Table-Top Holiday Style
Three different holiday tablescapes staged by the talented team of Russell Whitehead and Ruthie Bowlin.
photography by Andrea Zucker
Russell Whitehead and Ruthie Bowlin are impressively creative sisters who are collaborating in an exciting new events-planning business. As a sample of their style and sophistication, we were invited into Ruthie’s East Memphis home to photograph three different holiday tablescapes staged by this talented team.
As you enter the house, the formal dining room’s table is breathtaking with its classic combination of antique silver, crystal, and porcelain, and a glorious arrangement of white roses, tulips, and hydrangeas by
Kevin Coble of Le Fleur — all in a cool palette of white, cream, and silver. It is the perfect setting for a formal Christmas Eve dinner or perhaps a New Year’s Eve celebration. The large, monochromatic “eggs” painting by Kit Reuther, a Tennessee artist, makes a dramatic backdrop. The chandelier forms a starry constellation twinkling above the table-scape below.
The sunroom at the back of the house with its limestone floors and wall of windows overlooking this home’s beautiful garden is the perfect spot for an intimate and less formal holiday breakfast for the family. The round table features a centerpiece of artichokes and holly spray-painted gold that adds warmth and a touch of glamour, as do the four tall candlesticks. The china is by Crown Derby and J.L. Coquet, and the small boxes of Godiva chocolates on top are a festive favor. The masonry spires that decorate the room were rescued from an ancient English church and add a handsome — and yes, uplifting — element.
The guest house, which Lewis Graeber converted from a former garage, has a completely different feel. Zebra rugs and rattan furniture in the living room make for a tropical, exotic African vibe — you might say holiday style “gone wild.” The stunning and sculptural contemporary arrangement combines cabbages and brunia berries.
Russell and Ruthie explain that between them they had planned four family weddings in the past couple of years, and it seemed a perfect segue to use this experience, not to mention their bulging little black book of contacts, to start up a business. Entertaining comes naturally to them, as they both love to cook and have had a lifetime of people in their homes, sitting around their tables. Ruthie adds that she has planned a variety of corporate functions during the long business career of her husband, Casey Bowlin, and believes she’s learned “what works, what doesn’t” — in essence, she says, “what excites people.”
Both women agree their mission is to understand and appreciate their client’s vision (and his/her pocketbook, of course) for a given event and in turn “create the fantasy.” Russell and Ruthie say they like to think outside the box to plan imaginative parties that “don’t look like every other event.” Their aesthetic is modern or traditional, or a blend of both — “whatever feels right.” Their style is sophisticated, even a little quirky, maybe a bit over the top, but bottom line, the event will be memorable and fun.
As an example, the first wedding they organized was in a tent in a field on a farm with fireworks over a lake. In addition to weddings, the sisters agree that with “so many interesting corners of the city to mine in terms of events,” they always welcome the opportunity to plan a Grizzlies gala, a business bash, or a symphony soiree.
Staging events is a complicated business, and the partners pride themselves on being able to plan the things hostesses can’t do, or don’t have time to do. They organize and manage all the small but essential details and specifically have even worked out a template to keep mothers-of-the-bride on task — “to do” checklists of a mere 300 items! The sisters partner with florists all over town to oversee the floral designs which are so central to the success and theme of any event. They work closely with Le Fleur and Garden District as well as with other talented Memphis florists.
Speaking of flowers, Russell and Ruthie have just completed a successful campaign to raise funds for the endowment of the Phoebe Cook Lecture, co-sponsored by the Memphis Garden Club (member of the Garden Club of America) and the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The lecture series, which is open to the public, brings nationally acclaimed floral designers and horticulturists to the Dixon every year.
Bruno Duarte, a famous sculptural floral designer, was the invited guest speaker for last month’s lecture, and afterwards Russell and Ruthie hosted an elegant cocktail buffet supper in Russell’s home to entertain series donors. The magazine’s photographer and I arrived early to photograph the stunning dining room table with its outsize floral arrangement filling rustic urns with French tulips, chocolate and midori anthurium, cymbidium orchids, miniature calla lilies, and roses. This again was Le Fleur’s Kevin Coble’s handiwork and, complicated as the centerpiece looked, he was on the spot to tell me he did it in about 30 minutes, noting that “with beautiful flowers to work with, you can just make it up as you go along.”
Fine for him to say, but I’m not so sure about that! The table was filled with silver platters of fabulous food, much of which Russell and Ruthie had made, magnificent cooks that they are. The large Rana Rochat painting in the room was a birthday gift from Russell’s husband, Cary, who had help picking it out from the late interior designer, Jimmy Graham.
The services of “Russell and Ruthie Events” can be arranged by calling Russell at (901) 210-7136 or Ruthie at (901) 289-1530.
Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts & lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.