Rustic & Refined

Serenbe is a rural setting with urban sensibilities. It’s a distinctly pastoral place that seems worlds away from the city, though it’s really only minutes. So it was no surprise that Keith Robinson of Gloriosa Design, when asked to create a holiday event, chose a rustic-meets-refined theme. “When it comes to entertaining,” he says, “people—more and more often—want to remove themselves from an environment that’s completely familiar and treat themselves to something different. Serenbe offers the city dweller a glimpse of a pastoral-but-upscale setting; everywhere you look there’s something beautiful to look at.” This, like all Gloriosa events, started with the site—this time, the Serenbe Lake Pavilion—and the selection of all the essentials. “[Our] mindset is organic in the way things evolve; there’s a natural progression,” says Robinson. “We spend a lot of time selecting just the right elements, but it’s not until you start installing that the ‘overdrive’ of the creative process really kicks in.”

The sit-down dinner for 24 started, not surprisingly, with the selection of dinnerware; Robinson chose Hermès red-and-white “Balcon du Guadalquivir” porcelain. “I was immediately drawn to this graphic red pattern because it has almost a modern feel, creating a wonderful juxtaposition against the more rustic farm table,” he says. That single pattern provided the impetus not only for the color scheme but the high level of sophistication, as well. In step with the bucolic-but-elegant direction, the dramatic dinnerware was set upon one-of-a-kind linens—200-year-old French bed linens from Robinson’s personal collection. With the addition of that rustic element, the refined comes right back into play, too, in the form of exquisite Saint Louis crystal and Hermès “Comète” flatware.

The dramatic dinnerware called for something equally spectacular in terms of a centerpiece. The original creation, as long as the table itself, is reminiscent of a Bûche de Noël (Yule log), though Robinson says that was purely coincidental. “The inspiration came from natural elements,” he explains. “My partner and I have a farm south of Atlanta and, from time to time, there are felled trees. This is a tree I’d happened upon with its bark naturally decomposing in large sheets. Its form and size allowed us to create a vessel in which we could hide containers for the flowers, boxwood and other holiday greenery. In a way, we were able to bring the tree back to life again.”

The flowers—in the centerpiece and throughout the pavilion—take their color cue from the Hermès dinnerware. But for Robinson, not just any red would do. “The amaryllis is the Red Lion variety, which is the truest red you can use at the holidays,” he says. To create depth, Robinson incorporated assorted shades of red by varying the types of flowers, with roses and gerbera daisies in scarlet shades of their own. “But we primarily used the amaryllis,” he adds, “because they are large, big-format flowers—and they leave no question that it’s the holiday season.”

Also in keeping with Gloriosa’s organic philosophy—and Serenbe’s, for that matter—the festive table is softly illuminated with an iron candeliere. Made by a local artist, Robinson loves the piece for its versatility; it can be set directly on the ground or tabletop, or suspended from the ceiling, as he elected to do here. A mix of tree ivy (still with its fruit), greenery and pinecones wends its way around the iron form, complementing the votive candle holders.

Mingling is an important part of any holiday gathering, so Robinson planned the dessert buffet-style—the pièce de résistance of which was a gingerbread trifle by chef Paul Conway. Served on Hermès “Jardin de Pythagore” pattern and complemented by “Grand Attelage” flatware, the visual experience matched the pleasures of the palate. Even the after-dinner coffee and tea, served in oversize latté cups, seemed extra special.

“Paul executes all of our menus,” says Robinson, “keeping in mind the freshest ingredients, what is appropriate, something that might expand the palate of those in attendance—something guests might have had over and over again, but presented in a different way. It all goes back to the elements used. We try to evoke a feeling, to draw everyone in. We always want our guests to walk away feeling like they’ve had an authentic experience.” Gloriosa Design, (404) 523-8077; Hermès, Lenox Square, (404) 233-1011, Serenbe, Palmetto, Georgia, (770) 463-2610;

To create a more intimate feeling in the open-air pavilion, Robinson used oversize containers of greenery. “Don’t be too rigid about what you think is appropriate,” Robinson advises. “Nature gives us so many amazing things to works with. Use deciduous plants as well as evergreens; they work beautifully together in a garden, so why not an event, too?”

Just as long as the table itself, a striking centerpiece is reminiscent of a traditional Bûche de Noël. Created from a naturally felled tree, it’s interspersed with artful arrangements of amaryllis, roses and gerbera daisies as well as greenery and homegrown Georgia pinecones.

“We try to evoke a feeling, to draw everyone in,” says Robinson. “We always want our guests to walk away feeling like they’ve had an authentic experience.”