TO HOST A BETTER BBQ, DO THIS: CHRIS BENZ SHARES HIS BEST END OF
SUMMER PARTY TIPS
AUGUST, 2017 | VOGUE MAGAZINE
On a recent Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn, a small group dressed in colorful prints and stripes sipped John Dalys from paper straws in the foliage-filled backyard of a brownstone in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. On the grill, lobster tails sizzled, while laughter trickled out the French doors that led to the kitchen. A few feet away, Chris Benz, creative director at Bill Blass and host for the afternoon, tended the barbecue in a wide-brimmed hat and crisp blue apron, looking every bit the grill pro as he flipped skewers of new potatoes and chatted with the friends who gathered round to watch. Fragrant charcoal smoke blew softly around the yard, while Benz’s dog lazed beneath a lounge chair nearby. It was about as idyllic a summer afternoon in New York City as one can hope to get. “I wanted to create a fantasy of ‘city summer’ for my friends,” says Benz of the occasion, which included guests Cuba Gooding Jr., Eddie Ross, Andrew Bevan, and Kelly Framel. “I also wanted plenty of lounging around and socializing throughout the house and garden where people could be surrounded by as many fresh flowers and greenery as possible. My Brooklyn neighborhood is just far enough outside of Manhattan that people feel like they’re in the country, so keeping the dream of a classic American picnic feel was important.” To create a menu that suited the traditional theme, Benz sourced a bounty of quintessential summer ingredients: lobster tails from Greenhead Lobsters in Maine, Bird in Hand rosé, Fried Chicken from Peach’s Hot House, grilled peaches and burrata crostini, and grilled maple-glazed bacon-wrapped carrots—a surprise hit. In the dining room, the designer set out a healthy-yet-indulgent spread of fresh vegetables and nibbles that included a massive platter of crudité culled from an early morning farmer’s market run, pimento cheese dip, a French potato salad with mint, a pickled radish and cucumber salad, and grilled watermelon with feta. “I have always enjoyed the idea of cooking, but have spent quite some time over the past few years stepping up my game,” the designer explains. But for Benz, the best part of hosting a fete is the opportunity to catch up with favorite friends: “Everyone I know lives such fast-paced and busy lives. If I can corral as many of them as possible, it’s always a terrific time.” To that end, Benz offers this advice: “Invite only fun and interesting people! As RuPaul says, ‘if you wanna be invited to the party, you must have something to bring,’ so invite only unique, delightful people who will get to meet one another. It's the best party trick of all.” Below, the designer shares a few more tips for creating the kind of backyard soiree that guests won’t want to leave. Get Personal “Get organized about inviting people, especially following up on RSVPs. I think being invited to a party should make the guest feel special, so always send personal save-the-dates, emails, and a nice follow up reminder a couple days before the event. No blind-copy email invitations, please.” Timing is Everything “For a BBQ, plan an early start time. All people really want to do on a Sunday is sleep late and then go directly to a party. I started at 2pm, but could have easily kicked off by noon. Plus, an early start time keeps the party from going too late on a school night.” Party-Proof Your Home “Treat your house like a hotel; Put away anything that you don’t want people touching, breaking, or picking up to take selfies with.” Decorate Strategically “If you have a kitchen island, people gravitate to it and crowd the kitchen. To avoid this—and help with traffic flow—put a big floral arrangement in the center so guests have to navigate around it to chit chat.” Bring the Outdoors In “One of the great luxuries of New York City-living is our flower market. Before a party, I always get up very early to find cool and unusual foliage to decorate my home. It instantly makes the rooms feel refreshed, and brings some color. Don’t forget to put a little bud vase in your bathroom, too.” Keep the Drinks Flowing “Invest in good drink dispensers and pre-mix a fun cocktail that’s easy to refill. People love to serve themselves and it helps get guests into the ‘spirit’ faster! Sidenote: decide however much liquor you think you’ll need and double it.” Snack Well “Parties are all about the nibbles, so big bowls of fancy chips, fun crackers, and an as-big-as-possibly crudité platter are all lynchpins of a great party.” Recipes here. Encourage Roaming “Nowhere should be off-limits; encourage people to hang out everywhere. And always keep your bed made in case someone needs to take a quick cat nap or canoodle during the festivities.” Beautify The BBQ “For summer, grilling is where it’s at for parties. Use real lump charcoal—it doesn’t have any of the gross chemicals that the quick-lighting briquettes have, and it stays very hot for a long time. Also, it’s quite beautiful looking. Some guests even joked that it would look great in a bowl on their coffee table.” Keep Things Clean “Be sure to have enough trash bins around the house. No one likes to be stuck with a dirty old napkin while they’re talking up a pretty somebody.”
