A woman having her hair coiffed at a posh Beverly Hills hair salon was overheard to say the well-publicized Hollywood party had bombed because of the lighting in the room. "The food was great," she said . "But the bright lights ruined everything. Nobody stayed for the dessert . "
Illuminating, isn't it? And true. Lighting can make or break a party. And what better time than the holiday season to make sure your lighting glows.
Los Angeles hostess Elsie Frankfurt Pollock (she's head of Page Boy maternity fashions) said she owes the pleasing ambiance of her parties, if not their success, to lighting. " . . . yet it's the one thing most people neglect in the planning," she said.
Some friends, in fact, have used the word "magic" in describing Pollock's table.
"Candles, with my stable of Steuben glass animals and fresh flowers are the chief ingredients of my table," she said.
The animals vary according to the theme of the party. "I like to give parties with a purpose. And that helps provide me with a theme for the table. If, for instance, we are entertaining newlyweds, I use my collection of Steuben love birds. A good Republican gathering will bring out my glass elephant collection and a lot of lively conversation over them. There are collections of bears, dolphins and frogs, and for Christmas, there are the Steuben angels," she said."
So there were a dozen or so Steuben angels on Pollock's table along with single-stemmed yellow-white spider mums in individual bud vases, Ginori Pincio Red pattern china, Buccellati "Palm Beach" pattern flatware, Baccarat goblets, white ecru napkins and round place mats. Baccarat place cards were placed like paperweights over the napkins. There were both votive and tall candles in crystal holders with the dimmed crystal chandelier above. And to add a glow to the sideboard, Pollock filled Baccarat toasting glasses with white candles.
To get it right, Pollock first sets and decorates the table with flowers, then adds as many candles as suits the eye. "I don't do lighting until I do flowers. Sometimes the color of the china will cast a reflection requiring more or less candles," she explained. Then she dims the chandelier to match the intensity of the candlelight.
Bi-coastal party planner Clive David uses a similar method to achieve his electric light-candle power ratio.
David loves candles but suggests using the unscented kind. "Scented candles are all wrong with fish," he remarked.
A Word of Caution
In the rush to use candles, a word of caution, however. Keep them out of reach--where they can't be accidentally swept off a table. Candles on a buffet table should be placed as far back from the food as possible to avoid precarious over-reaching by guests trying to get to the food.
Premier Los Angeles caterer Milton Williams thinks that candles are one of the most important props of the holiday season. " . . . when you think you have enough, add more," he said.
This Christmas Williams is using his fireplace and candles to cast a warm spell. "I'm using red tablecloths, and with a centerpiece of fresh holly, carnations, candy canes and popcorn balls, I am using five 18-inch red candles per table. The fireplace will be kept lit, and the mantle will be covered with candles and garlands of holly."
Marshall Rothman of the Los Angeles catering firm Jaime and Marshall prefers votive candles because they are less obtrusive than tall candles, and "don't burn down to create a mess on the table."
Marshall suggests an obvious but often ignored rule: light a room according to the purpose of the party. A youthful party requires bright lighting; a formal party suggests romantic, soft lighting requirements. Uplights (lights focused upward) in a room or angled uplights in a tent, where ceiling meets wall, are most flattering to complexions.
Another alternative to table lighting, according to David, is to use the relatively new battery-operated twinkle lights meant for Christmas trees to illuminate objects on the table. "They are wonderful, especially at Christmas time, fastened to arrangements of flowers or small bonsai Christmas trees," said David. But the dining table is only one part of your holiday lighting considerations, suggests Bettina Trumbull, lighting designer for Feldman Lighting, Inc. "Guests don't stay in one room. They want to see it all; you need to have proper lighting in every room," said Trumbull.
Areas can be played up or down using track lights, recessed reflector down- or uplights, beams, colored filters, halogen lamps and soft pink incandescent bulbs or tubing.
Here are specific lighting tricks suggested by Trumbull to add festivity and a warm glow to each room in the house:
Generally speaking, if you don't have dimmers on your light switches, add them for all areas except over task areas in the kitchen and entry or stairways where bright lighting is essential.