A self-professed “lover of all things colourful”, brand consultant and co-founder of FashMash, Rosanna Falconer is the Instagram queen when it comes to hosting at-home dinners. Her quirky themes, eye-catching tables and knack for conjuring up the dreamiest atmosphere are trademarks of her soirées, whether it’s one of her #RosannasPositiviTea events, which she’s hosted with the likes of Laura Whitmore and Needle and Thread, or an intimate supper in the picture-perfect garden at her home in Battersea, where she lives with her husband and their six-month-old baby. Here she shares her top tips for throwing the ultimate socially distanced outdoor dinner party.
Be ruthless when it comes to numbers
For the last three and a half years I’ve been hosting regular dinner parties, but they feel very different after lockdown. While before I would cram as many people as possible around the table, now I can only have six people in the garden. But after hosting my first socially distanced dinner party a couple of weeks ago, both my husband and I agreed that having fewer numbers felt really grown up. If you go over eight people there are two conversations at the table, whereas with six it’s all one group conversation, which is lovely. Plus this is the first time I’ve ever had a garden to host in, so it feels like a new era for me – one I’m really enjoying.
Make the most of your outdoor space
The main thing I’ve noticed with hosting a dinner party outdoors is that people relax more. It’s like a completely different change of tempo. Indoors you’re close to the kitchen, which I think can make guests feel a bit awkward because they don’t know if they should offer to help. But if everyone is in the garden, the pace is much slower. Also, outside I only ever use candles for lighting, which give off this really romantic, flickering glow. It gives a level of intimacy that you just don’t get indoors.
Rosanna wears the HM Chain Cotton Tier Maxi Dress from Hayley Menzies, £420
Create a sense of atmosphere
For me, I’ve done that with a beautiful parasol from the East London Parasol Company. They give that instant ‘wow’ element as soon as you walk into the garden, especially if it’s a small London garden. And right now, when we don’t have many flowers in bloom, they really light up the space. For a dinner party I’ll have it in its stand by the table, but during the day I’ll create a den with lots of cushions and fabric and lay it down on its side. The moment I got the parasol it immediately made the garden feel like somewhere I wanted to relax – it gives it a focal point.
Have a theme
I’ll start planning each dinner party by coming up with a theme based around something seasonal or one thing that’s particularly inspired me. I love Pinterest and often see things on there that catch my eye – for my next dinner party I’m doing an ice cream theme, as I came across a pin of some ice cream wafer cones filled with flowers and thought it was such a fun, easy way to display flowers. Then that informs the colour palette, so I’ve got pastel plates and a pastel ribbon runner for the table. I’ll tell my guests the theme in advance and encourage them to dress the part. Some might go all out or they might just wear a pink shirt – but I think particularly right now, we’re all looking for an excuse to dress up and do something a little bit different.
When it comes to food, I always cook something I can prepare in advance – that way I can have fun during the dinner. I’ll serve a vegetable-based menu, because so many of my friends are vegetarian or vegan now, and I’ll always think about what’s in season at the time, because I try to shop as sustainably as possible – my new favourite thing is ordering vegetables from The Farmers Hamper, which was set up during lockdown by NHS workers who struggled to find fresh produce after their shifts. My go-to dishes are homemade hummus, caponata with really good sourdough, which I get from my local Italian in Battersea, Donna Margherita, and a slow-cooked vegetable tagine. Then for pudding I’ll serve a banoffee pie or brownies as I can make them the day before. I really admire people who can make 12 chocolate fondants on the night, but I’m not that lady.
Don’t forget the cocktails
People are definitely getting a lot more drunk at post-lockdown dinners – I think it’s because we’ve all got this feeling of release! At mine I’ve been serving Venetian Spritzes, which are like Aperol Spritzes but made with the Italian aperitivo Select, and G&Ts made with Malfy Pink Grapefruit Gin Rosa – I fell in love with it as it tastes of Italy at a time when I can’t be in Italy. And throughout lockdown we’ve been ordering pre-mixed cocktails from Callooh Callay in Shoreditch and Lockdown Liquor, which come in beautiful glass bottles.
Experiment with your crockery
I love trying out all kinds of different crockery for my tables. My latest discovery is Maison Margaux, where you can rent an entire tablescape for your dinner party, though I tend to just hire plates. That’s been a real game changer for me – recently I hired the most exquisite Les Ottomans animal plates from them, which were the centrepiece of my entire dinner party. I’ve loved Anthropologie’s crockery for years – their illustrated plates are just beautiful – as well as pieces from Emma J Shipley. For my next dinner party I’ll be using Art Deco-style plates from O.W. London, which are very chic and elegant. Just like my clothes, I try to seek pre-loved options so often go for vintage quirky finds from eBay or the local charity shop – while you can’t currently donate clothes you can give bric-a-brac, so they’re heaving with great homewares right now.
Choose your tablecloth wisely
When it comes to tablecloths, either go for something bright and bold but keep the rest simple, or opt for white and then dress it up. I often use fabric offcuts which you can pick up cheaply (Painswick Fabrics in The Cotswolds has a beautiful selection) and my godmother is a curtain designer so she’ll often give me incredible pieces of curtain fabric – if it’s a really strong pattern then everything plays off that. When I use a white tablecloth, I’ll either add a runner made from good quality wrapping paper or wallpaper, or create a ribbon runner. For special ribbon I’ll go to VV Rouleaux, but otherwise I’ll just get it from eBay. To create the runner, lay out the ribbons in an ombre or rainbow, making sure they’re a mix of 3.6cm and 2.5cm in width, and leave 1cm between each one. Then just stick them down with a few tabs of double-sided sellotape. It’s a really striking yet affordable way to elevate your dinner party table.
Make an effort with your outfit
When you’ve been working on the table or cooking for hours, you’ve probably got 10 minutes before the guests arrive and you think, “Oh I’ll just leave on what I’ve been wearing all day.” But actually, changing into a different outfit instantly makes you feel better. For me, that’s always a maxi dress; they immediately make you look and feel like you’ve made an effort, but they are so easy and comfortable to wear. I like to float around like Margo from The Good Life – it’s all about having a gown to waft in.
My work, writing and passion about the circular possibilities of the fashion industry means I’m a huge advocate of rental, resale and repair. I’m a dab hand with a needle and thread and have a set of niche eBay alerts for my ultimate bohemian dresses. I have rented much of my wardrobe via Hurr for over a year and will often hire special pieces from the site. When I do invest in fashion, I turn to timeless, joyful pieces from my favourite brands that make my heart leap and I know I’ll wear for years to come.
Keep the flowers simple
Bloom and Wild are my favourite flower delivery service – I love that they just put them through the letterbox and they’ve already done a lot of the hard work for you, pulling together foliage and flowers that are tonally complementary. In peony season, I love going to the New Covent Garden Flower Market, where you can get amazing flowers at wholesale prices. They play really loud House music at 5am and it makes you feel so alive for the day! I’ll arrange my flowers in little bud vases or jam jars, to make sure they don’t obscure any conversation at eye level.
Pick the right music to set the mood
When it comes to music, I have three different options that I like to move between over the night. I’ll start with some Indian sitar music, which is great for getting conversation flowing. Then I’ll put on Spotify’s Summer BBQ playlist – I discovered it a few years ago and now it’s my go-to, with tracks like Jamming by Bob Marley & the Wailers and In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry. From pudding onwards I’ll play my ‘There Will Always Be Dancing’ playlist that I created for the Coral Room at the Bloomsbury Hotel at the beginning of lockdown. It’s full of happy House tracks – I’m really craving being in the Med dancing on a table somewhere right now, and these are the songs that give me that vibe.