SEPTEMBER, 2016 | BETTER HOMES & GARDENS MAGAZINE
After a long renovation, my Brooklyn brownstone project is finally ready for it's close-up. And, what better publication than Better Homes & Gardens to reveal the quintessentially modern project of urban creative living? Produced by Eddie Ross, with a story by Linda O'Keeffe and photographs by David Land, the story could not have turned out more magical.
For more renovation and decorating tips & tricks, grab a copy on newsstands today or download on iTunes here.
Images courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens // Photography by David Land
CREATIVE DIRECTION | bill blass
EBAY COLLECTIONS | PULITZER'S PALM BEACH
Those who know understand that the best way to handle a brutal winter is to escape it! The colorful enclave of Palm Beach has remained the winter playground for the chic and glamorous set for decades, and for good reason. Palm trees, leisure sports, and beach-side formality mix effortlessly – and perfectly – with the technicolor fashion and interior styling. None represented this tropical mix more refreshingly than the Pulitzers – Lilly, of mixed-print fashion fame, and husband Peter – whose high preppy aesthetic became the look of the winter-playground for generations. Here, an imaginary mix perfect for your hurricane club cocktail parties.
Architectural archetypes have been keystones to every decade - the post-modern cubes of freewheeling 1980's contemporary, the 1950's pre-fab pastalized bungalows, or the 1970's sprawling ranch houses resplendent of The Ice Storm. Difficult to classify, though precipitating almost every discipline, the 'Brooklyn' aesthetic has firmly affixed itself to present-day design philosophy. Too numerous are Edison bulbs, salvaged wood, and urban-woodland imagery to count. I think in time we will reflect nostalgically on the second coming of the Brooklyn brownstone as the grand dame house of present day. Here, a more refined variation on the theme - a heady mix of found, tarnished, and restorative.
A slight twist on an established tradition is always in order, and this season the Oscars' red carpet replaced the staid black tie formality with a dose of cool blue. From navy tuxedos to shimmering cobalt gowns, blue lightened the mood just enough to infuse a modern spirit to Hollywood's biggest night. Here, I corral blue for all aspects of your life - from kitchens to cameras, it's the perfect hue for you!
Oscar night always strikes an important note of current trends. Whether it's color, texture, style, or time period, there always seems to be a front-runner in terms of mood. This year, despite the buzz for pastels, metallics took the top prize. Shimmering silver, lustrous gold, and radiant copper all found import on the red carpet. I love metallics not only for fashion, but for all sorts of design. Here, my round up of shiny objects, sure to catch your attention.
I have been in love with Beverly Hills - and in particular the Beverly Hills Hotel - for as long as I can remember. In fact, on a family vacation to Disneyland I recall begging my parents to drive me up to the 90210 from Anaheim. I was possibly 6 or 7 years old. Nevertheless, the romance has never faded - the eucalyptus-scented air, warm breeze and rosy seclusion of fortified mansions and the pink palace. Each time I visit, the faux bamboo chinoiserie and awning-striped upholstery still brings me back to childhood (maybe it was over-watching Troop Beverly Hills?). The enclave evokes a specific spirit of wealth, glamour, and Hollywood royalty at play. Whether captured in a Slim Aarons photograph or seen from the backseat of an old Rolls, Beverly Hills will forever hold a very special place in my psyche.
Growing up in '90's Seattle, Grunge was the perfect anecdote to the quaint Pacific Northwest scene. The capricious spookiness with anything from saturated colors awash with sinister makeup, and all sorts of gothic splendor were highlights of my high school experience. I love the innate drama of devilish iconography and the Baroque underone of church incense. Whether serious and ornate, or garish and hyperbolized, Grunge is a quick-fix for a little provocative drama. For a refresher, rewatch Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet, or 200 Cigarettes whose allsorts use of crosses & crowns remains securely emblazoned on my mind.
Two of my favorite things - Mexico and Christmas - are the perfect pairing for the holiday season. Who doesn't love a little Feliz Navidad to liven up their dreary winter weather? It's also a terrific theme for a Christmas party! Sprinkle a little salt, and take a shot of this peppery tequila-themed fiesta complete with sugar skulls, crepe paper flowers, and as many colorful candles as you can amass.
