Hosting the perfect dinner party: These expert, insider tips will make you a most envied host

Hosting a perfect dinner party: Expert, insider tips make hosts great

Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Make an elegant statement with stunning serving pieces, like this shimmering creation by home decor and tabletop designer Michael Aram. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram personalizing gifts with his engraved signature at Neiman Marcus. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
New this season to Michael Aram's collection are fig leaf-inspired dishes finished in bright enamel, perfect for hors d'oeuvre or light bites. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram's Christmas ornaments can double as napkin rings and then be given to dinner guests as gifts. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Just some of the menorahs in the Michael Aram Collection, including a matzah plate (left foreground) fashioned in a silver-like finish with texture resembling the unleavened bread. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
A mere sampling of Michael Aram's home decor pieces, many mixing metals - one of his favorite touches to add jewelry-like richness. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013
Michael Aram at Neiman Marcus October 2013

A heaping tablespoonful of passion and a whole lot of fun are all the ingredients you need to host the perfect holiday dinner party at home. And take that advice from an expert.

“I do plan for some of the basics,” says Michael Aram, home decor and gift designer extraordinaire, who was on hand recently at Neiman Marcus to personally introduce his fall/winter collection, “but you also need a certain spontaneity to it all. After all, it feels wonderful to be inspired.”

Aram shared his little secrets with CultureMap during his visit here to The Galleria store while personalizing gifts with his signature using a dentist’s drill for engraving. “I laugh that dentistry is my second calling,” he says.

Dress Rehearsal
Aram scrutinizes his serving platters and dinnerware the night before the big event. “I actually take Post-its and place them on the plates so I remember what food to place there . . . and not forget about any dishes in the fridge,” he says. “I truly believe in oven-to-table serving.”

You can peruse Aram’s exquisite casserole holders in-store or on his website, particularly the new Sleepy Hollow collection with porcelain dishes that fit snuggly into elegant footed nickelplate holders for a beautiful presentation, for inspiration. His full lines of dinnerware are meant to mix and match with interchangeable organic patterns such as Black Orchid, Botanical Leaf, Olive Branch, Cast Iron and Silversmith.

Mix and Match
Speaking of mix and match, one of Aram’s signature approaches in his designs is the combination of different metals in a single piece. “It adds so much richness and makes items look and feel so jewelry-like,” he says. An excellent example is Aram’s partridge in a pear tree ornament, in which he integrates the beauty of silverplate and goldplate into one object.

Once the serving pieces and plate selection are in place, Aram determines the foundation for the table layout, whether it be a cloth covering or runner to set the stage. “I really don’t want a lot of color on the table,” he says. “Rather, the food should stand out.”

Old and New
“I like combining things from different eras,” Aram says. “My grandmother’s plates are really too small for dining, so I use them in different ways. Or I’ll take an old champagne flute and use it for a flower vase.  I love to bring memories of different family members to the table.”

 "I always serve my guests first, and then introduce them to the bar. I want my guests to feel at home.” 

Alongside meaningful family heirlooms, Aram pairs contemporary pieces, such as his new grape leaf snack plates in bright enamel finishes inspired by his days as a youth helping roll dolmas for special occasions.

“As you can see, my drive comes from nature in all its forms,” Aram notes. “I’ll use dried leaves and vines with fresh flowers. I believe all stages of nature, living and not, just amplify the beauty.”

He often goes out to his garden the morning of the dinner party, collecting seasonal treasures such as twigs and small branches, which he spray paints gold or silver and then arranges on the table. A quick trip to the nearest grocery store brings white roses to the setting, easily cut into delicate accents when placed in votive candleholders.

“The table should shimmer,” Aram says. “I don’t like a lot of lighting.”

The Bar
Aram always sets up a self-serve bar in advance, using large-scale ice buckets to chill water, wine and champagne. A popular item in his bar ensemble is the cool and stylish Bark ice bucket in polished aluminum with stainless steel insert. The Forest Leaf Collection piece is highly textured and topped with a branch-handle lid.

He slices lemons and limes and readies other cocktail condiments so everything is available when guests arrive. Drinkware is in clear view and easily accessible, as are napkins, ice scoops, tongs, swizzle sticks, etc. “I always serve my guests first, and then introduce them to the bar,” Aram says. “I want my guests to feel at home.”

The Host or Hostess with the Mostest
Aram says that graciousness should be extended to even those unexpected guests. “I don’t fret if someone brings a friend,” Aram says. “My policy is ‘open door, open heart.’"

And he keeps a few extra gifts on hand for just those circumstances. He'll use his  Christmas ornaments as napkin rings for everyone to take home. Think golden acorns, forged snowflakes, leafy crosses and whimsical, "jazz hands" snowmen, all in magical metals. He's also known to set out his charming mini-frames as place card holders as another gift option.

“Once that first guest arrives, you are that gracious host or hostess,” Aram says. “The party has started, and there’s no turning back. If you’re at ease, then your guests will be at ease, too.”