You are here

Entertaining: Autumn Party

At an autumn dinner, a harvest theme guides the warm palette and hearty menu

Written by Krissa Rossbund
  • Michael Venera

    Recipes in this story

    Heirloom Tomato Salad
    Classic Cassoulet
    Pear-Almond Tart

    The first day of January may mean a new calendar and well-intentioned resolutions, but autumn offers its own fresh start. It initiates a new academic year, promises the premieres of television favorites, kicks off the football season, and ushers in the holidays. So when party planners Catherine Bailly Dunne and Tanis McGregor, founders of Door Couture, decide to throw a fall gathering, they see harvesttime as a reason to celebrate.

    "At this time of year, you are constantly looking forward to something 'next month,'" explains Catherine. "There are holidays to anticipate plus the delight of rediscovering the comforts of warm, cozy wardrobes and crackling blazes in the fireplace."

    So for this get-together, Catherine and Tanis let a harvest theme guide their warm palette and hearty menu. Because it's an intimate dinner for six, the dining room seems too grand-and too expected. Instead, a small pine kitchen table that can be easily enlivened with pretty accoutrements is positioned in front of a fireplace in the living room. Covered by a linen cloth in muted purple, the table is just the right size for dining in this venue. The cozy setup also distinguishes the casual affair from the Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings that will soon occur in the formal dining room.

    Rugged logs and the distressed finish of the stone mantelpiece inspire the duo's use of natural materials for their setting. Rattan bistro-style chairs lend the feel of a French country inn, while rattan chargers ground ceramic dinner plates in aubergine-and-cream patterns of various forest scenes. Classic cassoulet, a traditional French bean-and-meat dish, is served to each guest in a vintage pottery cassolette. Topped with animal-shaped lids, the whimsical cassolettes become conversation pieces. Napkins edged in a crocheted trim give a hand-touched twist to traditional ivory linen. Wineglasses and tumblers with gold accents sparkle among the other rustic elements.

    For this autumn dinner, a plentiful supply of such fall flowers as chrysanthemums, bittersweet, and asters would make an appropriate centerpiece. But Catherine and Tanis instead look to the offerings at their local farmer's market to create a colorful homage to the season's harvest. This arrangement includes eggplant, pomegranates, and bell peppers with cascading grapes tucked in between. "Everyone loves flowers in the spring, when the winter months have starved us of their blooms," says Tanis. "But the fall is really about celebrating what's been planted and cared for over the summer."

    Photography: Michael Venera

    Sources: "Les Maisons Enchantées" faience dinner plates from Hermès, and linen Alexandre Turpault tablecloth, both through The Silver Peacock (212/426-2610); crystal stemware and frosted glass centerpiece from TableArt (

  • Michael Venera

    To update traditional cornucopias, Catherine and Tanis formed two sturdy, contrasting papers into cones and filled them with vegetables. They hung the little cornucopias from the top of the door using two colors of grosgrain ribbon.

  • Michael Venera

    Printed invitations always look polished, but for a less formal gathering, handwritten invites are charming. Here, thick paper placecards are tied with orange ribbons.

  • Michael Venera

    To play off of the door decorations, miniature cones are filled with chocolates, adorned with ribbon rosettes, and hung on the back of each chair. All paper products and ribbon are from Kate's Paperie (

  • Michael Venera

    Instead of using flowers for a centerpiece, make it from fruits and vegetables in the earthy colors of fall. For a simple, modern version, use produce that is all one color. To make arranging easy, choose a variety of shapes and sizes for your components.

  • Michael Venera
  • Michael Venera
  • Michael Venera
  • Michael Venera
  • The Sidecar, price available upon request from Moore & Giles [1-800-737-0169]

    This beautifully crafted bar cart, The Sidecar by Moore and Giles, is a great way to store liquor, glassware, bar tools, and anything else needed to complete your own miniature bar. The cart, made of Virginia black walnut, birch, leather, aluminum, and brass, is wheeled to make sure the party can travel with you. Perfect for drink-lovers without the space for a full bar.