Susan’s antidote to life’s fast pace has inspired similar friendly gatherings over the years—some of them fund-raisers. This one is particularly meaningful. It’s the first annual tea party for Isabelle, her 4-year-old friends, and their mothers, including Susan’s own daughter, Lynn Zises, mother of Isabelle. (The number of guests each year will increase with Isabelle’s age; five 5-year-olds next year, and so on.) The idea came from Susan’s friend in Virginia, who had enjoyed a similar party. "I thought, what wonderful Southern hospitality. Then I thought, why can’t it be wonderful Northern hospitality, too?"
Party hostess Susan Zises Green arranges flowers before the gathering.
"I love the fact that at first the girls looked at everything in awe. And then, of course, they ate everything with abandon," says Susan, whose etiquette lessons are painless. "All the while, though, they were trying to be little ladies. You know, children really will rise to the occasion if you allow them to." That rising included a little sofa jumping, which was just fine by Susan. Her only request was that they remove their shoes first. Then the coast was clear-and soft and springy. "I don't have childproof rooms and never have," Susan says. "I always raised my children with antiques. There was nothing so precious that it wasn't replaceable."
Even Susan's extensive collection of 19th-century majolica, with its fanciful molded surfaces and colorful glazes, is unmarred by the small hands that have touched it over the years. The little girls love the whimsical pottery that Susan started collecting when it was plentiful-and, she explains, all she could afford. She now displays it in little vignettes throughout her home. "I've had tremendous enjoyment from collecting it and other special pieces and patterns over the years," she says.
Susan's three-story Upper East Side townhouse is three doors down from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's. Behind a svelte coral sofa hangs a quilt that had been in an Ohio family for 100 years before being sold. "Each square is embroidered with layers of details," notes Susan. "You can tell it was done with a great deal of love and time."
Haley takes off her shoes under an antique table in Susan's living room, which is divided into several conversational groupings.
Proud mothers: Lynn Zises (Susan's daughter and Isabelle's mother), Malyn Sheridan (Haley's mom), and Christin Brecher (Carly's mom).
The food is as decorative as it is delicious. Tomato & Avocado Swirl Soup highlights the beauty of Susan's grand serving pieces.
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Steeped in Tradition
A pint-sized tea party is timeless, classic, and filled with fun
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Acquiring social graces can be arduous for children whose imaginations are increasingly tethered to a television set. But interior designer Susan Zises Green would like to interrupt that broadcast trend with an important message: Connecting with others in classic settings—like a tea party—builds confidence besides being fun.
The Manhattan-based interior designer is grandmother to Isabelle, a 4-year-old who embraces every new discovery with delight—and her "Nonni" steers her in the right direction. Today it’s with a nice cup of tea—a lively ginger one to tickle the senses—and a bounty of other inventive morsels, all of them bite-sized. Surrounded by Susan’s beautiful things, Isabelle and three of her friends play dress-up in real time—not just with their imaginary friends and dolls.
Pictured here, left to right: Haley, Isabelle, Eve, and Carly.
Photography: Colleen Duffley