Event planner Bronson van Wyck crafts tablescapes inspired by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post
“A memorable table starts with memorable guests,” says event design mastermind Bronson van Wyck. “If you aren’t filling your table with the best people, it’s time to upgrade your guest list.” He may have a soft spot for personality-filled partygoers, but the internationally renowned party planner has an undeniable talent for crafting tablescapes that get—and then keep—guests talking. From clashing colors and mixed metals to antique décor and favors that double as conversation starters, his wit and sophistication, combined with the gracious warmth of his Southern upbringing, have become his signature.
It goes without saying that we were thrilled when Mr. van Wyck accepted our invitation to dream up three tablescapes inspired by another icon of style, Oscar de la Renta—whose latest collection of online invitations, available exclusively at Paperless Post, feels festive, fresh, and above all, memorable. “No one does color and pattern better than Oscar de la Renta,” BvW—a lover of color and pattern himself, tells us.
What’s more, we couldn’t think of a better way to ring in the 10-year anniversary of our collaboration with Oscar. Let the celebrations begin!
And so, on a dreary day in February, we made our way to Mr. van Wyck’s whimsical, transportive apartment in Manhattan’s Flatiron district for some invaluable lessons in transformative decorating, happy hosting, and the magic of candlelight. Read on for our conversation, and to see BvW’s wonderfully imaginative and elegant tables inspired by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post invitations.
The occasion: Afternoon tea
The invitation: “Fortunella” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post
Event planner Bronson van Wyck arranging flowers. Photo by Bryan Gardner; “Fortunella” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post.
How has your styling evolved over time?
I’ve never been a maximalist or a minimalist. I’ve been contextual. There’s a time and place for more plus more, and there’s a time and place for restraint—even in the same event! The important thing is making the positive and negative spaces relate to each other in a way that makes each make more sense.
You mix colors so naturally. What’s the best way to ease into brights?
Be bold, be creative, and don’t be afraid to mix colors you may have previously thought clash. Flaming reds and bright fuchsias, goldenrod and turquoise—these colors make a statement and evoke emotions. Color can be your best decorative element.
And remember, in candlelight, everything evens out, so what might seem garish during the daytime becomes rich and luxurious at night.
What food would you serve at afternoon tea?
Vodka and really good olives—bag the tea!
What’s your ideal size guest list for a party that feels like a true affair, but still intimate?
One party size doesn’t fit all. As long as you have a great host, fun guests, and strong drinks, your party will be a success.
When it comes to assigning seats, what’s your strategy?
Seating can play a make-or-break role at your party; it’s your opportunity to be both strategic and benevolent. Spreading the most interesting guests around the room creates multiple anchors for the social energy that is the nectar of a great night. And making sure a shyer or less confident guest has someone kind or curious next to them is one of the most thoughtful things you can do as a host.
What is one thing hosts spend too much time worrying about when planning a party?
Guests turn up to see a happy host. No element of a party is more important than seeing the host or hostess smiling and having a great time.
Don’t let the logistics or the plans or what was supposed to happen but didn’t or what did happen that wasn’t supposed to get in the way of you, the host, showing your pleasure at seeing your guests. Remember, you’re the only one who knows when something doesn’t go according to plan. Never complain, never explain, and serve another round of shots.
The occasion: 50th birthday dinner
The invitation: “Passiflora Caerulea” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post
“Passiflora Caerulea” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post; photo by Bryan Gardner.
How much should the guest of honor be involved in planning their own birthday party?
They should be involved as much or as little as they like. But you should endeavor to surprise them with something, whether it be an out-of-state friend, or a dessert from their hometown.
OK, themed parties—when are they appropriate, and when are they not?
I love a themed party for any and every occasion. Costumes are a great opportunity for guests to join in and become part of the experience. We recently threw a celestial party where guests were encouraged to wear costumes that represented their zodiac signs. Some looks were so good they felt like part of the décor.
What are your tips for incorporating decorative tabletop items, and where do you source yours?
Go to your local antique market. Some of my favorite pieces I’ve sourced over the years range from brass spyglass to malachite obelisks to crystal decanters. When incorporating decorative items into your tablescapes, don’t be too precious with placement. The best way for it to look effortless is not to spend too much effort!
What’s your stance on mixing metals on the table—is there a right or wrong way to do it?
I never shy away from anything eclectic. Mixing metals works just as well as mixing fabrics. (Except for rose gold—don’t ever mix that).
What is your favorite drink to serve at a party or event?
One that starts nice and easy and finishes nice and rough. I’m in a ginger phase. I like a silent-but-deadly ginger mezcal margarita in the summer because the spice and smoke hide the alcohol. When it’s cold outside, a dark and stormy warms you up fast, but I prefer mine with bourbon over rum.
How do you reply when a guest asks if they can bring anything with them?
You can’t go wrong with a big bottle of tequila—or a very fun plus one.
The occasion: Bridal luncheon
The invitation: “Framed Garden Pansies” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post
Photo by Bryan Gardner; “Framed Garden Pansies” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post.
How did you decide which elements to pull out of this invitation?
The blood reds and naval blues in this invitation are brilliant and easily inspired the design, which became very whimsical.
Is there a rule about how much you can mix and match to maintain an intentional look versus chaotic?
The rule is there is no rule—pattern on pattern on pattern!
How do you create a memorable centerpiece?
Let the season inspire the design and think beyond basic floral centerpieces. In the tropics, bring in bright coral, seashells, and chinoiserie vases filled with bougainvillea in all the colors of the sunset. In midsummer, wildflowers, kumquats, and lemons—even vines and grasses and moss. Make a meadow down the center of the table. For fall, the fruits of the harvest: pomegranates and golden apples, grains, magnolia. It’s also the time of year I start to bring out the silver.
Where’s your favorite place to source flowers? Do you have any tips for flower arranging?
Start at your local farmer’s market. The goal is to make your arrangement look like you went into the garden that afternoon with a pair of clippers, and picked whatever happened to be in bloom.
At a bridal luncheon (or other wedding-related event), what’s one little touch—styling or otherwise—that can make a party stand out for guests?
You should always aim to bring guests together, whether it’s through shared experiences or design elements that get them interacting. If you’re outdoors, add a wide-brimmed sun hat to the back of each seat at the table–bonus points for different styles and colors.
At my more intimate dinner parties, I gift each guest a book, thoughtfully selected just for them. I set each copy at their seat, and it immediately sparks conversation. Everyone wants to know why they got the book they were given—it almost becomes a fun dinner party game.
Feeling inspired yourself? Start planning your next party with Paperless Post’s exclusive collection of beautiful online invitations by Oscar de la Renta.