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April 26, 2016

Inspiration : The Two Great Classics, Martha & Ina

There are two books that I will always love and consider to be my favorite all time examples of entertaining, "Great Parties" by Martha Stewart, and "Parties!" by Ina Garten.  I remember reading each of these books for the first time (shortly after college) and being so inspired by the casual, chic style of each "party." Maybe I was so moved because it was the first time I had seen books completely devoted to casually elegant entertaining?  The parties weren't terribly fancy or pretentious feeling (no fine china or lace in site), but they were parties that I could envision myself hosting - in a dream garden of my own... in the Hamptons, of course ; )

Without a doubt these two books were the cornerstones of my first business, Occasions Entertaining, that focused on "small to medium-sized events" in my clients' homes.  I would tote these two books to my meetings with dog-eared pages to show my clients.

Great Parties by Martha Stewart, 1997

Having moved six times since first starting my business 10+ years ago, I somehow forgot about and misplaced this "Great Parties" book by Martha Stewart.  Last week, I was racking my brain and googling like crazy to find a photo of an outdoor party by Martha Stewart that I knew I had seen somewhere... but couldn't find it online anywhere.  Then, I came across a cover shot of this book and it was like complete deja vu.  I ordered it instantly (used from amazon, it is now out of print!).

Each page was a trip down memory lane.  I remembered each and every featured party and it completely reinvigorated my love for casual, elegant, chic entertaining.  Thank Goodness it is spring and the height of outdoor entertaining season, because almost everyone of my favorites from this book is set outside in a lush garden.

Inspiration is so huge for a person like me.  I find it everywhere.  New inspiration is like gold.  When you have written so many posts and executed so many parties, it can feel like you've done it all.  Old inspiration that feels new again (revisiting it 10 years later!) can be even better because it is the original flame - feeling that new excitement all over again is so special.

Here are some of my favorites :

I can't tell you how many wedding showers I did that started with this page!  This page started my collection of cake stands and mason jars, too.

This book is Martha in her heyday, when things seemed simple, effortless and lovely.  This seems like a world away from the crazy DIY, trend following, modern-chic, urban-chic, vintage-chic, farm-to-trend, everyone copies everyone, everything looks the same pinterest world we live in today.  I promise, my only soapbox of the post!  I just miss the old days of real parties in real homes with classic style as inspiration : )

Do you recognize this garden shed?  This book was my first exposure to Ina, when she was just a shop owner and a friend of Martha's from East Hampton in 1997.

I'm fairly certain my own wedding was based on this feature.

Those lanterns!

This.  This is my dream.  Thank you, Martha, you have just secured my need for a country home with a skating pond to host a party just like this.  Mike thanks you, as well ; )

Why have I never made ice lanterns?!  I will be re-stocking my white glassine bags for cookies after seeing this post - I remember how obsessed I was with them when I first started my business.  Every cookie I made was in a glassine bag.

Sweet, sweet original Ina.  I love all of the color she was embracing.  I know people don't always realize this, but there was a huge shift in design color palettes after 9/11/01.  In 1997 no one would've dreamed of painting their entire house grey.  I'm as guilty as anyone in my love of neutrals, but seeing this feel so happy, easy and comfortable.

Ina's garden and her original crew - Frank Newbold and Martha included.  Always fun to see someone before they are someone.  It reminds me of when we were seated next to her for dinner in East Hampton - so normal and sweet.

Being a Midwest Farm girl, I love all of this... but I can tell you it was probably very staged, as no real farming family I know has ever set up a family picnic party like this : )  I still love it.

Yum!  What a spread.

Love this imagery so much that I bought sour cherries at the store yesterday... I need to find a producing cherry tree this summer!

Another feature that inspired so many baby showers and bridal showers for my clients.

I am aching for this setting - I want the plates and those flowers.  And the chairs.

Love this cake with broken pieces of brittle on the sides.  Those flags made of ribbon are darling, too.  I maybe copying one of these shortly (fathers day?!).  This cake would look spectacular with some of my Celebration Candles (also a favorite of Martha's).

"Parties" by Ina Garten the Barefoot Conessa

The other book that is well worn, but still in constant use is the Barefoot's "Parties!" cookboook.  Yes, that is probably chocolate on the spine... from many years ago when I was making her flourless chocolate cake.

I read somewhere that Ina and Martha first bonded over building their new "old homes" in East Hampton.

Everything thing in this book, like Martha's, is timeless.  Both were written almost 20 years ago, but I still love every single page.

How many of us dream of spending our days like this?  This is probably what I thought my business days would look like - sometimes they actually do now, but when I was running my event planning and catering business it looked a lot different!

I love that Ina isn't afraid to set a table wherever it fits.  She gave us the courage to not "need" a formal dining room.  Did you know that Ina uses Creative Candles, too?  My sales rep says Ina's assistant calls her orders in for Tapers to keep on hand.

I love this.  I love the blue and white, I love the muscari and I love that coffee cake on a pedestal dripping with glaze.

Such a pretty setting with beautiful color.

Don't those glasses look familiar!  That combination of roses is so stunning.  I can always tell when a book was shot - though they are going for a fall table, it still looks like summer.

My love affair of parchment paper starts here!

Stripes are  never out of style.

I used this photo as inspiration last month for Joy's birthday party dinner!  Emma picked it from the book.  See those 6" Celebration Candles?

One of my favorite recipes of all time.  Herbed grilled shrimp with pesto pasta.

Are these the same green plates from Martha's book?  Ok, I might have to add to my white plate collection : )


Do you have timeless sources of inspiration?  I would love to know what copies of books and magazines that you keep around.  I would also love to know about bloggers out there doing timeless, classic posts - such magic when you find a good one!


