Designer India Hicks shares the beauty of improvising in this excerpt from her new book, Island Style.
My grandparents were always entertaining, as were my parents, as am I. It must be in the blood. My grandmother in particular would graciously say, "Oh, do come and stay," to anyone of any interest, and then was faintly surprised when they actually showed up.
I find that living in the Bahamas rather encourages friends and family to stay, even without formal invitations. This past year, I realized David and I had celebrated eighteen New Years together. A cause for celebration, I thought. I assured Claire, our cook, known as Top Banana, that we would be twenty, maybe twenty-five at the most. So she planned accordingly. And planning is essential when you live on a small island, as everything has to be flown or shipped in. But as anyone who has lived on a small island also knows, numbers swell. A week before New Year, I plucked up the courage to tell Top Banana that the twenty-five guest thing, well, that had changed a teeny bit—we were now seventy.
I had seen a picture on Pinterest. (Yes, I'm a huge fan—after a few silent weeks on a damp, out-of-season dot of an island, Pinterest makes the rest of the world
tantalizingly vivid and close.) The picture showed a long table stretching down a garden with strings of light bulbs hanging overhead. Striking, but a picture many of us have seen before, so how to make it unique to us? And then it came to me: a long table stretching away, but what if it curled in the middle, just like our driveway? So that's where we ended up having dinner—on the driveway.
With our number now at seventy, we began to beg, borrow, and steal chairs from all over the island. Mainly matching, occasionally a variation. We rented folding tables from the church. Catering for seventy instead of twenty meant our served dinner was redesigned as a seated buffet. It meant my sets of white china now had to mingle with different breeds. It meant the muslin table runners ran out and we improvised with local flour sacks.
Although we could solve most of the challenges of hosting such an event with limited resources, the two things we could not do were move the location or control the weather. By late afternoon, it began to rain. All hands on deck, we dragged an old hurricane tarp from storage and rolled it out, with some insane, panicked idea of heaving it up over our seventy place settings. Just then the rain stopped.
But there was no plan B. I simply sent an e-mail to all our friends and family: "Bring brolly, looks like rain."
We were blessed, however, and the rain stayed away. In its place was a Bahamian evening filled with candlelight, laughter, close friends, family, and fireworks.
Photo: Vince Klassen/Island Style
Copyright: Copyright © Rizzoli New York 2015. From the book Island Style by India Hicks, published by Rizzoli New York. Printed by permission