A Backyard Dinner Party in Charleston

A group of creative friends harness their respective talents to throw a stylish potluck under the stars

The romantic tablescape of an outdoor dinner party hosted by a group of Charleston creatives. Photography by Lucy Cuneo.
The romantic tablescape of an outdoor dinner party hosted by a group of Charleston creatives. Photography by Lucy Cuneo.

They're essentially an entertaining dream team: a florist, a photographer, a chef, a stylist, an artist, a graphic designer, and the New York City expat editor who brought them all together. So it's no wonder that when this group of Charleston-based friends decided to throw a backyard dinner party, every detail—from the shibori tablecloth to the bistro lights strung overhead—was executed to perfection.

Ellie Somerville McNevin and her husband, chef Nick McNevin.
Ellie Somerville McNevin and her husband, chef Nick McNevin.

"We had fun calling it a 'potluck' because everyone brought a creative element," explains Gray & Co. PR founder Ellie Somerville McNevin. "Because Charleston is a small town, casual get-togethers with friends are pretty common. For that reason we had fun going a bit more formal with this event and making it feel really special.” The setting was the beautiful back courtyard of the evening’s host and photographer, Lucy Cuneo, transformed by furnishings, decorations, and of course food created by their talented friends. Read on to see how you can steal a bit of their expertise for your own outdoor soiree.

THE FLOWERS

The lush floral arrangements, created by Lily Peterson of Charleston's Flowershop, make the most of seasonal blooms and hearty greenery. She suggests starting a centerpiece with a base of potted herbs and plants from your local nursery. "I generally look for things like rosemary, geranium, or ivy," Peterson says. A modest foundation also means you can be a bit more indulgent with your statement blooms. Peterson's favorites? Yarrow, hypericum berries, and pin cushion protea for a pop of color. To finish things off, "look for airy flowers like Queens Ann's lace, cosmos , and lady's mantle to break up the arrangement." Most importantly, Peterson warns, if you're hosting an outdoor event, keep your flowers indoors until right before guests arrive so they don't wilt.

Handmade details and classic furnishings set the scene.
Handmade details and classic furnishings set the scene.
The invitations were created by graphic designer Brooke McCallion. 
The invitations were created by graphic designer Brooke McCallion

THE Decor

The friends were lucky to have an enchanting brick-lined courtyard as their built-in backdrop, but the event's details, including furniture, tableware and accessories came from a variety of sources. "This was one of the first times I've used rentals for a personal event and I couldn't recommend it more," says Somerville McNevin. "Lucy and I started by figuring out what pieces we had between us, and filled in with a few rental chairs, dishes, and silverware. It allowed us to create a cohesive look without buying pieces that we won't need year 'round." Bringing in a daybed as well as poufs and cocktail tables gave guests a comfortable place to mingle before dinner was served at a single long table. 

Of course entertaining outdoors in the summer presents a unique set of challenges. The hostesses used heavy placemats to hold down artist Dorothy Shain's handmade tablecloth. "I would recommend using votives or hurricanes to keep the candles from going out," Somerville McNevin adds. "We also had citronella torches going to keep the mosquitos away—they get bad in Charleston!"

THE Food & Drinks

Hiring a chef to cook for a dinner party is a fun extravagance and a great way to make hosting infinitely less stressful. "Think about if you prefer to have more of a casual or formal get together, and then look for a chef in your area that focuses on that type of menu," recommends Somerville McNevin, whose husband happens to be the culinary mind behind this affair. Chef Nick's exuberant menu took guests from airy apps like yuzu tapioca chips to southern-inflected courses like beef short ribs. (Find two of his recipes below.) But, as Somerville McNevin reminds, "you can have a chef just do appetizers for a cocktail hour, which would save money and make it feel super special." To keep things simple, the party narrowed their drinks to two choices—a summer-ready rosé and a signature mango margarita, topped with edible flowers.

Click on the slideshow above to see even more details of this magical evening.

A Backyard Dinner Party in Charleston
A Backyard Dinner Party in Charleston

A Backyard Dinner Party in Charleston
A Backyard Dinner Party in Charleston

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