  1. I have and love both of these books! I just have to join you on your soapbox about simple, beautiful parties! I feel like everything looks the same and it's overwhelming!

    Also, we just bought a farm and now I'm lamenting it doesn't have a pond to skate on! We will have to move a party to the creek :).

    1. Do not fear - in New England, people frequently build their own skating surfaces with wood frames and flooding them the night before! Safer than a pond anyway. Good for you for your farm purchase - so nice to offer your family a break in the country!

  2. Jenny,
    These are 2 of my favorite entertaining specialists. The original Entertaining by Martha was my go to for inspiration, especially the table scape. Once I found Ina there was no turning back. I love that she keeps things so simple and for the Southern California girl, that works well. We still entertain in our home and many of our closest friends still do the same. The experience is so much richer than meeting at a restaurant to catch up on each other's lives.
    Great post!

  3. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Jenny, these books are very familiar to me, too. They've both been inspiring to me in so many ways. I still recall my introduction to Martha...a PBS special called "Holiday Entertaining with Martha Stewart." Circa 1985-ish, I believe. Ironically, my introduction to Ina was years later on Martha's show in 1999. Ina did her kitchen clambake with Martha to promote the release of her first book. I was so impressed with Ina that I ran out the next day to purchase The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I now have all 9 of her books and can't wait for the new one this October. Thanks for some nice memories, Jenny!

    1. That is a great memory! I used to record her PBS and CBS (in my market) shows middle school - high school : )

  4. Omg! Ina is my entertaining spirit animal! I use her recipes when I entertain and always get raves plus you can make most ahead and enjoy your guests. How easy is that? Lol

    It's ok to be on your soap box. I do it too and agree. I'm so over "rustic farmhouse chic" I could vomit. I try to go the classic design direction with my own twist. We have a 1812 plantation house so it works well and updated the house without it loosing its historical integrity. One of my favorite blogs is For The Love Of a House. Joan has filled her house with things she loves that she has collected over a lifetime and she expertly edits it. Her home is so "her" and unique. AND every piece has a story. Not something you can copy such as a trend.

    1. Yes! I too love For the Love of a House. Her kitchen swoons me!

  5. Anonymous2:43 PM

    Actually, you are my newest inspiration. I love your website, recipes, style and flair. Look forward to you weekly. Your like a new best friend. Thanks....

    1. Anonymous3:07 PM

      I agree! Jenny's style is classic, and, unlike some other blogs I've seen, uncluttered. Sometimes there's so much going on in a single room it can make my head spin. Not the case here!

  6. I have a Real Simple party-focused issue, I think called Celebrations that I bought about 10 years ago. I'm getting married in October and imagining all of the entertaining possibilities as I add items to my registry!

    I'm curious as to why the change in home decor post-9/11?

    1. I believe I have that, too, or did at one point!

  7. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Love these books. The jadeite plates in those books might be from Martha's collection- she used to make them! I know this because a dear friend of mine has stocked up over the years by finding Martha's jadeite plates at estate sales/ebay/etc.

  8. Here, here! A beautiful ode to the classic entertaining style. I am so sick of all the DIY vintage hipster pinterest stuff, (which is why I love your site). I'll have to look for these books!

    1. Me, too! I wonder if that just means we're getting old! ; )

  9. Anonymous5:50 PM

    Jenny, these two videos are a fun watch from a time when most of us were unfamiliar with Ina. Hard to imagine now!

    1. Ohhhhh, these were great! I also like how much Martha let Ina talk - more than most I've seen for other guests. Martha must genuinely trust her and admire her, to let her truly be the expert ; )

    2. Anonymous11:41 AM

      So funny...I noticed that, too. Much more than with other guests. I've wondered about rumors that something put some distance between Martha and Ina. Who knows!

  10. When you mentioned Martha and Ina. I thought oh she is my daughter. Loved this post.

  11. Ellen7:42 PM

    Love,love Ina! Do you have a go to book for weddings? My daughter is getting married in Nov and wants it simple and classic. She too is over the whole barn thing.

    1. It has been a while since I've done wedding things, so my source is still Martha Weddings - my copy is from 2005, I think. Hope I don't sound like a broken record!

  12. I too follow For the Love of a House. And The Gardeners Cottage is another favorite blog. Unfortunately, magazines are almost a thing of the past, but I do find inspiration in catalogs like Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma occasionally. And am notorious for pausing movies and studying a particular room or scene. Nancy Meyers movies are the best. But there is a scene in "The Hours" where Meryl Streeps character is having a breakdown, and all I could think of was 'that's a really cool bowl.' Also, I've been known to pause Downtown Abbey a time or two. Ironically it's the servants quarters I like best.

  13. Anonymous8:35 AM

    Ina and Martha are my favorites! When my husband and I first married, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Martha Stewart's Entertaining which I feel sets the bar for classic entertaining. (I think she was trying to tell me something.) I read your blog everyday and love your classic style.

  14. Love these two! The Lee Bailey books are really fabulous-especially "Country Weekends" & "California Wine Country Cooking"

  15. I agree with Anonymous above...Jenny is my new style inspiration. Maybe one day she will be known just as Jenny? Just like you can say Martha or Ina and everyone knows who you are talking about.

  16. Hi Jenny, I have a copy of Ina's Parties and always tried to find the source for the water goblets that you showed in the picture with the roses. I've seen similar ones in some of your blog posts. Where did you get yours?

  17. Anonymous7:14 AM

    Do you know where I could find the water goblets that Ina has in the picture with the roses and I've seen on a couple of your blog posts? I love the classic design, but haven't been able to find anything similar. Thanks for your help!

    1. I'm not sure if these are the goblets you are talking about but I remember reading about them on the Barefoot Contessa website in the FAQ section. Ina recommended this retailer:


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