Athena Calderone is the sort of person one imagines to be routinely twirling through her kitchen in a Mara Hoffman maxi-dress, conjuring elaborate soirees with the flick of her slender wrist. After all, the interior designer is the woman behind Eye Swoon, a lifestyle blog featuring everything from recipes for basil-spiked peach-and-strawberry summer sangria to how-tos on foraged herb centerpieces—with lush imagery and effusive, expert annotation. Click here for more pictures.
But to hear the tastemaker tell it, the dinner party of her fantasies, an event she has planned and re-planned in her mind, has until recently eluded her. “I’ve written probably ten sample menus and dreamt up a billion design scenarios, but I’ve never had the opportunity—or, to be super honest, the budget—to actually execute it,” she says. That all changed earlier this month, when Calderone teamed up with Cointreau (she’s a brand ambassador for the liqueur) to throw a summer bash for 38, staged at her midcentury house in Amagansett. Complete with a Mediterranean-inspired menu by chef and T Magazine contributor Jeff Schwarz, the party featured a dramatically long, low-to-the-ground custom dining table, a citrus-hued color palette, and twinkling bistro lights strung overhead. “I wanted to evoke this beach-inspired, intimate yet grand experience on my lawn—combining a feeling of elegance with a casual, relaxed environment,” she says.
The day of the party, Calderone’s husband, Victor, was out of town, in the midst of a European tour (the deejay spends all of August working shows in Ibiza, Bulgaria, and London). “People ask, 'Where is this ghost husband of yours?'” she jokes. She had plenty of moral support, however, in the form of her weekend guests, married decorators Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, whose tight friendship with the hostess was cemented on a trip to Tulum a couple of years ago. The pair watched the preparations unfold from the pool: “I was setting the table and putting out the rugs, knowing that the eyes of these two impeccable designers were on me while I was executing all of these details,” says Calderone with a nervous laugh. “I would just kind of look over at them, like yea or nay? Afterwards, they told me, 'It took so much restraint to not get our hands on all of that!'”
Clad in an eyelet-embroidered Zimmermann dress and piled on baubles by Jennifer Fisher, Calderone placed freshly clipped greens from the property on stoneware Canvas plates as a finishing touch, and put residual pre-party jitters to rest with a generously poured house cocktail: a lime rickey. “I shouldn’t say this, but I think getting a little tipsy at the beginning of the night might be a good trick for me moving forward!” she confesses. “I didn’t have any of that usual subtext in my head—like, am I talking to everyone, am I being gracious?”
New and old friends from the hospitality, art, design, fashion, and blogging worlds arrived in short order, including hotelier Sean MacPherson, Harpers Bazaar digital editor Chrissy Rutherford, model and perfumer Leilani Bishop, jewelry designers Phoebe and Annette Stephens, stylist Jeanann Williams, and casting agent slash-Tales of Endearment blogger Natalie Joos. As the sun set, the assembled flopped onto earthy cushions from IKEA arranged on Moroccan rugs and Turkish kilims from Calderone’s personal collection to feast on a spread of wheatberry taboulleh, summer squash with charred corn, Tuscan kale salad, and shrimp, chorizo, and spiced-lamb kebabs. “We had handwritten seating cards but at the last minute I decided not to use them,” she says. “Ultimately, I felt like the vibe of the event didn’t lend itself to that—everyone just landed where they landed.”
The evening brought its share of scrapbook-worthy moments, from Calderone’s dear friend, photoshoot producer Tali Magal announcing the news of her pregnancy to photographer and model Brandee Brown taking the backyard zip line for a spin. S’mores around the bonfire cemented the halcyon days of summer atmosphere. “Everyone told me they all felt like old friends by the end,” says Calderone, who saw the gathering as a full circle moment, both personally and professionally. “Since I’ve had this house my life has shifted in the most beautiful way,” she says. The event may mark the apex of Calderone’s party planning aspirations thus far, but it’s hardly the conclusion: an Eye Swoon dinner series is in the works, with a supper at Calderone’s friend’s organic farm and another in Brooklyn set for the fall. “There’s something about food and this magical quality of togetherness for me that entertaining brings forth,” she says. “It sounds kind of corny, but really it’s a joy.”