It’s the big night. Nope, we’re not talking about your wedding night. We’re talking about introducing your parents to your betrothed’s parents. Could there be a more stressful event? How about hosting it during a pandemic? With so many restaurants out-of-business or with COVID restrictions in place, it makes sense to host the “big meeting” at home. And of course, this would be a night to impress, for everything to look and feel perfect. Expectations are high. So are tensions. But there is no reason to believe you can’t pull it off.
We looked to the classic 1967 film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” starring Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, and Spencer Tracey for inspiration. The iconic movie not only takes on racial themes that are still very relevant today, but it does so in an elegant setting. There’s simply something about breaking bread with people—particularly those you don’t know—that can lead you to discover common ground. And when the tablescape is beautiful, it’s bound to be a night to remember.
Here, we discuss the finer points of entertaining your future in-laws with Doreen Chambers, founder of Doreen Chambers Interiors in Brooklyn, New York.
Why did you use “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” as your inspiration for this photo shoot?
Not only is it my favorite movie of all time, but it’s so interesting that it revolves around a couple who just got engaged. It ends up being such an elegant evening—but it also had a lot of tension. Even though the film is over 50 years old, it seemed so relevant today. Before the photo shoot, I watched the movie again and it was WAY ahead of it’s time with interracial marriage. The families were able to come together over a meal and discovered they had more in common than different. It’s such a pivotal film.
Let’s talk about your choices for the table setting. What inspired it?
Chanel de Métiers d’Art had a recent fashion show that featured a floor length dress and it was all white and gold. This opulent outfit just felt like the perfect intersection of minimalism and glamour. I feel like we are turning a corner on minimalism and mid-century modern. With the pandemic, people are more cozy and want their home to reflect more color palettes and personality. Before COVID-19, we spent little time at home so minimalism made sense. Now, we have a generation of people who grew up with mid-century modern and are more open to antiques and bursts of color. The goal is to layer those two concepts to make it feel authentic and lived in without feeling fussy or overdone.
Tell us about some of the designers you chose for the table setting.
The champagne flutes—which are special and just for the bride and groom—are gorgeous art deco flutes from Russian artist Erte. Along with the Chanel dress, they tied together my inspiration of white, gold, crystal, and lots of shimmer. Then I went on to use Kim Seybert’s Paillette decanter, Molten chargers, Art Nouveau runner, and Mahout napkin rings. Some of her works are exotic with intricate beading that feels lush and ornate. The runner is its own statement. And, I love the napkin rings—the little elephants are a wonderful conversation piece, which can help if there’s a lull in the table discussion.
Likewise, the glass leaf bowls by Vietri are just beautiful. It’s not that expensive and it can either sit on it’s own or it can hold olives, nuts, or candies. It’s another decorative element to add to the table scape—and one that will be admired.
Michael Aram’s Molton flatware place setting feels contemporary and classic all at the same time and they’re a nice statement without being terribly expensive. And an inexpensive white and gold tablecloth from Gracious Home pulled it all together beautifully.
The champagne bucket is so gorgeous—but who uses one anymore?
Do you really want to keep getting up to run to the fridge to refill your guests’ glasses? A champagne bucket is the kind of thing that is going to elevate the entire evening for your guests. In fact, I think you should pull out your champagne bucket more frequently—like when you have your girlfriends over for a glass of wine. Again, if you make the effort, the entire event feels more special.
I used this champagne bucket—which is actually a planter!—because the gold anchors the table. But that’s cool—don’t get stuck on looking only for traditional “champagne buckets”—look for planters and bowls and other vessels that might work. This one is by Aerin Lauder’s home accessories collection and feels extremely stylish. Whatever Aerin is doing, I’m interested in—in fact she has a new book, Entertaining Beautifully, that is an ideal engagement or housewarming gift.
The candelabras are stunning. Where did you get them?
Candles always make everything look and feel better. I got these in Marrakech at a wonderful emporium inside a hotel called El Fenn. I carried them home—and really never had a use for them until now. That’s what I love about entertaining—there are so many beautiful things you already have that are gorgeous and can make the occasion personal if you display them properly.
How can I make sure my flowers look amazing?
Living in Brooklyn, I get all of my flowers at Seaport Flowers, and finding a florist that you trust is important if you plan on entertaining. To make sure that it looks good, bring her a small piece of your china pattern. But if you’re just using all gray or white plates, simply tell her that’s the palette so she can make the flowers more colorful. Also, if you have a special container or vase that you would like to use, bring it to the florist in advance so they can use it.
What if you don’t have a lot of tableware yet?
Anybody can have a beautiful table—it doesn’t need to match! If you only have odd plates and dishes, you can still pull a beautiful look together by purchasing matching chargers, candles, and linens. There’s tons to choose from whether it’s high-end designers, antiques, borrowing your mother’s or grandmother’s set (I used my timeless Mottahedeh wedding china and Moser crystal for this shoot!) Or check out low and mid-range, such as Crate and Barrel and CB2. Another great source is Replacements.com. They sell odd lots and they do take returns.
The tabletop is very personal and you don’t want to be intimidated by it. You want your identity in it. And even though entertaining can be stressful, by pulling in different elements, it will feel authentic—and everybody will appreciate it. Remember—everything looks gorgeous with candles and flowers. In the end, do what makes you comfortable and just make an effort (that means absolutely no paper or plastic!)
But I’m a terrible cook. Shouldn’t I just make reservations?
No way—order takeout and use your beautiful tablescape as a way to make a joke about it. An elegant evening at home surrounded by authentic objects and delicious food is a wonderful, intimate way to introduce the inlaws. I love beautiful things—I feel like if it isn’t fabulous then you shouldn’t be doing it. Make it a magical night—and it will be enjoyed by everyone.
All home design by Doreen Chambers of Doreen Chambers Interior.
Cari Wira Dineen is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle writer, editor, and content strategist. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Weight Watchers, Health, Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, TheKnot.com, The New York Post, and Shape.com among others. Most recently, she was an editor at John Brown Media where she created custom, branded content for digital and print publications as well as websites and social media platforms. A former senior editor at Redbook and Woman’s Day, she loves writing about travel, beauty, and wellness.