Sometimes it's out with the new, and in with the old, I say! A little extravagant gilded framing and some dusty needlepoint is all you need to make your bedroom into Marie Antoinette's private love-nest. Silken tufts, frou-frou florals, and a little touch of the insane might be just what the doctor ordered. A little goes a long way with this genre, but I think more is also more when taking cues from the French monarchs! Here's everything you need for a little 'oh la la' in your bourgeoisie.
A successful Christmas party is the apotheosis of every host's year-long social calendar. Sparkle, shine, a heaping dose of tinsel-strewn nostalgia, and plenty of punch on the bowl - there is a distinct recipe for this type of fun. These are a few of my favorite things for my very own holiday celebration, sure to brighten up the yule - from Dorothy Thorpe glassware amidst frosted pine berries, to tufted furniture and the perfect caroling mix. And don't forget - it's not a party until a few ornaments get broken!
Bold & beautiful – anything related to Peggy Guggenheim really strikes a mean note. These selections, often raw and unrefined, allow the artistic medium to express and dictate the form, a steadfast Modernist goal. A Brutalist sculpture or inspired abstract painting can create the perfect balance to a minimalist space or any room that feels too sweet for its own good. I also always aspire to the robust, jazzy, freewheeling spirit of Peggy Guggenheim's world, or to at least feel like a guest in her home.
The uproarious color of optimism and flair, pink is not only an intrinsic part of my life (I've had pink hair for years) but an exceptional category for gift-giving. Throughout history, pink has become popular during times of economic upswing and prosperity - the 1950's for example, was a sugar-coated pink wonderland, as we all know. So, this season why not toss a little peppy pink present into your wintery mix?
Autumn brings to mind the cool nostalgia for an East Coast campus, particularly the landscape and surroundings of JD Salinger's beloved Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. At once country and city mouse, Holden moves between pastoral prep to cold, provincial city while maintaining the elegance and childlike remembrance of the bygone American dream. Threadbare rugs, the Social Registery, stacks of blue delft porcelain, and earthenware jugs are all part of this world, and the bucolic Northeastern life.
There's something fabulous about swanning around a boudoir in amaribou slipper and a silky kimono, no? Girls have all the fun! Sometimes it seems like the ultimate fantasy to step into a Hollywood dreamscape of a powdery ladies' lounge for a quick kitty nap on a tufted chaise lounge, or a langourous chit-chat under a cascading brass-and-rose-crystal chandelier while sipping pink champagne. For all your luxurious needs, the below selections are perfect to go along with your fluffy poodle lifestyle.
Who doesn’t love the idea of life on the moon? The effervescent white lunar glow is something that has inspired me for years—and what would it look like to create the chic life out there in space? Ligne Roset sectionals? A powder-white Land Rover for grocery-pod runs? Possibly a Tibetan lamb fur ottoman? I agree, all of the above. Here’s to our first date with the man in the moon.
One of my favorite movies - Ruthless People - is a milestone of 1980's design and aesthetics. Danny Devito and Bette Midler's characters' house, resplendent of high Memphis Group sensability, is a visual feast of the polarizing movement. Graphic shapes, clashing brights, pastel color-blocking, and awkward proportion, Memphis style will always hold a special place in my heart, at least in the movies.
Chas Addams has always been a consistent source of inspiration for me – the celebrated macabre decor, characters and tongue-in-cheek haunts have made their way into the majority of my design disciplines. A playful take on the “haunted house” can easily work its way into your modern theme in much the same way as the “little black dress” in your closet. Add a little dark drama, especially in Autumn!
Turquoise objects have caught my eye the world over - from midcentury Italian pottery, to African trade beads, to scarce Lachenal ceramics at the marche aux puces in France, the color is one of extraordinary beauty. I have an entire collection at my apartment in Manhattan of every size and shape, a 'turquoise tableau' of sorts, representing true blue treasures and findings from all of my travels.
I love the exercise of converting bad taste into good taste—often the gaudiest, most ornate pieces can be kind of great, when used in a serious way. Shiny silver, gold, brass and chrome can take many forms, but the history and emotional beauty of reflective metals will always remain—even in the most hilarious incarnation.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been going to Palm Springs, California—originally to visit my grandparents, who smartly escaped the Pacific Northwest for the desert sun, and now as a festive weekend destination. Never a place to disappoint in visual drama, Palm Springs’ architecture, glamour and attitude maintain all the kicky decadence of its mid-century heyday as a Hollywood weekend enclave. Bright-colored travel accessories with a tongue-in-cheek flavor are essential—as is powdered aspirin for hazy mornings-after—for the ultimate desert holiday.