Some things are just meant to be. And although style maven Carolyne Roehm’s career break may have been when she was hired as assistant to fashion icon Oscar de la Renta shortly out of college, her introduction to great celebrations dates back to her childhood. "My grandmother loved to set a beautiful table and decorate a lovely room, so I was exposed early," says Carolyne, a celebrated fashion designer and an author who has penned a host of books on subjects ranging from gift wrapping to setting tables to gardening.
"In ninth grade, I organized my first social event, a high school dance, and from then on, I was nominated to decorate for dances, proms, and later to orchestrate social events for my sorority."
Photographs by Aimee Herring
Text by Krissa Rossbund
For a table set in the confines of her handsome Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, Carolyne created an intimate and formal setting that plays up the sophisticated chocolate-browns and oranges of her grand two-story living room, appointed with furnishings and decoration from the 18th century. "Orange and brown are urbane, current, and appropriate for a serious setting," explains Carolyne. "In the city, I wanted mature colors that were comfortable and appealing to both men and women."
Carolyne found inspiration for her table setting in her apartment’s palette and architecture.
Circa-1810 English dinnerware is rich in design. Placed against pristine white linens, it offers pleasing contrast to the apartment’s chocolate-colored velveteen walls that stand out against classic white pilasters. The fluted pilasters also provide inspiration for other wares at the table—fluted and gold-rimmed crystal stemware, a pierced porcelain centerpiece holding a striking bunch of fuchsia orchids, and fluted black candles held erect by marble-and-gold candlesticks.
Fluted crystal stemware with gold rims give just enough of a contemporary edge to the antique dinnerware.
Carolyne had the classic antique flatware pattern "Kings" reproduced in gold.
Carolyne prefers traditional stationery with hand-lettered calligraphy, but for less pedigreed situations she gets creative with computer design programs to customize invitations, placecards, and favors. For this gathering, she printed an invitation in the event’s distinctive coffee color and presented it in a coordinating envelope with a fleur-de-lis pattern. Double-faced orange satin ribbon is used for the invitations and tied around miniature favor boxes set atop a silver tray for guests.
An 18th-century grand piano with gold embellishments is a magnificent instrument used to entertain Carolyne’s guests.
Her residences may vary in geography and terrain—she has homes in Manhattan, Connecticut, and Aspen—but there is one style element Carolyne Roehm never leaves behind—a blue-and-white color scheme. The beloved duo struck a chord with Carolyne when she decorated her first New York apartment in the ’70s, and it has now inspired her new book, A Passion for Blue & White (Broadway Books; $60). "Blue and white’s best example is in nature—that never-ending bright sky with big fluffy clouds," Carolyne says. "And it’s friendly and available. From precious high-end examples of porcelain to good-looking and inexpensive reproductions, it has something for everyone."
A Passion for Blue and White will be in bookstores in November.