Photography By: Brian Sager

A quick chat with tastemaker and lifestyle blogger Penny Lyons.

What’s the perfect hostess gift?

The perfect hostess gift is something homemade, a tea bread, a jar of jam, a bottle of herb-infused olive oil or a loaf of exquisitely baked bread paired with a cutting board. I love to give bulbs planted in a terra cotta pot wrapped in cellophane and tied up with raffia, which brings long-lasting enjoyment and the fun of watching them grow. I often gift a pack of printed calling cards, monogrammed coasters or beautiful cocktail napkins.

What three simple items can you add to a table setting to elevate its design?

Not counting flowers and candles, I usually select one thing for inspiration, be it a color or a theme or a special occasion and then add: 1) A touch of whimsy which can be in the form of a collectible (pieces of Lalique or Herend), souvenirs from a trip, fruits and vegetables as centerpieces or artichokes carved into candle holders; 2) monogrammed linens most definitely add a personalization that says I’m going the extra step to make the ordinary extraordinary; 3) placecards are a way of warmly greeting your guests with “please have a seat, I’m so happy you’re here.”

What theme would you give the perfect summer soirée on Nantucket?

My idea of the perfect Nantucket soiree would be a Gatsby-themed party, no question! I love the history of the roaring twenties—opulent partying into the wee hours of the morning, elegant high flapper fashion, gentlemen in tuxedos, feathers everywhere, dancing the Charleston, drinking champagne from over-flowing towers and enjoying the abundance of high spirit coupled with a tiny bit of naughtiness…Guests like to be transported to another time and place and the twenties are emblematic of a fantasy era where soirees reigned queen.

Describe the most elaborate party you’ve planned.

The most elaborate party I’ve ever planned was a party for 800 guests at the home of Martha Stewart to benefit Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, with the iconic American interior decorator Mario Buatta (the Prince of Chintz) as the guest of honor. We sewed eighty-eight tablecloths using Martha Stewart’s baby blue and white striped fabric from her sheet collection. We kept the color palette simple, crisp and elegant with all white tents and lots of live greenery. The fabulously creative centerpieces were oversized ivy topiaries in different animal shapes, adding that child-like touch of whimsy, reminding us of the children we were there for. This was simple elegance at its very best and for the very best cause.

What’s a common mistake people make in planning a party?

As long as you’re hosting with open arms and love, you can’t make a mistake! But here is my ultimate recipe for a great party. I use our five senses as a guide when planning an event of any kind. Focusing on sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste is a small cheat sheet for identifying what makes guests feel at home in your home. I greet every guest warmly upon arrival. I always have flowers and candles, which set the tone. Music should ebb and flow with the tenor of the evening in tempo and volume. I often change the lighting throughout the evening. My culinary selections coordinate with my theme allowing delicious aromas to waft through the air adding to the ambiance. Most importantly, I gather together a well-thought-out list of guests with different but complementary interests I know will make for a great mingle and spark convivial conversation, ultimately creating a successful party.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

My husband and I met at ages seven and nine at the local ballroom dance studio. We were teamed up as a couple by height (and by chance!) and went on to dance competitively for thirteen years becoming the United States Ballroom Dance Champions in high school. We traveled extensively performing around the country and on television shows such as American Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show and Step This Way (the original Dancing with the Stars) where we won the grand prize, a Corvette Stingray.

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