Fall 2014’s edition of ONE Life magazine shines a light on world trends, culture and design as the proprietary lifestyle publication of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. With the launch of the latest issue, we’re blogging the unique content available in this exclusive publication. And with the holiday entertaining season in full swing, it’s the perfect time to garner expert tips in “The Great Entertainer,” where celebutante and party-thrower extraordinaire, Cornelia Guest, shares her secrets to posh, sophisticated entertaining.
Anyone planning to entertain this season would do well to take a cue from Cornelia Guest, who knows a thing or two about throwing a great party.
Her first big bash was in 1982, when she celebrated her eighteenth birthday with her famous parents—C.Z. Guest, a Boston Brahmin, fashion icon and prominent hostess, and Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a polo champion and cousin of Winston Churchill. The guest list included a spate of celebrities and other high-profile family friends; supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, writer Truman Capote and pop artist Andy Warhol were among the crowd. The spectacular event took place at Mortimer’s in New York City, just before Guest’s much-publicized debut a few weeks later at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf Astoria. Shortly thereafter, a piece in The New York Times dubbed her the first “celebutante,” and in the ensuing years she became a fixture at charity galas and events hosted by Hollywood glitterati and the fashion crowd, many of whom appreciate her party-girl pedigree to this day.
Although she is well-schooled in the art of traditional entertaining—her mother, after all, was famous for the formal, multi-course meals served to the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor—the irreverent Guest prefers a more personal, laid-back mode of entertaining. “What’s most important is to be true to yourself,” she says. “Whether it’s a pool party, a picnic or a black-tie dinner, you must be comfortable and have your personality shine through. The food, the decorations, the music and the people—you need to love them all.”
It’s these types of functions that Guest most likes to attend herself. She remembers fondly dinner parties thrown by Nan Bush and Bruce Weber. “Some of my favorite evenings have been at their house at the beach,” she says. “They throw lovely, fun dinners where people are doing limbo at 2 a.m.”
Another memorable evening was an anniversary party thrown by Rudolph Valentino. “It was one of the most beautiful parties I ever went to—I mean the food, the lighting, the people, everyone was beautifully dressed,” she says. “It was in Rome at the Temple of Venus, across from the Coliseum. It was unbelievable.” Both Weber’s and Valentino’s events were very “down to earth,” she says, and reflected the personality of the hosts.
As for Guest as hostess, some of her favorite nights took place here in South Florida, when she would spend winters in Wellington showing her horses. “Monday was our day off from the horse shows, so I would have parties on Sunday night,” she recalls. “I had found a great band that consisted of six family members down at the local bar, and they would come and play. They were fantastic, and everyone danced all night. I also loved using lots of orchids, as they are grown in Wellington, so they are easy. And bug spray was always important!”
Whether in Florida or New York, one thing is always very important at a Guest function: the food. “I like to have lots of food options and serve dinners family style or as a buffet,” she says. A vegan and animal lover, she favors meals with organic produce grown in the garden of Templeton, her childhood home in Old Westbury, Long Island, or from local green markets. In fact, she published a book, Cornelia Guest’s Simple Pleasures, brimming with tasty vegan recipes and insight from health and medical experts. But her company, Cornelia Guest Events—which has catered events for beauty and fashion groups like Estée Lauder, MAC Cosmetics, Jo Malone, Bulgari and Donna Karan, as well as charities like the Humane Society of New York—will serve whatever the client requests. “The things we are asked for at almost every party are pigs in a blanket, sliders and grilled cheese,” she says, noting that shrimp, meatballs, kielbasa and pizza are other popular choices. As for dessert, Guest lives by the motto “The more, the merrier.” “I love ice creams, sorbets, fruit, popsicles in summer, cookies and delicious cakes,” she says. “You’ve got to have at least two or three choices.”
Her refreshing, relaxed approach to hosting a party makes it abundantly clear that one needn’t be an aristocrat to entertain like one.