A Holiday Party With Solid Ice Champagne Buckets and Ornamental Bugs

The designers Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch are known for their detail-oriented approach, which they also apply to a more “heady” version of happy hour.

Article by Emilia Petrarca

13-TMAG-HOLIDAY-PARTY-1For a holiday party at their New York apartment, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the co-founders of the design and hospitality firm Roman and Williams, decorated their dining table with candles and glassware from their line of home goods and arrangements by the florist Alex Crowder. Photography by David Chow.

“I used to make fun of happy hour because I hate the term; it’s annoying,” says the designer Stephen Alesch. “But now I realise there’s something really old-school and actually healthy about the ritual.” On a Tuesday in November, he and his wife, Robin Standefer — with whom he founded the New York-based design and hospitality firm Roman and Williams, known for creating dramatic, richly layered spaces including the Boom Boom Room nightclub, in the Standard Hotel overlooking the High Line in Manhattan, and the Metropolitan Museum’s British Galleries — hosted a cocktail party at the NoHo loft they bought in 1997. It started early, at 4 p.m., or “that beautiful moment of dusk,” as Standefer describes it, also known as happy hour.

The occasion was the beginning of the holiday season — the couple have been hosting parties like this in their apartment for years. “But it was also a way to celebrate some of the things we’re making and actually use them,” Standefer explains. “Our home has always been a laboratory to discover how things work together.” Those things included the new Bloesem Haus collection of handmade home goods by Roman and Williams Guild, the firm’s line of original furniture and lighting, as well as objects from around the world, which it sells at a store of the same name in SoHo. The pieces ranged from flatware designed by Alesch and Standefer and produced by metalworkers in Tsubame Sanjo, Japan, to porcelain dishes made by the ceramist Heami Lee in Seoul. “Roman and Williams was founded on the principles of historic ideas and bringing them into a contemporary context,” says Standefer, and the same idea informed the event. “It’s kind of a heady thing to say about a cocktail party, but it’s a philosophical underpinning to everything we do.”

Afternoon light in the living room. The wool shearling throw on the couch is from the Roman and Williams Guild’s new Bloesem Haus collection and the glass vase, also sold through the Guild, is by Hyunsung Cho. Photography by David Chow.

As the sun began to set, 19th-century-inspired glass oil lamps designed by the couple illuminated each room along with tall, reed-like candles originally made by Alesch for Standefer as a birthday present and later produced for the Guild. A deep purple color scheme extended from the drinks to the desserts. “There’s so much uniformity right now with lightness and beiges. We wanted a little more flavor and a little more richness,” says Standefer. Perhaps because of the lighting and the hour, the gathering didn’t reach the level of warn-the-neighbors rowdiness the pair’s parties sometimes have in the past. But per tradition, as guests started to head out — on this occasion around 8 p.m. — Alesch and Standefer began chopping a hulking wheel of Parmesan, which had earlier served as a centerpiece, into chunks for guests to take home with them. “We like a dramatic presentation,” says Standefer, “but we don’t like to waste food.”

The attendees: Alesch, 58, and Standefer, 59, invited a mix of both longtime friends — such as the fashion designer Maria Cornejo, 60; the hotelier and restaurateur Sean MacPherson, 60; and his wife, Rachelle Hruska, 40, the founder of the fashion brand Lingua Franca — and Roman and Williams employees and collaborators, including the food stylist Alison Attenborough, 61; the stylist and art director Colin King, 35; and the florist Alex Crowder, 35, of the studio Field Studies Flora. There were also some first-time guests in the crowd, like the fashion designer Daniella Kallmeyer, 37, and Jess Shadbolt, 40, the chef and co-founder of the New York restaurant King. The idea was to invite enough people to fill the space, but not so many that the hosts couldn’t have meaningful conversations with each one of them.

No inch of the apartment was left undecorated. Photography by David Chow.

The table: “To us, a party is like a 3-D still life,” says Standefer. “It’s the paintings we love coming to life.” Drawing inspiration from old masters, the hosts covered the dining room table with silver flatware, handmade ceramic vessels, jewel-like cut glassware and finger foods. Various cheeses, as well as Muscat and Concord grapes; loaves of miche bread and demi-baguettes, which had a lace motif stenciled on them; and quince from Standefer and Alesch’s orchard in Montauk on Long Island were placed among them. Scattered throughout were floral arrangements by Crowder, who sourced everything she used, including chrysanthemums, cauliflower and purple kale, from within 150 miles of New York City. Here and there were trompe l’oeil marzipan sweets from Brooklyn’s Fortunato Brothers bakery in the shape of sardines, plums, oranges, figs, quince and grapes. A large black beetle, which appeared to crawl up the side of the Parmesan was, however, an actual preserved bug.

On the kitchen counter, poached pears and assorted desserts by the chef Marie-Aude Rose served on stands by Tomoko Sakai (left) and footed platters by Yukiko Wada (right), both for Bloesem Haus. Photograpphy by David Chow.
Baked scallops on the half shell with amaranth, dill and pink peppercorn. Photography by David Chow.
Homemade herbed flatbread crackers. Photography by David Chow.

The drinks: Carl Boltz, 34, the head bartender at La Mercerie and its new Guild Bar, oversaw the offerings. He poured guests Fly by Night cocktails — Alesch and Standefer’s take on a classic Aviation — with crème de violette, Champagne and brandied cherries. For a nonalcoholic alternative, he made punch with Italian plums, blackberries, Concord grapes and purple sage. Purple and dark pink roses were placed in every glass. But the most dramatic touch was the champagne buckets that Standefer had made from solid ice — one of her signature party tricks. Frozen into them were flowers and leaves that gradually emerged as the vessels melted.

A floral arrangement by Crowder, which she described as a “deconstructed Christmas tree,” and two of Standefer’s ice Champagne buckets. Photograph by David Chow.
The kitchen sink also served as a giant ice bucket. Photography by David Chow.

The music: “I always wanted Miles Davis to be a guest at the holiday party,” says Standefer. She settled for a playlist featuring Davis, as well as the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Later in the evening, it was Alesch who provided the soundtrack, playing a few chords he’d recently learned on the couple’s newly acquired piano.

Standefer talking with her guests. Photograph by David Chow.
A champagne glass by Haruya Hiroshima. Photograph by David Chow.
From left to right: the fashion designer Rachelle Hruska, Standefer, the hotelier and restaurateur Sean MacPherson, Alesch and Daphne Javits. Photograph by David Chow.

The conversation: Given the abundance of visual details, conversations inevitably sounded something like a game of “I Spy.” King, who has worked with Standefer for years, learned the hard way just how conscious she is of every inch of a space. “The first time I was on set with Robin, there was a console I was styling, and she opened it and was like, ‘Why didn’t you style the inside of the drawers?’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t even think to! It was just a still photo.” Standefer’s previous life as a production designer — she and Alesch met on a movie set in 1992 — had made her ready for any kind of improvisation.

An entertaining tip: “We like things that are difficult,” says Alesch. “Cookbooks and entertaining tips are almost always shortcuts. But when you’re finished with something difficult and time-consuming, you feel a great sense of satisfaction and joy.” Standefer nods in agreement. “Our guests can see that we put a lot of care into creating a meaningful, memorable experience,” she says. “And seeing the joy on their faces makes me so happy.”